Paul Sturrock admitted it was a “sad day” after leaving former club Plymouth to take over at Southampton.
The Premiership side today confirmed they had agreed a deal with the Division Two leaders to bring the former Scotland international to take Gordon Strachan’s place at St Mary’s Stadium.
“It is a sad day. I don’t want anyone to think that this is not a gut-wrenching decision for me,” he told Plymouth’s website www.pafc.co.uk.
“The challenges of football that have been put in place, the lure of the Premiership, are what all managers dream of.
“It has been very difficult. The timing was very disappointing, to say the least. I would have liked to have finished what we have started this season, but football is like that at times, it kicks you in the teeth.”
Saints chairman Rupert Lowe swiftly switched his attention to Sturrock after Glenn Hoddle – the man he wanted to bring back to the south coast club – pulled out of the running yesterday.
The former Saints and England boss tore up his application as Lowe, despite a four-hour board meeting last week, had failed to persuade the club’s six other directors to unanimously back Hoddle’s re-appointment.
Hoddle’s shock decision opened the door for Sturrock to claim his first opportunity in the top flight in England.
He enjoyed success with St Johnstone and Dundee United north of the border before moving to Plymouth and carving out a reputation as one of the Football League’s brightest managerial talents.
Sturrock, a former Scotland team-mate of Strachan’s, assumed control at Home Park in October 2000 after Kevin Hodges’ exit.
Taking over a team anchored in the lower reaches of Division Three and threatened with relegation, Sturrock led his team to a runaway championship success within 18 months.
Success in the Second Division has followed, with Tuesday’s 2-0 home victory against Sheffield Wednesday meaning Sturrock has left leave Argyle four points clear of Bristol City at the top.
Southampton, whose caretaker boss Steve Wigley will revert to his role as director of youth, have agreed a compensation package with Plymouth but the Pilgrims are still sorry to see Sturrock leave.
Vice-chairman Peter Jones told Sky Sports News: “We were a bit surprised, but we have two choices.
“You can feel sorry for yourself and be miserable or you can have a 24-hour period of mourning and recognise the same players and management team are still here and get on with it.
“We wanted to keep him but we’ve got to have a reality check. Paul is a very able manager and is ambitious.
“Southampton are a decent club and we have to respect his decision. We wish him every luck and hope we continue to progress.
“Compensation is sorted, but no amount of money could have compensated for losing the manager who turned the club around.
“We have a choice – we can squeal like a stuck pig or we can roll up our sleeves and get on with it. Everyone at the club is firmly committed to the latter course.”
And Argyle chairman Paul Stapleton vowed the Pilgrims would build on Sturrock’s legacy with the Scot’s former right-hand man Kevin Summerfield appointed caretaker boss, with coach John Blackley as his assistant.
“Kevin will take charge until further notice and it is vital we get right behind Kevin and John, and remain focused on our ambition of winning promotion,” Stapleton told the club’s website.
“We have a great squad of players, fantastic staff, and wonderful fans and this board is committed to taking Argyle forward.”