Tony Pulis has always called a spade a shovel. The managerial equivalent of marmite, love him or loathe him, it’s indisputable that he says it as he sees it. For better or worse.
So it was that I was pleased to hear one of his first decisions as the new manager of Sheffield Wednesday is to bring Keiren Westwood in from the cold, writes Vernon Grant. The previous manager Garry Monk had long ago sent the goalkeeper to coventry. Not Literally. Westwood was just one of the victims of Monk and his ‘my way or the highway’ attitude. Monk was not interested in listening to the opinion of experienced players such as Westwood and Sam Hutchinson (another player Pulis would have kept had Monk had not sent him packing).
Now it’s a new beginning for Sheffield Wednesday, for Tony Pulis and for experienced footballers such as Keiren Westwood.
During his first press conference as the new Owls boss, Pulis was asked about the fact that on his first day the Irish International goalkeeper was seen back training with the first team.
Pulis said: “No disrespect to the two young goalkeepers who were in and have done really well, personally I think the kid (Westwood) is one of the best goalkeepers in the Championship and if he was available, and the position we’re in now, I most probably would be looking to pick him and be looking for him to be playing. Can I be any more honest than that?”
I admire how Westwood kept his counsel during the time he was being ignored by the previous manager. Although he has a Twitter account, the goalkeeper did not use it to slag off Garry Monk. I couldn’t have blamed him had he done so. But instead Westwood uses his Twitter account positively. Other footballers could learn from him in that regard.
Whether or not he’s up to full fitness, it appears that Tony Pulis wants to sort things out behind the scenes so that Westwood can once again be the first choice goalkeeper. I’m good with that. The danger for Keiren is that he will be so keen to prove certain people wrong that, initially at least, he might be too eager. For several years has been an excellent servant between the sticks and was very popular with supporters.
Unfortunately Garry Monk spread bad word about the more experienced players at Hillsborough. Using high salaries as the reason for wanting rid of them when, in fact, it had just as much to do with them questioning his approach and tactics.
Tony Pulis will, of course, take no shit from any player. But he knows the type of footballer he wants to do the job his way and he has long favoured experience over youth. He will command the respect of those footballers who are prepared to train hard, improve their personal fitness and be mentally strong. For all the criticism Pulis has received for the style of play he has favoured at some clubs, criticism that has often been deserved, he is likely to make Wednesday more efficient, harder to beat and is unlikely to savour his first ever relegation.
During his first press conference (which you can watch in full below) he reacted to people constantly referring to him avoiding relegation at clubs. He said: “Nobody ever talks about the fact that I’ve been promoted out of every league, that I’ve been to a cup final, been in the last stages in Europe and that I’ve finished in the top ten of the Premier League.”
To do that, among other things, Pulis will need to get Wednesday scoring many more goals than has been the case so far this season. The strikers he inherits would not have been able to score in a brothel of late. He may have to wait until the January transfer window before he can bring in proven goalscorers. In the meantime he needs to encourage and get a better tune out of the likes of Jordan Rhodes and Josh Windass.
If you had asked me anytime in the past if I would want Tony Pulis managing my club, my answer would have been a resounding no. But beggars cannot be choosers and he’s a better bet to keep the Owls in the Championship than his predecessor.
His arrival reminds me of the decade when I spent most of my time watching the Owls lose. When my version of self-flagellating was to regularly travel from my London home and watch Wednesday home and away in Division Two and Division Three. From Aldershot to Carlisle. Swindon to Darlington. The dark days of the 1970’s that are remembered so well in this excellent book, Our Lowest Ebb?
As bad as things may appear to the latest generation of Wednesday supporter, I can testify that it’s been much worse. When Wednesday plummeted from the first division in 1970 to staring Division 4 in the face just a few years later. Turning the club around on the pitch proved to be beyond several managers. Until, in 1977, a man known for his defensive and supposed route one tactics was persuaded to take on what appeared to be mission impossible. A man who had previously managed Middlesbrough. That man was the recently departed Jack Charlton, whose live and times in football is remembered in this forthcoming film.
When Big Jack was appointed some feared the style of football that would be on offer. I recall many a game when the Owls led 1-0, even early in a home game, and we could go to the bar safe in the knowledge that the match would likely end 1-0. Charlton believed in building from the back. Making the defence secure before concentrating on attack. Something he achieved when creating an attractive side which only two years later beat local rivals Sheffield United 4-0 in the famous Boxing Day massacre.
It might be a plus that fans aren’t allowed into Hillsborough right now. As was the case under Jack Charlton in the 70’s, the early days of the Tony Pulis management may not be pretty on the eye. Historically, Sheffield Wednesday supporters have always preferred to see their team play attractive, attacking football. Perhaps by the time football grounds are once again open to spectators Pulis will have the Owls flying up the table.
Turning Sheffield Wednesday around will be one of the toughest challenges Tony Pulis has faced. His friend and former manager Steve Bruce ran for the Newcastle hills once he saw how bad things were off the pitch at Sheffield 6. Since which time Bruce has warned off other managers from taking the job. The club has a Chairman who Pulis praised for spending so much money during his five years in charge. But that overlooks the fact that Dejphon Chansiri has doubled the debt in each of his five years in charge, that he has yet to produce accounts for 2019 and who has sold the ground to someone who now has a mortgage on Hillsborough.
If Pulis can build trust with the owner, if he can sign players who will make the squad tougher, if he stays the course… then he may just be the man to take Wednesday back to the promised land.
He begins his time as manager with an away match against inconsistent Preston North End. He may be without some players who are on International duty in midweek but, at odds of 7/5, I might take a chance on Sheffield Wednesday in the win/draw no bet market when I recommend my weekend football tips to subscribers to my analysis and football tips service at VG Tips.
There’s far too much short term thinking in football these days. In boardrooms and on the terraces. It took many years for the likes of Jack Charlton, Howard Wilkinson, Ron Atkinson and Trevor Francis to revive the fortunes of a club as big as Sheffield Wednesday. The advance of social media has led to fans being more impatient and critical than ever. Not just of their teams but even of fellow supporters! Too many don’t want to hear about building something long term. But that is precisely what needs to happen at this club.
Pulis summed up the state of football management in the modern era: “This profession now is very difficult. Some of the periods of time that managers get now is just absolutely ridiculous. There is no way in a million years that they can effect a football club.”
As he said of his friend Chris Wilder at Sheffield United: “It’s taken him four or five years to get where they are. I’d like to get to a point where we’re once again playing them in the same division and in a Sheffield derby. I want the players to be competitive. To play with passion and desire. But to put an identity on this team, on a football club, takes time.”
I fear Tony Pulis may not be a long term appointment. He refused to confirm what type or length of contract he has agreed with Chansiri. Tony Pulis wouldn’t have been my first choice to manage Sheffield Wednesday but I wish him only good things and hope he is there long enough to build something for the long term. Somebody needs to.