The search for the managerial surprise package of this Premier League season surely has to start and end with Southampton manager Ronald Koeman.
To be sure, the Dutchman took over the St Mary’s club in adverse circumstances. After losing manager Mauricio Pochettino to Tottenham, the summer of 2014 was marked by a mass player exodus.
Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert, Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers all departed (and Morgan Schneiderlin tried his best to get in on the act), while striker Jay Rodriguez struggled to return from a knee injury sustained at the end of the previous season.
To top it off, Koeman’s managerial credentials were received by many in England with indifference, since his success came almost exclusively in the Eredivisie with Ajax and Feyenoord.
So with his new club sitting in third after 21 Premier League games – higher than Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool – we must ask the question, just how has Koeman managed it?
As a player, Koeman enjoyed a long, successful career, twice winning the European Cup – once each with PSV Eindhoven and Barcelona.
As a center-half, he was notable for his attack-mindedness, his rasping long-range right-footed shots and for scoring the winning free-kick in the 1992 European Cup final against Sampdoria.
While Koeman has enjoyed success in fits and starts, his managerial career pales in comparison to his body of work as a player.
His football life is an almost perfect mirror-image of another new Premier League manager, Louis van Gaal.
The pair are widely known in the Netherlands as sworn enemies, yet it was Van Gaal who gave Koeman his start in management, allowing him to join his coaching staff at Barcelona only a year after he called time on his playing career.
A season after leaving Van Gaal’s team, he was appointed as Ajax boss, where he won two Eredivisie titles with a squad chock-full of talented youngsters, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rafael van der Vaart and Maxwell.
Frequently dipping into the academy system, Koeman is credited with guiding the transition of Wesley Sneijder, Thomas Vermaelen and Nigel de Jong from youth team to starting XI.
Incidentally, this was the point at which he and the current Manchester United manager fell out. Van Gaal, after being sacked by Barcelona, became the director of football at the Amsterdam giants, where he frequently butted heads with Koeman.
Koeman, realizing the situation was untenable, is thought to have engineered Van Gaal’s exit by turning Ajax’s ‘higher-ups’ against him and getting the media onside.