Louis van Gaal may be capturing the imagination and headlines as he starts his new job at Manchester United, but down on the south coast of England there is another Dutch legend who’s preparing to stamp his own mark on the Premier League.
Ronald Koeman, the former Feyernoord manager, will embark on his maiden Premier League campaign with Southampton and the pair could complement each other quite nicely. It was quite a coup for the Saints to land Koeman, especially as the club had lost a number of key personnel including Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and, of course, Mauricio Pochettino.
Losing such important talent would no doubt concern fans of Southampton with fears that the owner of club, Katharina Liebherr, was in the process of asset stripping but Koeman’s arrival has gone some way to allay concerns and he’s already made moves to fill in the gaps left by the exits of Lambert and Lallana.
Upfront, he’s purchased Italian striker Graziano Pellè from his former club Feyernoord. Under Koeman the Italian striker enjoyed the most productive period of his career scoring 50 league goals in 57 games for the Eredivisie outfit. Koeman described Pellè as “a tall striker with a lot of movement and he’s fast. He’s a player who gives confidence to the team because he keeps the ball, and he’s very dangerous in front of goal.” Indeed Pellè is comfortable using both feet and is capable of scoring all types of goals. He can be a prickly character too, as seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnkFfPUxf5o
Strikers coming from the Eredivisie to the Premier League have had a mixed record. For every Ruud van Nistelrooy, there’s been an Afonso Alves or Mateja Kežman. However, Koeman’s working relationship with Pellè could be key in ensuring that the new Southampton striker bags a few goals for the Saints.
Southampton also hope that the signing of Duŝan Tadić from FC Twente will fill the creative void left by Adam Lallana. The fleet footed Serbian primarily plays on the left but is adept playing as an attacking midfielder or on the right. His flair for dribbling could give his opponents trouble especially if he settles in quickly; and he has an eye for goal too, scoring 16 times in the 33 league games.
Koeman has his eyes on a few more targets with rumors suggesting that he’s after Celtic duo Fraser Forster and Virgil van Dijk. He has also thus far been successful at keeping Dejan Lovren at the club, but his transfer acumen is probably not the key reason he was brought in.
Southampton’s youth academy has produced the likes of Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and of course Gareth Bale. It is recognized as one of the best youth systems in England but for it to succeed they need a manager who is willing to place his faith in young players. In Koeman, they have a man who has experience of bringing through youth team players and seamlessly transitioning them into the first team.
When Koeman stepped foot into the De Kuip Stadium as Feyenoord manager in 2011 he inherited a club that desperately needed reviving. Feyenoord had finished 10th in the Eredivisie prior to his arrival and had very little to spend. Despite having his hands tied in the transfer market Koeman managed to secure second place twice in three seasons at the club. The lowest he ever finished with Feyenoord was third in the 2012/2013 season.
Whilst Koeman had very little to play with in terms of a budget he did have one of the best youth systems in the Netherlands at his disposal. Koeman successfully brought in the likes of Jordy Clasie, Bruno Martins Indi, and Stefan de Vrij into the Feyenoord first team. The trio featured in the Netherlands’ recent World Cup campaign and have drawn admiring glances from clubs all over Europe. These are but a few names who’ve impressed at Feyenoord and with the likes of Jean-Paul Boëtius and Tonny Vilhena also featuring prominently for the Rotterdam club, Koeman is well versed in bringing young players through and giving them a good soccer education. It’s therefore not surprising that Southampton opted to recruit the Dutch legend as they will be keen to promote players from their youth set-up into the full first team and see them develop under Koeman’s tutelage.
Most importantly, Koeman is a winner. He has won the Eredivisie three times (twice with Ajax and once with PSV), the KNVB Cup, and the Copa Del Rey with Valencia. On top of that he’s enjoyed an illustrious playing career winning league titles in the Netherlands and Spain, a European Cup medal and a European Championship.
Under Mauricio Pochettino Southampton missed out on a chance to have a good FA Cup run last season when the Argentinean fielded a ‘weakened’ side despite his side sitting comfortably in the Premier League. Though Pochettino rejected the criticism he received for his team selection, one wonders if Koeman would have made the same decision.
Southampton may not see the intense, high pressing game that was a staple of the Pochettino regime, but with Ronald Koeman at the helm the Saints will have a side that will be tactically flexible, play attacking, attractive football whilst also being willing to employ a patient game. Indeed there will be a heavy Dutch influence at St Mary’s with Koeman’s brother, Erwin, joining as assistant manager as well as Jan Kluitenberg who will oversee the fitness side of things. Koeman looks ready to stamp his mark on Southampton and their season could be an interesting one to watch.
At the very least, Koeman can teach the Southampton players how to take a mean free kick.