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Football purist, realist and general sports fanatic. Interested in all aspects of the game, from all corners of the earth.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Tony Pulis: The Master of Survival

In 2010 the Donna Louise Children’s Hospice gathered a group of minor celebrities to tackle one of the earth’s Seven Summits as a means to raise funds for the Stoke based charity.

The idea of tackling Mount Kilimanjaro is daunting at the best of times; at the worst of times it’s harrowing. Inclement weather afflicted Northern Tanzania during the week of the climb; locals claimed it was the worst in the region in five years. A blizzard wrapped around the mountain, plunging temperatures south of minus twenty degrees Celsius.

Former Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman was part of the travelling party.

The Highbury legend described the expedition as a “really frightening ordeal. It was hard, so much harder than I thought it would be. But because of a massive team effort some made it to the top.”

Seaman was not one of them. Several members were admitted to hospital during the ascent suffering from extreme altitude sickness and hypothermia.

When the climb became a battle between man and Mother Nature it became a matter of survival. Naturally, Tony Pulis survived.

Typically of the man, he looked at the ends as opposed to the means. “At times it was really scary” says Pulis, “but the main thing was we made it”.

On the vicious descent the West Brom manager possessed the strength to aid Stoke City’s youth team coach Adrian Pennock downwards after his brain began to find it impossible to communicate with the muscles in his legs. This anecdote has a wonderful symmetry with Pulis’ professional life; he was able to haul an anemic body to safety.

Tony Pulis is not the most ambitious manager you could find; his ideal type of football will never send a supporter out of the ground questioning what he had just witnessed. He has stated before his primary motive when facing the first game of the season is not to win, merely not to lose. What can’t be disputed however is the former Stoke City manager has made a career on his ability to forcefully reinvigorate debilitated individuals into a steady, determined unit.

While the Welshman was successful within the parameters set during his time at Stoke, his job at Crystal Palace was nothing short of remarkable. Palace, bereft of anything except misery under Ian Holloway, were transformed into one of the most difficult opponents in the league. Three wins in his first four games steadied the sinking ship at Selhurst Park, five wins on the spin in the spring (including a 1-0 defeat of Chelsea and away wins at Everton and West Ham) anchored it in the top division.

The only thing preventing us from seeing such a drastic metamorphosis in the Black Country this year is the fact West Brom were not even close to being as bad as Palace were when Pulis took charge. We can guarantee his side will avoid relegation however and not be accused of blind faith.

Pulis’ squad selection since he joined the club has been understandably inconsistent as he assesses his squad and attempts to find his best eleven; in West Brom’s four league games under Pulis they have lined up with four different back-fours, they’ve started with three different formations and used six different forwards.

Before the season Pulis told 8by8 magazine how he approaches joining a group mid-season. “The most important thing is to see what’s there: what players you’ve got, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Then you have to put all that together and find a way of winning games—so you fit that into a system that will suit them best. And then it’s down to really getting them motivated and believing”.

Despite the tinkering, their sole defeat in this period was against an in-form Spurs team who blitzed them early on in the Midlands.

While he is the ideal man to prevent a side from demotion to The Championship, Pulis’ ceiling is lower than most managers in the division. It is no coincidence Stoke acquired their first top ten finish in the Premier League the season after he had left the Britannia. Despite taking advantage of Stoke chairman Peter Coates’ deep pockets, Pulis’ style was too regressive to maintain a high level of success across the full season; he is not the manager you want to charge with the responsibility of progressing up the table across a number of seasons.

Instead think of him as an administrator to football clubs bankrupt of talent and inspiration. He has earned enough respect in the past decade to be able to make certain demands and expect to be given them; West Brom have eased off on their insistence the club’s transfer committee is in firm control of incoming transfers at The Hawthorns.

Tony Pulis will always find a way to escape fatal danger. Never mind Mount Kilimonjaro; compared to Crystal Palace, this job is a walk in the park.

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