Having been used as a decoy once already this week, Glenn Hoddle must be wondering whether lightning is about to strike twice. No sooner has the Nottingham Forest job, for which he was supposed to be favourite, gone to Joe Kinnear, than he is facing the prospect of missing out again, this time on the newly vacated post at Southampton.
The man who might sneak ahead of Hoddle to replace Gordon Strachan, who stood down on Friday because of the never-ending speculation surrounding his impending departure, is Alain Perrin. The Frenchman is a highly regarded coach, has ties with some of the Southampton players and staff, is currently available and, most worryingly of all for Hoddle, fancies the South Coast challenge.
"I would relish the chance to manage Southampton," he said last night. "I hear that I am on the short list and that flatters me. Southampton are the kind of club that would appeal to me, because I am interested in coaching at a good, solid club rather than a massive one."
Unlike Hoddle, Perrin has not yet spoken to the Southampton chairman, Rupert Lowe, but admits that he has been contacted by agents representing the club. "It would be my dream to manage a club in England," said the 47-year-old, who was shocked to learn that Strachan had stepped down before the end of the season. "English football isla référence, and I want to try it out. It's a very exciting prospect."
Perrin, who speaks more than adequate English, would fit in easily at Southampton for several reasons. First, he would be reunited with Michael Svensson, the towering centre-back he coached at Troyes for many years. Second, he could seek advice from the Southampton Acad-emy director, Georges Prost, whom he has known since they coached rival teams in the east of France 20 years ago.
Third, his experience as a Continental-style head coach would suit Lowe, who is seeking to restructure the club. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he is one of Arsène Wenger's oldest disciples.
Perrin first met Wenger in the mid-Eighties when the two men held coaching positions at Nancy. Wenger was the manager; Perrin the academy director. "We met regularly and worked a lot together," Perrin recalled. "I was not by his side every day but, even from a distance, I was able to learn a lot from him.
"He was a revolutionary coach then and I am not surprised he continues to do so much at Arsenal today. He's been a huge influence and a great inspiration throughout my career."
Perrin's own managerial credentials are good. He guided Troyes, a tiny provincial club, from the amateur leagues to Europe in six years.
"My time at Troyes was unbelievable," he said. "I didn't really realise what was being achieved while I was there because I was constantly pushing the boundaries, but now I am beginning to appreciate my achievements."
Perrin was head-hunted by Nancy in 1995 and quickly set about transforming the club, guiding them to successive promotions and an appearance in the Uefa Cup. "I am very proud of that," he said.
He is less pleased with the rocky end to his time at Olym-pique Marseille, having been sacked last month following a string of poor results. "I was sad I was not given more time to finish what I had started," he said, "but that is often the way at a club like that. The demands at Marseille are huge and, while I admit that is what I wanted, the truth is you cannot turn around a club of that size overnight."
Perrin created a rod for his own back by overachieving and guiding OM to a Champions' League place in his first season in charge. "Perhaps I should have gone for Lyon instead," joked Perrin, who was offered both clubs in the summer of 2002, but opted for Marseille because "they presented a greater challenge".
Just for the record, Lyon won the title last year. "I know, I know," Perrin sighed, "but that is the way it goes. I'm not bitter and I'm not tired. In fact, I'm hungry again and I'm looking forward to getting back to work.
"I still have ideas and ambitions and I want to be the next French manager to do well in England." The next Arsène Wenger?
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