Claude Puel was appointed General Manager at Olympique Lyon earlier this week but his is a name likely to be only known by those with an interest in French football. By moving to the Stade Gerland Puel is taking a step into the European spotlight but just who is the man Jean-Michel Aulas hopes will lead his team to European glory and what can be expected of him?
Rugby obsessed Castres in the south-east of France should not be considered the most natural of locations for one of French football's most workmanlike players to have been born.
In 1961, the year of Puel's birth, the local heroes, those chasing the oval ball, had gone over 10 years since winning the national championship. Such a drought allowed football to capture the young Puel's imagination.
At the age of just 15 Puel would join AS Monaco and would spend the next 22 years of his life in association with the club.
As a player Puel was a defensive midfielder, making his Ligue 1 debut after 2 years training with Monaco's prestigious youth academy. In a playing career spanning 17 seasons the tigerous central player would play over 600 times for les Monegasques, scoring only 4 goals.
Twice Puel was a French champion with Monaco (1982, 1988) and he also won a French Cup in 1991.
After retiring from playing in 1996 he was offered the opportunity to become a fitness coach at the club before taking over the running of Monaco's reserve side. A successful 3 year stint eventually led to the young trainer being offered the top coaching job at the club.
It was in this capacity that Puel enjoyed his greatest success to date. A team including the likes of Fabien Barthez, Ludovic Giuly, David Trezeguet, John Arne Riise and Marco Simeone was easily guided to a championship success in season 1999/2000. PSG, who finished 2nd, were left floundering seven points back as Monaco completed the season unbeaten at their Stade Louis II home.
Success proved fleeting as Monaco crashed to a poor 11th placed finish the following season, considerably closer to the relegation zone than challenging for the top prize. With Monaco's history of success such a placing was not considered acceptable by the board, which chose not to renew Puel's contract.
An opportunity would open up at Lille in January 2002 as Vahid Halilhodžić's dispute with President Michel Seydoux ended in his reign being cut short. Puel jumped at the opportunity to get back into the coaching game, although Lille's 14th place finish was far from spectacular.
Second and third placed finishes would eventually follow for les Dogues as Puel built a strong, young squad.
Progress was also made in the Champions League where Lille were steered on a shoestring budget to the last 16. Only a controversial free-kick from Manchester United's Ryan Giggs came between Puel and a quarter final berth. So incensed at the nature of United's winner was Puel that appeared on the verge of instructing his side to walk off the field. This is, rather unjustly, the one incident that he will be remembered for outside France at present.
The same determined characteristics that allowed Puel the player to impress on the south coast are also reflected in Puel the coach. At Lille his side were cast in his own image, far from spectacular but immensely hard working and efficient, befitting their nickname 'les Dogues' - 'the Mastiffs'.
On Wednesday Puel decided to move to the Stade Gerland as opposed to staying with Lille. Doubtless he felt a step-up was required as Lille have simply been a selling club in recent years and, although there are many young prospects, there was little more the talented coach could do to improve the club's prospects.
“In Lille I'd come to the end of a project,” Puel told Lyon's official website, hinting at his frustration of having to continually sell his best players.
Already this season Jean II Makoun, who will team up with Puel at Lyon, had been moved on while a whole host of players were sold last summer. Peter Odemwingie, Stathis Tavlaridis, Kader Keita, Mathieu Bodmer and Mathieu Chalmé make up a talented quintet that was transferred in July and August 2007.
Rather than fulfilling the head coach role undertaken by Alain Perrin, Puel has been given the title of General Manager, a role he feels is suited to him.
“It was important for me to have a role like the one I had at Lille. I have more room to manoeuver than a simple coach.”
“When I signed I had the choice of defining the tasks of everyone involved, to be able to choose who I would be working with. I'm not putting anybody's job under question; I'm joining this club full of humility,” Lyon's new manager told the assembled press.
President Jean-Michel Aulas has also been convinced that a 'GM' will be useful.
“With Gérard Houllier as with Alain Perrin it was difficult to get everyone pulling in the same direction at the same time. This time the guy in charge will have all the keys to be able to coordinate the entire thing: picking the team and the day to day management of the professional squad,” said Lyon's outspoken chief at the same press conference, who even hinted at taking a lesser role in the team's running.
Puel went on to explain that he will attempt to alter the balance of the team slightly, shifting the emphasis away from the attacking sector to the defensive one. “There will be no earth shattering announcements,” he told the press.
Succinct, to the point and modest, this quote sums up Puel's unspectacular footballing philosophy. Given the opportunity he should prove a very astute appointment by Aulas as he continues to chase his Champions League dream.