Why Arsene Wenger's protégé would be the perfect man to rejuvenate Newcastle

French football expert Andrew Gibney profiles the man many are touting as the next Newcastle manager, and a future replacement for Arsene Wenger...

FACT FILE

  • Full name: Remi Garde
  • Date of birth: April 3 1966
  • Place of birth: L'Arbresle, France
  • Played for: Lyon (1987-93), Strasbourg (1993-96), Arsenal (1996-99)
  • Honours: Ligue 2 (1989), Premier League, FA Cup, Community Shield (1998)
  • Coached: Lyon (2011-14)
  • Honours: Coupe de France (2012), Trophee des champions (2012)

As a player, Rémi Garde was unspectacular but dependable. His arrival at Arsenal - the same day as Patrick Vieira's - set the tone for much of his time in north London; there was minimal fanfare. Yet, despite making just 43 appearances in three years with the Gunners, he did have some impact.

It is understood Garde is currently in talks with Newcastle United to replace Alan Pardew as the club’s head coach. The side from the North East has recently had somewhat of a fetish for all things Français, so it’s fair to say that if the deal is agreed, there is no way he would fly under the radar in quite the same way he did in 1996.

After three years as Lyon’s head coach, Garde left the Ligue 1 club in the summer of 2014 to take a break from football, but with Lyon currently top of the table, it's clear his tenure had the desired effect. It was a long journey through the ranks at Les Gones, but all the signs are that he is now ready to work his influence on one of English football’s sleeping giants.

Before moving to England, an 18-year-old Garde started his career in Lyon’s youth side, graduating to the first team at 22. After 158 appearances over six years, he moved to RC Strasbourg, just as his soon-to-be mentor Arsene Wenger had done 15 years previously.

There is no doubt that Garde’s apprenticeship began as soon as he joined up with Wenger in 1996, helping in turn to accelerate the radical changing of the guard at Highbury.

Former Arsenal defender Adrian Clarke recalled Garde’s influence before leaving the club in 1997. "It was almost as if he was there to teach the rest of us what Wenger wanted in terms of his passing, movement and attitude," Clarke told the Independent in 2011. "At a time when the old guard were sceptical about Wenger and his methods he was almost a link between them and the new gaffer."

"I do recall Wenger chatting to him one-on-one several times after training as we all wandered in," says Clarke. "He was 30 at the time, but he seemed much older. I think most of us saw him as a virtual player-coach, even though he wasn't part of the coaching team."

After his retirement in 1999, Garde took some time off. He would appear on commentary duty beside Wenger, continuing his studies under the great man, until returning to his boyhood club as a coach in 2003. Time spent as an assistant to both Paul Le Guen and Gerard Houllier was followed by a move behind the scenes as director of the training academy. Then, eight years after making his return, the departure of Claude Puel after a sixth-place finish saw Garde finally take the job he had turned down a few years earlier.

On paper, the side Garde inherited was more than capable: Hugo Lloris, Dejan Lovren, Yoann Gourcuff, Lisandro Lopez and Bafetimbi Gomis to name a few. However, part of Garde’s first remit - something that is ideal for being manager of Newcastle - was to severely cut the Lyon wage budget and move the team towards the youth players in whom he had invested so much time and effort.

Stars quickly left the club; the exodus partly an attempt to recoup losses made on mistakes made as Lyon chased their Champions League dream. Extravagant wages made it hard to move everyone on, leading to the likes of Lloris and Anthony Martial departing for less than what they were worth.

Current Lyon boss Hubert Fournier is deservedly receiving plaudits for the way his young Lyon side are playing this season. Their 3-0 win over Toulouse on Sunday took them top of Ligue 1, something last achieved by OL during Garde’s second season.

However, some of Fournier’s praise should filter down to what Garde built during his three years at the club. When Lyon won seven straights titles in the early 2000s, Les Gones were famous for their 4-3-3 formation. Puel struggled to incorporate that famous style and it was no surprise when Garde changed things up.

Possibly influenced by his time under Wenger, Lyon moved to a version of 4-4-2, with the versatility of his young vibrant players often making it a joy to watch. It would be easier to label the formation 4-3-1-2, with captain Maxime Gonalons at the base of the midfield diamond, either Clement Grenier or Gourcuff at the tip and a mixture of hard-working, dynamic midfielders either side.

Gonalons sitting deep would allow the full-backs to push on, and left-back Henri Bedimo contributed nine assists in Garde’s final season. Playing two up front also helped accelerate the rise of Alexandre Lacazette. Moving in from the right wing, the forward would find space across the final third and use the physical presence of Gomis to spearhead the Lyon attack.

Garde’s style at Lyon could easily translate to this current Newcastle squad. Remy Cabella would be perfect as the playmaker. It’s no surprise to see him struggling on the wings, after blossoming as a No.10 at Montpellier.

Cheick Tiote would be ideal as the enforcer at the base, with Moussa Sissoko and Jack Colback the box-to-box runners. There is as much talent at St James’ Park as Garde enjoyed at the Stade Gerland; his ideals and philosophies could easily follow him into the new role.

When Garde’s Lyon were on song, they were irresistible. Often classed as counter-attacking, they would still take the game to their opposition, incorporating that same passing style that he helped Wenger introduce at Arsenal, with his own personal touches.

The Lyon side that beat Toulouse 3-0 on Sunday featured eight players that graduated through the academy. Garde not only gave many of them their chances in the Lyon first team, but he helped guide their early careers and prepare them to follow the same path he had 13 years earlier.

Lacazette has scored 19 goals this season, following the 15 goals he scored under Garde last term, and is developing into one of Europe’s elite players. There is little chance that Garde would be able to lure the striker to the North East, but he could lay the foundations in order for Newcastle to discover their own star.

One thing that may worry owner Mike Ashley is Garde’s stubbornness to protect his project. The former Lyon coach is not one to sit back and let those above him walk all over his hard work. Last January, when Napoli made a €13 million bid for Garde’s captain Gonalons, the coach, understanding the importance of his midfield protector, gave the board an ultimatum.

Garde was willing to quit Les Gones there and then if Gonalons was sold. It was all or nothing, and Garde came out on top. Fournier has Garde to thank for the exceptional season Gonalons is having at the heart of the French league leaders.

Newcastle fans may be concerned about Garde’s decision to step away from Lyon after just three seasons in charge. "The reasons are personal and family. I feel the need to take a break," said the Frenchman. This is not a manager who found the task of guiding one of France’s top clubs too much.

This is a man who from 2003 was heavily involved in the club that Lyon has become over the last 12 years. He has had to deal with a club downsizing from when they won seven straight titles. All done under the guidance of the eccentric but expert eye of president Jean-Michel Aulas – good practice for life under Ashley.

Lyon are a club similar to Newcastle in that they are constantly losing their top stars or young talents to the highest bidder, but Garde kept his head up and continued to promote the exceptional quality that the academy developed.

When he took the head coach job at Lyon, Garde was instantly handed the label of being the heir to Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal throne. All too often, Newcastle fans have had to deal with the north London club targeting their star names, but if Garde does have eyes on being Wenger’s successor, he could do a lot worse in taking one step closer by becoming the next boss at St James’ Park.