I have been a Leicester City supporter for over 30 years. I have witnessed great times under Brian Little, Martin O’Neill, Micky Adams, Nigel Pearson and, of course, Claudio Ranieri. Dark days under the stewardship of Peter Taylor and Ian Holloway cannot be forgot, either, but it is Claude Puel’s reign that has caused the most uncertainty amongst Foxes’ fans that I can remember.
What is the fans’ issue with Puel?
Put bluntly, the fans’ issue is 92 days of boredom! From 3rd February to 5th May, Leicester City played six home Premier League matches against teams outside of the ‘Big 6’ – six home wins were expected. The Foxes drew four and lost two; scoring only FOUR goals in the process. By the time a rejuvenated Leicester beat Arsenal 3-1 on May 9th, many fans had voted with their feet and decided to stay away.
Why was Puel appointed in late October 2017?
Many Leicester City supporters were uncertain of the appointment back in October, but there was an air of optimism once many did their due diligence on the man. Puel had managed for 15 and a half seasons in the French top division, at clubs including Monaco and Lyon. He had one French League Title to his name and a further eight top 4 finishes; he also guided Lyon to the 09/10 Champions League semi-finals, knocking out Real Madrid on the way.
Puel arrived in England in the summer of 2016, taking over a Southampton side crippled by key player sales, including Victor Wanyama (to Spurs) and Sadio Mane (to Liverpool). Despite these factors, Puel lead the Saints to 8th place in the Premier League and a cup final.
Puel’s start at Leicester City
His reign at Leicester City started on the 29th October with a 2-0 home win over Everton. This began an impressive three months for Puel and his resurgent Leicester City. At the end of January, the Foxes were in 8th position and only one point behind 7th placed Burnley; 7th place appearing to be enough to secure Europa League qualification for the 2018/19 season. They were also through to the last 16 of the FA Cup with a home tie against Sheffield United – the Foxes faithful’s dream of returning to Europe was looking like a reality…
But it was February where Puel appeared to start an experimental period; the Frenchman made numerous changes and results quickly declined. The eleven league games that were player from February yielded a meager 10 points. Supporters and players were becoming more confused by the week. European qualification had been sacrificed on both fronts and without clarification from Puel, or the owners of the club, booing and empty seats were becoming more prominent at the King Power Stadium.
On Friday 4th May, Leicester City Chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha gave Puel a vote of confidence, citing the need to embrace evolution to forge a legacy for the club’s recent achievements.
This would appear to be a clarification from ‘the boss’ that his employee’s methods are approved and that the work being done in the short term would benefit the club in the long term. But with the atmosphere at the King Power Stadium slowly turning toxic and with the players appearing to not be currently responding to Puel – could this vote of confidence be too late to save the Frenchman’s reign?
The contenders to replace Puel
At this stage, there appears to be three main contenders to replace Puel: Huddersfield boss David Wagner, Newcastle’s Rafa Benitez and out of work Marco Silva. Leicester City Director of Football, Jon Rudkin, is a long-term admirer of Wagner and the club were rumoured to have made an approach to Huddersfield in October as a replacement for Craig Shakespeare. Wagner has made quite an impression in English football; earning promotion to the Premier League followed by the all-important ‘first season survival.’
The appointment of Rafa Benitez would be a hit with the Foxes’ fans, with many already suggesting that the opportunity to recruit a manager of that calibre does not come around often. Benitez has remained loyal to Newcastle and like Wagner, followed up promotion with survival. He and owner Mike Ashley are rumoured to be poles apart on this summer’s recruitment strategy at Newcastle, and there is still the uncertainty regarding the sale of the club.
Former Watford boss Marco Silva would appear a good fit, but there are concerns that he would use the club as a stepping stone to greater things. With West Ham and Everton both now looking for new managers also, time is of the essence if the club are to make a change.
Recruitment and goals for 2019/20
Both Claudio Ranieri and Craig Shakespeare were informed in the previous two summers of the club’s intention to evolve Leicester’s style of play; a move away from the low-possession counter-attacking style that served the club so well in 2015/16 to a more possession-based style. Indeed, a lot of money has been spent since the title win, but not sensibly.
The additions of Harry Maguire and Vicente Iborra have been impressive, and the combination of Adrien Silva and Wilfred Ndidi appear to have finally softened the loss of Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante. But there are still problems and it is quite clear what is required: an attack-minded right back, a centre back, a Riyad Mahrez replacement (if he leaves) and a number 10 / attacker (if Islam Slimani is not in the manager’s plans). Leicester have already been heavily linked with FC Porto right back Ricardo Pereira (who played for Puel at Nice) and last season’s loan signing Alexander Dragovic from Bayer Leverkusen.
I would suggest that the goal is quite simple for next season… to be the best of the rest. There is a clear feeling that if managed better, the club would have competed with Arsenal or even Chelsea this year. Whoever the manager is, they will be expected to be knocking on the door of the top 6 with positive runs in both cups.
In what predicts to be a season of change and evolution, I’m Leicester City’s players meet these expectations?