George Burley will today take over as head coach of Southampton, with Sir Clive Woodward named as the Championship club's new director of football.
The surprise appointments were made following a lengthy meeting of the Southampton board last night and first announced at the club's Christmas party later that evening.
Southampton's directors ruled out the apparent favourite, the Dutch coach Mark Wotte, who had resigned as Feyenoord's technical director on Tuesday, and also rejected the candidacy of Dennis Wise along with two other, unnamed, coaches who were interviewed in the last few days by chairman Rupert Lowe.
It had been thought Lowe initially favoured Wotte, a former Netherlands Under-21 coach, but he is a relatively unknown prospect while the 49-year-old Burley is a hugely experienced manager with an impressive track record at Ipswich, Derby and Hearts. His appointment will be warmly greeted by Southampton's beleaguered fans.
The former Scotland full-back left Hearts earlier this season after an astonishing falling-out with their Lithuanian owner Vladimir Romanov, even though the club were then top of the Scottish Premier League. Since then, he has been keen to find a new job back in England. Lowe said the appointments were "approved unanimously" by the Southampton board and it is understood Burley emerged as his preferred candidate after an impressive interview on Wednesday and, crucially, because of his willingness to work alongside Woodward.
"I believe that we now have a management team that will deliver stability, results and exciting football," Lowe said. "The number and quality of candidates that Clive and I have seen over the last two weeks have been outstanding, with George emerging as our first choice."
Lowe had made it plain to his fellow directors that, having been overruled on the recent, planned appointments of Kevin Blackwell and Glenn Hoddle, he would threaten to step down unless his latest recommendation was fully backed. He feels he has taken too much of the flak for previous failures.
Nevertheless, Burley becomes the ninth permanent "manager" in the eight years that Lowe has been in charge of Southampton, although the redefinition of his role, as coach, is highly significant. It continues the enhancement of Woodward's controversial involvement at the club, which has caused tension with coaches and helped contribute to the departure of Burley's predecessor, Harry Redknapp.
Woodward, the former England rugby union coach, and World Cup winner, is no longer performance director and will now have a greater say in the first team as he continues on his bewildering fast track into club management.
"In George and Clive we have got a management team of undoubted quality with strengths in complementary areas," Lowe said in a statement which, crucially, neglected to mention the length of Burley's contract. Lowe added: "They share the same vision for Southampton FC and give us the best possible chance of returning the club to the Premier League in the shortest possible time."
Burley will take over in time for the Boxing Day game away to Watford. His appointment will mean the departure of caretaker manager, Dave Bassett, who had hoped to be appointed permanently but whose candidacy was rejected out of hand by Lowe.
Last night Burley, who had been linked to Aston Villa and had rejected the overtures of Portsmouth, said: "Southampton have an exciting young team and I believe that they should, and can, be much higher in the Championship table than they are. It's my job to make sure that this happens. I am delighted to accept the head coach position. I'm at my best on the training ground and my role at Southampton FC will allow me to concentrate on that. Clive and I have had detailed discussions on how we will work together."
His immediate task will be, with Southampton in 12th place, four points off the play-offs and following 12 draws from 23 games, to reach the top six.
It is clear that he will take a hands-on, training ground role, allowing Woodward to develop the strategic side of the club. From his statement it also appears that Burley is happy for Woodward to be responsible for the signing of players although it would be a surprise if Southampton did not attempt to raid Hearts for such talented performers as midfielders Rudi Skacel and Paul Hartley and striker Michael Pospisil.
But among Burley's first responsibilities will be to convince 16-year-old Theo Walcott that his future lies at St Mary's. There is growing concern at the club's development of the prodigiously talented young striker and it appears increasingly likely that he will leave Southampton in the January transfer window because he is not being sufficiently protected.
However, Burley may have the right kind of record for developing young talent, after his work at Derby, Colchester United and, in particular, Ipswich.