Imagine you are the chairman of a club struggling to avoid relegation. You have tried making transfers and bringing in new faces to bring more quality to the team. You also tried to work out a solution to the problem with the backroom staff, but nothing is working and the drop seems unavoidable. Well, there is only one thing you need to do: bring Tony Pulis in, sit back and watch your club stay in the Premier league.
Pulis has spent his whole managerial career in clubs lacking stability and in serious threat of being relegated. His was given his first managerial position in Bournemouth in 1992, a club he finished his playing career in (unsurprisingly, he played as a center back). He succeeded Harry Redknapp and spent two seasons at the club successfully avoiding the drop (they finished 17th twice in a row in League Two – the third tier at the time). Next, he managed clubs like Gillingham, Bristol City and Stoke. They were all having problems prior to Pulis’ arrival, before he changed things for the better. He never saw a single one of his teams get relegated. Additionally, although famous for his ability to keep teams up, he doesn’t stop there and continues to work on the club’s growth. However, he is far more well known for never having been relegated, which can be frustrating, by his own admission.
“It’s a compliment in some respects and something you work very hard over a period of time to achieve to get that recognition. But what I get frustrated about is that everybody talks about me never being relegated, nobody talks about the fact I’ve been promoted out of every league in England”.
When Pulis took over at Stoke City, the team were destined for relegation from the Championship, and yet he managed to defy all odds and stay in the league (vital to the cause was striker Ade Akinbiyi, who was brought in by Pulis himself). He then went on to turn Stoke City into a stable Championship side before leaving for Plymouth after a fallout with the owner.
A year later, he returned to Stoke and was at the helm when the club was promoted to the top flight for the first time in 23 years. They were favorites for relegation only during their first season in the Premier League, and then moved on to become a tough mid-table club, notorious for their physical style of play. From a relegation-threatened Championship side, Pulis turned Stoke into a team even the big four didn’t like to play against. In 2011, he became the first manager ever to guide Stoke to an FA Cup final. He moved on from Stoke to Crystal Palace and WBA, where he basically repeated his past success, taking a team written off by almost everyone, avoiding the drop, and providing stability along the way.
So how does he do it?
What is it that he does when he comes in? Many managers go for their own staff and start making changes in the backroom. Pulis, however, keeps the majority of the staff that is already there and they provide him with the proper insight. They help him understand the players better and faster and address the concerns in the squad. He also adjusts himself to the squad, rather than the other way around.
When it comes to managing players, it all depends on the player. Whether you need to do a bit of shouting or just a tap on the back is determined by the player’s mindset (that’s where the staff comes in– to give their opinion on which player needs what). Also, one of the most important things (if not the most important thing) in professional sport is confidence. And confidence (or the lack of it) is the direct consequence of results. This means that the first thing you need to do is to get the results and to learn to deal with the losses. When you are fighting for relegation, a draw is a good result.
Many managers mistakenly focus on their attack when the team is not performing well enough. However, Pulis has a different approach – he forms a very strong, organized defense. His teams are known for playing tough, defensive-minded football with the attack being based on good defense. Pulis doesn’t prioritize attractiveness of the game over the result (perhaps that’s the reason he gets on so well with Mourinho). This season, West Brom have kept six clean sheets, and are ranked sixth in the Premier League in defense, according to Squawka.
Another thing Pulis does well is his transfer policy. He usually gets it right. What he looks for in all players, regardless of their position, is good character.
“You need different strengths in different areas. But the one thing I have always done is try to bring good characters into my football clubs. It’s difficult enough trying to win games when you are up against it, but to win games when you have a few dodgy characters behind the scenes makes it even tougher. So I’ve always tried to avoid that, and if I’ve got them in, I’ve always tried to get rid of them quickly.”
Lastly, Pulis wants to be in total control of his job. He doesn’t like the board to interfere and asks for their unconditional support. He left Crystal Palace and Stoke because he didn’t see eye to eye with the board, and that is a very important aspect of his managerial style. That seems to be the big thing today: allowing the manager to manage.
With Pulis being regarded as the relegation expert, nobody ever expects him to one day manage a top club. What do you think, how would he do in a top four club? Share your thoughts with us.