Tony Pulis – coach, manager, psychologist.

Tony Pulis – coach, manager, psychologist.

tony pulis smilingIt wasn’t my biggest return of the football season (that came via a 109/1 magnificent 7 teams to win accumulator) but winning on Crystal Palace to stay up was probably the most satisfying.

Why? Because when you just know something will happen, and it does… well, any punter can relate to that feeling.

Hopeless though their cause looked at the time, I knew Crystal Palace would survive the moment they appointed Tony Pulis as their new manager .

TV pundits said Palace were as good as down when Ian Holloway walked away from Selhurst Park. Three points from eight games, 17 goals conceded and only 6 scored, Palace were 6 points from safety when Pulis became the new manager. They would need a miracle to stay up said the usual suspects.

 

No, said I. All Crystal Palace required was Tony Pulis. And, crucially, a set of players willing to do it his way.

Tony Pulis was a non nonsense player. “Hard but fair” as described to me by former opponent John Sitton.

And Pulis has been a non nonsense manager. He’s at work at a time when some players (those not those at Palace) are just coming in from a nightclub.

He says: “I enjoy being out on the coaching pitches, working with players. I’m not an office type of manager. I don’t enjoy sitting in an office. The players have bought into what we’ve tried to do and with the pace we’ve got we wanted to play a certain way. We’ve done it successfully and we’ve got better as the season has gone on.”

Prior to his appointment, writes Vernon Grant, I couldn’t understand why club chairman Steve Paris took so long to go and get Pulis. He was available and was the obvious choice.

After the men met for the first time the ‘noises off’ were not positive. Parish went away to consider alternative candidates. I was baffled.

parish_3136445Parish spoke to Mark Chapman at BBC 5 Live and explained what took him so long: “My way of doing things is to look at all the possibilities and angles. At the beginning I’m looking at the definite ‘no’ candidates. I ask myself why wouldn’t i have somebody, and that inevitably leads to the right answer. I don’t know any other way of doing it.

“There was a stereotype around Tony that he played the game a certain way and I frankly wasn’t sure we had the players for us to play that way.

“This was November, there was no opportunity to get any players in, so I had to spend quite a bit of time with Tony. We talked about what great Palace sides were, how they played, the make-up of the area, the community spirit, everything about the club. We found a way forward.

And Pulis needed some persuasion. He consulted men in the game whose opinion he respects.
Pulis told BBC Sport: “I was very sceptical. Nearly everyone I spoke to said it’s almost an impossible job. My biggest concern was we were six weeks and a lot of games from the transfer window to change things.

“But Sir Alex Ferguson and my ex-chairman Peter Coates thought it was a job that could be done because of the club, because everybody had written it off, because of the fantastic supporters.”
 

Tony Pulis arrived for his first session at the out of date Crystal Palace training ground and discovered he had inherited a demoralised squad of players.

He recalls his first impressions: “It was not easy turning people who have been told they’re not good enough to compete and getting a team that believes they can win games. A manager today is not just a coach, he’s a psychologist, he’s everything rolled into one. You do have to convince the players that they are good enough because there are so many knockbacks at this level and they have to keep bouncing back.
 
“They have to be strong mentally, as well as physically, and they have to feel as though you know what you’re doing and they buy into it. They’ve got to have that feeling that you’re leading them the right way. I think they’ve done that and bought into it unbelievably well.

“In the first month I was here we moved something like 15 players out of the club. We had to do a lot of work outside the starting XI and then we gradually nailed down a group. We looked at what qualities we had and struck on a system.

“There were lots of meetings about what we were trying to do, but the most important thing was ironing everything out on the training ground so everybody knew their role. Wherever the ball is they know where they should be, they have to be there and if they’re not there it will cause problems.

“Then it’s down to the players – whether they’re prepared to work as hard as you want, whether they’re prepared to do what you want them to do. The reason why we’ve achieved what we have is because everybody has done what we wanted them to do to the best of their ability.”

The Eagles were leaking goals prior to the arrival of Tony Pulis. I just knew he would put an end to that. And I had a feeling that the strikers were better than they had shown under Holloway.

Pulis says: “The team was very open, leaking goals and looking as though they would leak more. The players were in bad positions. When we were in possession, even when we weren’t, the team shape was not good. For what suited the players, it was far too stretched and at the wrong times.

“We wanted to be more solid but play quickly on the counter-attack, so you need pace up front. We have that in Jerome, Bolasie and Puncheon, but also Marouane Chamakh in a withdrawn striker role helped us stay a lot tighter. It’s the first time Chamakh has operated in that number 10 role, but he’s played it as well as anyone I’ve seen.”

If anyone still thought Pulis was a dour man coaching footballers to be play in a dour, negative way; well, they surely changed their opinion when they witnessed the fightback against Liverpool. At three nil down most players with nothing to play for would have simply waited for the final whistle. Not when Pulis is their boss. Not a chance. They scored three goals in the last eleven minutes to end any realistic chance Liverpool had of winning the Premier League.

But what if another club comes calling for Pulis? Newcastle will be in the market for a new manager soon. Perhaps even Sunderland (unless Gus Poyet gets his way).
 

Will Pulis walk away from a club at which, in the space of five months, he has become a legend.

He says: “We’re in a better position than when I came in. It would be crazy to walk away, but there has to be a plan and some structure towards that plan. There’s another two years left on my contract. I’ve got to sit down with Steve and talk about the future, what we’ve got to try to do.

“The club needs an upgrade everywhere. If you look at the training ground, if you look at the stadium, if you look at everything behind the scenes, the infrastructure, it needs an upgrade.”

Statistics can sometimes be deceptive. But not in the case of the born again Crystal Palace.

Under Pulis they have won 11 of the 24 games for which he was manager, a 46% win rate. They have scored 21 goals and conceded 22 – only one more than the team let in during half as many games prior to his arrival. And the stat that surprises me the least – they have kept 10 clean sheets under Pulis.

The former Stoke City boss says: “I think the perception of me has now changed. It was said when I left that it was good for Stoke to have a fresh manager. Well, I think this was good for me as well. We’ve been congratulated on the football we’ve played, which has been lovely, but we’ve played to the strengths of the team.”

Tony Pulis has fallen out with the odd player at previous clubs. Those who didn’t like what was being asked of them. And he fell out with the owner of Gillingham in spectacular fashion.

But when his Chairman and players are willing to do things his way, there are few managers better placed to accomplish the desired mission.

Would I have wanted to watch Stoke City each week while he was manager? No. Do I wish the team I support was still in the Premier League? Of course.

At Stoke, Mark Hughes has picked up the baton left by Pulis and run with it. Hughes has been overlooked this season. But he too has done a good job. He inherited a modernised set up at Stoke and the credit for that belongs at the door of Tony Pulis.

pulis and parish

Now, if Steve Parish supports him, Crystal Palace fans can look forward to a few years of Premier League stability.  And, after the atmosphere they have created since at Selhurst Park since the turn of the year, they have earned it.

As Pulis says: “The crowd have been amazing. The Palace fans have to be the same next year, the year after and the year after.”

As someone who can recall the optimism that existed all too briefly at Palace in the early 70’s under Malcolm Allison and Terry Venables, I hope their survival this season heralds the beginning of a longer term stay in the top flight.

As long as Tony Pulis is the manager, and just so long as the fans are realistic about expectations, the Eagles should have a more Peaceful, Easy Feeling.

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