- Associated Press - Thursday, June 30, 2016

SOUTHAMPTON, England (AP) - Claude Puel ended his 17-year coaching stint in the French league on Thursday by taking over as manager of Southampton, ushering in a new era for the English Premier League club following the departure of Ronald Koeman.

Southampton announced the hiring of the 54-year-old Puel on a three-year deal, making him the club’s third manager in barely two years. Puel led Nice to a fourth-place finish in the French league last month before leaving unexpectedly.

Mauricio Pochettino and Koeman were poached from Southampton by Tottenham in 2014 and Everton last month, respectively, and many of the team’s top players - Nathaniel Clyne, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Morgan Schneiderlin among them - have also left St. Mary’s Stadium over the past two years.

Puel could be at the helm of another rebuilding job, with Southampton having already sold midfielder Victor Wanyama to Tottenham in the offseason and expecting interest in more of its players.

“Claude has a track record of improving the situations he has been presented with,” Southampton executive director of football Les Reed said, “and we are confident he can repeat this at Southampton.”

Before his four-year spell at Nice, Puel also coached French teams Monaco, Lille and Lyon, which he led to the Champions League semifinals in 2010.

However, his three-year stint in charge of Lyon was a largely unhappy one and he often clashed with president Jean-Michel Aulas.

Puel, who considered Aulas to be regularly interfering on team selection issues, was released before the end of his contract and the pair were embroiled in a bitter compensation dispute.

As a tough-tackling midfielder, Puel spent 17 years at Monaco before starting his management career there and winning the French title in his first season as coach.

“As the process eliminated a number of excellent candidates, Claude clearly came out on top of a very impressive shortlist,” Reed said, without naming any names.

“In order to ensure we appointed a manager who would meet our needs as a club, feedback from the dressing room, as well as taking account of our culture, vision and values, was critical in drawing up our criteria for the appointment,”

Southampton has arguably the best youth system in English football and has earned a reputation for bringing through academy graduates to the first team. Among its best youth-team stars down the years have been Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Puel worked early in his coaching career with a young Eden Hazard at Lille, while Nice says he launched the Ligue 1 careers of 16 players from the club’s academy. He also re-launched the career of winger Hatem Ben Arfa, who joined Nice following an unhappy end to his time in England with Newcastle and then Hull.

Under Puel’s guidance last season, Ben Arfa enjoyed the best form of his career, scoring 17 league goals and coming close to earning a place in France’s European Championship squad. Ben Arfa is now reportedly joining French champion Paris Saint-Germain.

Puel’s biggest task will be keeping his best players at Southampton, and ensure the club continues to overachieve in the Premier League.

Southampton finished eighth, seventh and sixth in the last three years, and will play in the Europa League this coming season.

“Claude has a fantastic platform to work from,” Reed said, “and is aware that our ambition is to repeat and improve on our performances in the Premier League over the past three seasons.”

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