After almost three years as head coach at West Brom and Premier League finishes of 13th, 14th and 10th, Tony Pulis has been given his p45 as football is becoming more and more unforgiving for the managers. Although it may seem a harsh decision, was it the right one?
Pulis had himself admitted over recent weeks that football is indeed a results game and with only one win for this season leaving them one point above the relegation zone, West Brom are definitely in a rough patch, a situation Pulis is not accustomed to. To see him have to address the sort of questions he’s had to has been strange; a man usually so in control of what happens on the pitch, transferring to someone at ease with himself in the interview rooms. Here, calm though he has been, the pressure and inability to make sense of the situation have been clear.
West Brom did what anyone does when faced with a relegation battle and turned to Tony Pulis, it seems they have also now done what anyone does when in a bit of bad form and hit the panic button. The term may not seem glamorous but there is no overarching evidence that getting rid of a manager in such a situation, even with the pedigree of Pulis, is a bad move.
In his first half a season, TP did what TP does and dug the Baggies out of a hole – another great escape achieved by the Welshman. That, however deep West Brom were down that hole, everyone expected. That is Pulis’ arena, his claim to fame. Progression from a relegation battling side was always going to be the potential stumbling block.
The slightly more high-profile signing of Nacer Chadli last Summer was, for me at least, a forward thinking thinking transfer, one to set a marker as to how West Brom were to progress. He’s obviously not an amazing player or the biggest of names but from a big club like Spurs and being an end product player, which he is, Chadli was a big signing, sending a signal that WBA were heading for the top half of the table.
West Brom finished 10th, with Chadli starting well but falling off big time. I always find it’s difficult and almost harsh to judge a side destined for mid-table, with nothing to play for at the end of the season. Generally, these types of teams tend to be waiting for the season to end and this is what has happened to the Baggies the last two seasons. Last season, with eight games to go, they were on 44 points but claimed just one from the last eight. The season before, the 40 point mark was reached at this stage but the final eight games brought only three points, leading to an average 14th place finish. The final part of the season seeming so meaningless leads to a slump and this has affected West Brom’s standing in the league recently. They have carried some of that form into this seaso
Gregorz Krychowiak was a truly big signing and it seemed West Brom were going to progress even further, however the balance of the side meant Krychowiak was not needed or at least not alongside Gareth Barry and Jake Livermore. That midfield three has been Pulis’ downfall. Where he has been expected to attack more and allowed to do so by the opposition, the personal in the midfield must change to compliment the change in tactic. Of course, Pulis wants to play more defensive football but against an opposition unwilling to attack, West Brom being the ‘bigger’ side have had to take the game to the opposition. With their impressive last season where this expectation began, I had expected Pulis’ side to cope with it and be successful in attacking the opposition in this but that slow, defensive midfield three has made it near-on impossible to do so.
In being forced to attack more, the Baggies’ defensive record has also gone downhill with only three clean sheets in 11 league games. The West Brom defence is no longer feared. And this is the main problem despite the focus being on their obvious attacking weaknesses. The inability to defend means they have lost their backbone, causing them to lose their identity and their way. This is something Pulis had not experienced before.
This evidence early on in the season of failure to adapt to new expectations and progress to the Europa League may justify the sacking as maybe Pulis’ time is up. Maybe he has done the job he was brought in to do. It’s time for the next stage and maybe Pulis cannot be there for both.
One thing is for sure, West Brom would have stayed up under TP but as he did at his previous clubs, he has built a team that it would take a very long to get relegated with regardless of the new man.
As the board has not allowed Pulis to continue this project and develop WBA beyond his clubs, they must find someone they know is capable of doing so and truly no manager who would take the job has done so, including Sean Dyche.