As things stand at this moment, the odds of Remi Garde taking the reins at Newcastle United are as short as any have been since Alan Pardew left for Crystal Palace. With only 7 betting sites still offering odds (according to oddschecker.com), the Frenchmen is being offered at evens on 3 sites, 7/2 from three others and 2/1 from the remaining site. As indications continue to focus in on an increasing likelihood that Garde is to be the next head man at NUFC, it seems like a "Get To Know Remi Garde" post is in order. Even though he has had only the one stop in the top spot, it seems of little use to examine his time as a player (remember Alan Pardew was a defender as a player yet perennially bossed a - GD defense at Newcastle outside the fluke 5th place year), so let's dig in to his time at Lyon.
The Remi Garde Spirit
In the three years prior to Remi Garde's taking over at Lyon, Jean-Michel Aulas' club had spent a whopping €175 million in the transfer market. In the summer prior to Garde's first season, Lyon spent only €5 million. It was rumored that the probability that he would not but heads with Aulas over the newly installed austerity policy factored into his being given the position in the first place. While that may be a significant factor, it is just as probable that his extensive experience at Academy level would have been just as attractive as Lyon have made a point in recent years of developing their youth players and accelerating them to first team action. In fact it is probably the combination of those two ideas that make him an extremely attractive candidate for Mike Ashley to take over for Alan Pardew.
The commitment of Lyon and Garde to their youth system has brought through players such as former Toon targets Clement Grenier and Alexandre Lacazette - players who contributed greatly to Garde's cup-winning Lyon sides and on whom the club will certainly profit nicely when the decision is made to move them on. If he can draw similar results out of the likes of Adam Armstrong and other promising Toon youngsters. . . Mike Ashley will stand to make an outstanding profit. It isn't just the faith in youth that endeared Garde to Lyon and its supporters. It was his ability to instill faith into the squad (youth and veterans alike) that was lacking in supply walking in the footsteps of his predecessor.
When Remi Garde took charge of Lyon this season, he was given a one-year contract, told he had no money to spend and inherited a squad low on morale following a tough season under the rigid leadership of former coach Claude Puel.
Several months later, Garde has restored team spirit, has the team playing attractive, attacking football, and successfully blended in youth players while instilling a resilient streak that was lacking under Puel.
In fact, evidence of and quotes concerning the positive influence that he has had upon his squad and individual players during his time at Lyon are easy to find:
So what’s different under Garde? "The spirit," Bosnian midfielder Miralem Pjanic frankly tells FOXSoccer.com after the game. "Simply, our game has changed. We play a lot more football, and we have a lot more freedom. The coach has put it in our heads that we can play."
In fact, it seems that the positivity he brought to the squad and onto the pitch carried over into the support. From the same Andy Brassell piece:
What a difference three months make. When Vladimir Dyadyun’s flicked effort crept into the corner of Hugo Lloris’s net, there was near silence around the Gerland as the gravity of Rubin Kazan’s early blow sunk in; save for the faraway cheer from the bench and the mere handful of Rubin supporters in the far corner of the stadium. Yet what happened next was extraordinary. There were no whistles or boos from the stand, but a swell of chanting. "Lyonnais, Lyonnais, Lyonnais!" Lyon’s fans were – and are – firmly behind their team.
As Newcastle fans, you will probably be extremely surprised that the Lyon fans' exhortations didn't end up costing their club that match. In fact, after conceding an early away goal, the team came back and ended up taking a 3-1 lead back to Rubin. Imagine that.
When discussing Remi Garde's tactics, it's important to first note that he is not married to any one particular formation. He has preferences, but is not afraid to change it up based on his personnel or the matchup. For nearly a decade prior to his taking over at Lyon, the club had primarily relied upon a 4-3-3 formation that was made popular by Paul le Guen. Upon taking over, Garde shifted the formation slightly from the 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 diamond. He has also shown a preference for the 4-1-4-1 formation, but generally speaking whatever tactic he has used was built around the strong play of Maxime Gonalons at the holding midfield position.
In addition to the flexibility in formation, Garde is very comfortable in using different tactics within the same formation to deal with the threats of a particular opponent. For a more detailed view of what he does, check out this writeup from French Football Weekly in 2013. While the African Cup of Nations will severely hamper what he might do with the Newcastle personnel, it's not hard to imagine how he might employ the players at his disposal if all players are available to him:
I'm assuming that Sissoko is sold in this January window which is why I've not got him in this squad... but if Garde can get even close to the best out of Cheik Tiote and Siem de Jong can get anywhere close to being the player who we thought we were purchasing, there's plenty to be excited about in this. The players can easily shift into a 4-3-3 or even a 4-1-4-1 without any significant change.
Some things may not change
There may be some things that were frustrating under Alan Pardew that may continue to be challenges under Remi Garde. Perhaps most prominently, Garde's Lyon sides have been well known for their defensive foibles.
Lyon fans might want to stop here. The individual errors leading to losses over the last three months is quite simply staggering.
While there is case that can be made that a lot of Lyon's defensive problems were tied to depending on young players, the reality is that Newcastle's defense and in particular the center backs are easy to solve on quite a regular basis. Whether Garde's failure to address the shortcomings in the Lyon defense was a willful oversight or a managerial shortcoming will remain to be seen, but is enough to be registered as a concern on a 10,000 ft. view level prior to Garde being offered the job (if he even is).
Additionally, if you are in the camp that get really frustrated by players being deployed outside of a strict constructionist view of where they should be on the pitch by position (say Ayoze Perez on a wing in a 4-1-4-1 type situation), you may find yourself with fresh stale frustrations under this particular coach.
As you read through the available information about Remi Garde, it becomes easy to see why he is the favorite to take over at St. James' Park. He is able and willing to work on a shoestring budget with minimal squad reinforcement with a heavy reliance on youth coming through the academy. (Although it could be speculated that an anger towards such an arrangement precipitated his departure from Lyon). He is able to motivate and draw the best from his players. He doesn't blame the fans for cheering too forcefully. He has the tactical nous that Alan Pardew lacked on an elemental level. It's not a done deal at this point by any means, but he certainly ticks a lot of boxes for a lot of people.