How does a struggling Premier League side avoid a relegation battle? Appoint Tony Pulis as manager apparently. Tony Pulis took the reins at West Bromwich Albion on New Year’s Day and although he is only 3 league games into his tenure, the Welshman’s influence is almost instantly recognisable. Last season it was Crystal Palace that benefited from “The Tony Pulis Effect” as he took them from stick on relegation candidates to a near top half finish. Before Palace, Pulis made his name bringing Stoke City back to the summit of English football for the first time in over 30 years. Is there a special formula to Tony Pulis and his approach to management? Is it too soon to tell if he can keep West Brom in the Premier League? It’s worth a discussion.
Pulis has made a name for himself among Premier League fans as the coach who has brought ‘anti-football’ to the forefront of the burgeoning English top flight. At a time when foreign investment, talent and management has infested the English top flight Tony Pulis stands tall and proud putting out teams with a basic tactical set-up, ignoring all new influences on the game with great effect. Not only is he setting teams up in a style that some would argue is suited to the lower leagues of English football, but he is doing it with such success that in a league blessed with some of the greatest footballing masters on the planet, from Mourinho to Pellegrini through Wenger, he is still able to win Manager of the Year. Who is the real genius? What is it he has that allows him to set a team up with such simplicity and, compared to its opposition on occasion, limited talent and yet gain positive results?
Pulis had been in management for around 14 years when he came to all our attention when he managed Stoke City to promotion into the Premier League. Based on playing with 4 centre-backs across defence and what appeared to be Rory Delap long throws, Pulis established the Potter’s as Premier League mainstays. He of course left the club when the powers that be deemed he was unable to take the club any further than he already had. He will be remembered though as the man that got the club dining at the wealthiest table in football and nailing their chair to the ground. Not only that but he took the side to the FA Cup final for the first time in their history, the club were runners-up to Manchester City in the 2011 final. As if Pulis hadn’t already raised the clubs stature enough, the FA Cup final defeat qualified Stoke City for the UEFA Europa League where Pulis led them to Round of 32. This was the first time the club had taken part in a European campaign since a UEFA cup run in the 1974-75 season. All this from a side with Dean Whitehead playing in the middle of the pitch.
Stoke City and the Britannia Stadium became famous because of Pulis and his accomplishments with the club. We all know Lionel Messi is good, but could he do it on a cold, windy and wet night at the Britannia? Getting a win against Stoke at home became considered a good result for any team as it was known not many would get a positive result. When Pulis took over at Selhurst Park in November 2013 he made it clear to everyone that the deciding factor in why Stoke away was not a pleasant trip for anyone was down to him, not just the vocal fans and players in red and white. In Crystal Palace’s first 6 home games, before Pulis took over, the side had only picked up 4 points of a possible 18, won once and conceded 10 goals while only netting 4. Once Pulis had taken the charge the London sides home record dramatically improved; picking up 23 points from a possible 39, won 7 games and only conceded 13 goals while netting 14. The numbers speak for themselves and they don’t just apply to home fixtures as their away form improved drastically as well. However, the home form is indicative of Pulis’ ability to turn a home ground into a fortress. It also displays how he can bring out the best in a side when it can matter most, in front of a hopeful home support.
Palace went on to end the season on 45 points, 38 of which were picked up once Pulis was put in charge. Palace’s resurgence was so impressive under Pulis that the points they picked up from his appointment in November (38 pts) alone would’ve been enough to secure safety with 17th placed ended the season on 33 points. It wasn’t like there was a massive change in personnel under Pulis that you could attribute to their success, he took over outside the transfer window and during January his 4 signings were Jason Puncheon, who was already on a one year loan at the club from the summer, Wayne Hennessey who since signing has still only made 2 league appearances for the club, Joe Ledley and Scott Dann. The two latter were typical Pulis signings. Joe Ledley proved in his time at Celtic to be a tireless worker in the midfield and physical presence, while the former Blackburn man Scott Dann was the archetypal Pulis centre-back with his height, strength and no nonsense approach to defending. This all speaks to Pulis and what is at the core of his managerial success, his man management. He has the ability to get out of a group of players what others cannot. Palaces’s success last season and then struggles under Warnock this season support this idea
The question now is can that man management be of benefit to West Brom and their season. It’s clear from interviews with some of the players they are happy with his appointment. Already there are players praising his approach to both training and matches. Their confidence comes from his confident approach to management, which must be helpful because as a player there must be nothing worse when you are low on confidence than seeing your manager suffering the same. It is early days in his time at the baggies but even just a quick look at Saido Berahino’s form could be attributed to Pulis and his arrival.
Berahino started the season in magnificent form, he had netted 7 goals in his first 9 appearances. Obviously this led to an England call-up and the typical rumours circulating of a big January move to one of the top sides. Then the young England international went on an incredible 10 game scoring drought and he was brought up on a DUI charge at the same time. Confidence must’ve been low for Berahino. The potential damage to his promising career would obviously be enough to destroy any young player’s confidence. Then “the Tony Pulis effect’ came into play. Since his appointment Berahino has found the net now 6 times, admittedly 4 of those goals were against Gateshead in the cup but for a striker struggling for goals they all count towards helping gain back that confidence. For me it’s no coincidence that Pulis’s arrival coincided with Berahino’s individual performances in front of goal. Now, in the January transfer window those rumours about Berahino getting a move are back, the difference a change in manager can make. At this stage it’s possible that “the Tony Pulis effect” is more in the mind than his actual contribution. He has a reputation that precedes him that will give players confidence before he has even began to start making his mark on then in training and match days.
His recent history speaks for itself and a betting man would now believe that West Brom will survive the drop which a few weeks ago didn’t seem so likely. He would also probably try and shoe horn as much of the West Brom defence as he can into his fantasy team. It’s a belief of West Brom fans and neutrals, it’s a belief pundits have, it’s a belief that as a result the players have and you can bet it’s a belief that Pulis himself has. The belief that a club Tony Pulis is in charge of will not be relegated from the Premier League. As mentioned it is early days in his tenure in the Midlands but I can’t see this being the side that breaks the Welshman’s impressive record of never suffering relegation. The banners at the Hawthorns should read “In Pulis We Trust”, and if you don’t recent history tells us you should.