Ronald Koeman has replaced Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton but what are the Saints getting from the former Netherlands international? Gary Howells explains…
October 24, 2010 was the date. The Philips Stadion was the venue. 10-0 was the scoreline. It was Feyenoord’s biggest ever defeat, inflicted by rivals PSV Eindhoven and the particular lowlight on their way to recording their lowest ever finish in the Eredivisie.
What’s more, they were in big financial trouble; young talents Georginio Wijnaldum, Leroy Fer and Luc Castaignos would all be sold in the summer, with no money available for incoming transfers. It was going to be a long road back to the top.
Ronald Koeman was the man tasked with the un-envious job, making history in the process by becoming the only man to both play for and manage Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord. Off the back of unconvincing and short stays at Valencia and AZ, as well as being viewed as an Ajacied by the Feyenoord fans, there was plenty of work to be done to win the trust of the fans.
One season is all it would take, as Koeman lead Feyenoord from 10th place to second and into the Champions League play-offs for the first time since 2003. During the next two seasons Feyenoord would finish third – missing out on second only by goal difference – and second again last season, but Koeman will be remembered for much more than Feyenoord’s league position.
He restored pride to the club and managed it all under great financial restraint, spending less than £4m over his entire stay, while nurturing some of Feyenoord’s finest young talent from the Varkenoord academy.
Bruno Martins Indi, Stefan de Vrij, Terrance Kongolo, Jordy Clasie, Tonny Vilhena and Jean-Paul Boetius were all either given their chance by Koeman or nurtured into the players they are today. Such is his faith in youth, he handed Boetius his debut against Ajax in de Klassieker and was quickly repaid when the youngster calmly slotted home after just 23 minutes.
After three years at Feyenoord Koeman thought it was time to test himself at a higher level, with the Premier League his preferred destination. As luck would have it, a vacancy at what seems a well-suited club had just opened up, with Mauricio Pochettino departing Southampton for Tottenham Hotspur.
It’s easy to see why Southampton went for Koeman; the similarities between the two jobs are striking. Just like when Koeman began at Feyenoord, Southampton too are facing a fight to keep hold of some of their better players, with Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Dejan Lovren all strongly linked with moves away and Rickie Lambert already completing his dream move to Liverpool.
With Koeman’s history of trusting in and developing youngsters, the Southampton board have appointed the perfect man to get the very best out of their high-yielding academy. With players such as Jay Rodriguez, Nathaniel Clyne, Calum Chambers, Sam Gallagher, James Ward-Prowse and potentially Luke Shaw, there is already plenty for Koeman to be working with.
For the large part of his stay in Rotterdam, Koeman set Feyenoord up in a traditional Dutch 4-3-3, with two wingers and a real No. 9. Koeman displayed his tactical flexibility towards the end of the season, however, as Feyenoord finished the campaign playing the 3-5-2 that Louis van Gaal has adopted during the early stages of the World Cup.
With the full-backs providing all of the width and given the freedom to attack almost at will, this is a formation Southampton fans may be seeing more of, with the likes of Clyne and potentially Shaw at Koeman’s disposal.
It has also been strongly suggested that Koeman will be joined by one of his ex-players on the South coast, Graziano Pelle, who certainly has the ability to help Saints fans forget about Rickie Lambert. Standing at 6ft4, Pelle is a strapping centre-forward who was integral to Koeman’s Feyenoord over the past two seasons, scoring 50 goals in just 57 Eredivisie appearances.
As comfortable with his back to goal as he is in front of it, Pelle proved to be the ultimate target man for Koeman’s Feyenoord and moving with a manager who clearly knows how to get the best out of him and trusts in his ability, his transition into English football could be a smooth one.
For all of his success with Feyenoord there are still a few questions that remain of Koeman. His Feyenoord side retained an extremely strong home record during his three seasons there, but on the road they were often found to have a soft underbelly, losing to the likes of PEC Zwolle, RKC Waalwijk and ADO Den Haag last season. Feyenoord’s failure to run Ajax closer last season must also raise questions.
Ajax were not at their machine-like best and Feyenoord’s worst ever start to a season, coupled with stuttering runs thereafter, never put them in a position to challenge, despite what was their strongest squad for some years. It will also be interesting to see how Koeman’s method of publicly criticising his players translates to a squad that received so much backing from their previous manager.
Ultimately, Koeman now finds himself at another well-suited club, one which is in considerably greater shape than the Feyenoord one he found three years ago. If he is given the time to work with their kids and build on the impressive foundations laid by Pochettino, the Southampton fans will learn to love him just as much as those in Rotterdam have done so before them.