It’s a good bet that Tony Pulis is walking around with a big smile today, having been named by Crystal Palace as a potential replacement for Ian Holloway.
Pulis, who once admitted that his goal in life was to be working in top-flight football, may yet again have that opportunity after being sacked by Stoke City last summer.
That firing was largely due to Pulis’ inability to innovate Stoke’s direct style of play, putting an end to a seven year reign with the Potters (his second stint with the club) and leading many to believe that a return to the Premier League was a long shot.
While his ego may have been bruised by the Potters’ sacking, Pulis nevertheless left Stoke-on-Trent with one very important record in tact: in his 18 seasons of managing English football he has never been relegated.
It’s an achievement that Palace co-chairman Steve Parish hasn’t failed to notice. “Tony has never got relegated, has he?” the co-chairman asked. “He’s out of work, got Premier League experience. Not a bad shout. We need someone who has been there and done it and got the T-shirt. Players respond to that.”
And just like that the former Stoke manager is the favorite with betting sites across the internet, followed by Avram Grant, Martin O’Neill and Chris Coleman. Pulis had surfaced as a potential candidate for positions at Sunderland, Derby County and Middlesbrough and is known to be very close with the departed Holloway, who has given Pulis his full backing.
“Tony’s one of my best mates,” Holloway said. “I told him [Parish] it’s who you need.”
Parish’s search for his fourth manager in three years begins Thursday with Keith Millen, Palace’s No. 2, taking charge of the club for Saturday’s home match against Arsenal.
In addition to top-flight experience and the track record of having never been relegated, Pulis fits Palace’s need of being available on the cheap. Following Holloway’s departure Parish blamed the club’s “tiny infrastructure” for a “ridiculous” summer that included signing 16 new players, largely at cut-rate prices, indicating the co-chairman looks unlikely to splash the cash on a new manager.
The influx of new characters, along with the loss of Wilfried Zaha (to Manchester United) and Glenn Murray (cruciate knee injury), diluted the character of Palace, something that Holloway lamented in his out going press conference. “I didn’t value enough the spirit of the group that got us here,” Holloway said. “We changed to give us a chance to stay up but lost that spirit of the group. We’ve got worse in that vein rather than better and I owe it to the lads [who were promoted] to admit that.”
Whether Pulis is the right man for the job is a topic likely to divide the masses.
His survival rate is impressive and Pulis is known to be an upbeat personality, one capable of motivating players while turning a dull ear to critics who pan his physical, straightforward approach to the game. If the players are receptive to his approach – which will undoubtedly be the 55 year old’s greatest hurdle if he is to be appointed manager at Selhurst Park – the Eagles’ fortunes could change rather quickly.
The area of the field Pulis could have an immediate impact upon is in defense. Under Holloway’s swashbuckling style, the Eagles were often left exposed at the back where opponents picked them apart, as demonstrated by Fulham this past Monday. Palace have a nice range of athletes (Arian Mariappa, Dean Moxey and Mile Jedinak), experience (Danny Gabbidon) and talent (Joel Ward and Kagisho Dikgacoi) on the defensive side of the ball and if linked together in the right scheme, could prove quite stingy. Pulis has the tools to make this happen.
Of course, the Eagles also need help offensively. One would expect Pulis to get the best out of former Stoke man Cameron Jerome while players like Dwight Gayle, Marouane Chamakh and James Puncheon all possess those ‘grinder’ qualities that work well in a direct style of play. If he can then motivate Palace’s more clever players like Barry Bannon and Jose Campana, there’s a chance Pulis could put Palace on the right side of a few results.
But there’s a lot of ‘ifs’ there. Like Holloway, Pulis will struggle to get a hold on this squad. The wide variety of player types and personalities may be tough to reel in, especially when you’re the manager best known for a brand of football that most consider outdated and unappetizing.
And yet, perhaps that is exactly what Palace need. As Holloway found out, they Eagles are not going to out-football another Premier League team.
So maybe bit of grit, a bit of fight, a bit of anti-football might just be the prescription to cure Palace’s ailments in the Premier League.