Tony Pulis at odds with realities of Crystal Palace

6 Comments

In England, the manager’s role has traditionally had a very special significance. Pick a man, hand him the keys (and the checkbook), and let him do his job. If that takes you to the top, congratulations. You picked the right man. If you end up in the cellar, well, you should have done your homework.

Over time, parts of England have started moving away from that model. While Arsène Wenger is the be-all and end-all at Arsenal, clubs like Chelsea, Manchester City, and Tottenham have instilled more collaborative models. The general feeling: The soccer world has become too competitive for one man to do the job by himself.

Still, consider how deeply you have to buy into the one man philosophy to condone what Tony Pulis did today. Walking away from Crystal Palace two days before the new season, the man who saved the Eagles from relegation appears to be standing on principle. If co-chairman Steve Parish and the rest of Palace’s board won’t pour more money into the club, Pulis was willing to walk.

How can Pulis justify this decision to Palace’s players, some of whom chose South London based on the manager? None of them have the luxury of walking away because reinforcements aren’t coming. What kind of loyalty has Pulis shown by throwing their fall into chaos?

How can he justify this decision to the rest of the club? The staff whose allegiance goes beyond what happens in Steve Parish’s office? Rather than accept the reality of the life he chose (Pulis did only join the club in November), Pulis has made a power play, one that threatens the team’s first division survival.

And how can Pulis justify this decision to the supporters, whose presence helped make Selhurst Park so imposing at the end of last season? With hopes this year can be more stable than the last, fans have seen the man who fostered spring’s stability exit after a game of chicken. Without more money to improve his squad, Pulis followed through on his threat and walked out the door.

In light of Palace’s circumstances, Pulis’s principles are ill-placed. He knew what he was getting into when he signed on: A small club; one that would have to use guile like Pulis’s to transcend its modest situation. As we saw in the last two transfer windows, there are no big checks to cash. Crystal Palace can’t throw away money, the way their manager did at Stoke.

We mentioned it earlier today: Pulis’s net spending over his last five years at Stoke was negative £80 million. What did the Potters get for that investment? Stability, yes. And they got an FA Cup final. They also got a dour brand of soccer that left supporters defending the most unromantic of virtues: Pragmatism. And in time, fans got a team that failed to improve, one that reached new heights after one season under Mark Hughes.

Crystal Palace can’t afford those pursuits, a reality Pulis must have known when he signed on. It was only three years earlier that Palace was in administration – pushed to the brink of the third division by its financial woe. Newly stabilized, newly successful, Palace has shown they need not return to their reckless ways, yet Pulis was demanding they do so.

It all adds up to one sneaking suspicion: Pulis just wanted to go. Either that, or he’s the most short-sighted of old school bosses. If the 58-year-old really was dense enough to overlook Palace’s recent history, last year’s success, and the realities of life at Selhurst Park, it was best he left now. There’s no dramatic change coming in South London.

I refuse to believe Pulis is that dumb. Instead, I buy into his guile. Coming off a stellar showing last season, and knowing jobs will open up over the next five months, Pulis engineered a scenario that would allow him to move to greener pastures – to a club without the limitations of Crystal Palace. And as an easy escape route, Pulis relied on an outdated truism: You have to back your manager.

Some will buy that tale, particularly in light of last season’s success. And there’s a little part of me that sees that point of view. But how to explain that to the players, who are two days away from facing Arsenal? How to explain that to a club whose life in the Premier League is under new threat? How to explain that to a fan base that should abhor this kind of selfishness from their now former boss?

There’s only one explanation: Tony Pulis was acting in the best interest of Tony Pulis. While that’s understandable, managers should be able to transcend that base instinct. In the long term, showing a broader perspective is in a manager’s best interest.

For as tough as life may be for Palace this season, the club was right to let him walk. And for anybody willing to bring back Tony Pulis, they know what they’re getting into.

EFL Cup Weds preview: East Lancashire Derby highlights slate

Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Eighteen teams booked spots Tuesday in the League Cup’s third round, with Watford the lone Premier League side to take a fall.

Six more try their luck on Wednesday, the last day of tournament play before the big boys join up.

[ MORE: EFL Cup Tues. wrap ]

A sleepy big affair is the East Lancashire Derby between Burnley and now League One side Blackburn Rovers, a rivalry which has been staged in three leagues or competitions since the turn of the century. This makes it four, joining the Premier League (2009-10), FA Cup (2004-05) and Championship (six times since 2012-13).

Burnley has three wins and three draws since its last loss to Blackburn, which came via David Dunn penalty at Turf Moor in a Premier League match on March 28, 2010.

Make no mistake, Clarets goalkeeper Tom Heaton thinks it’ll be a fantastic affair (from burnleyfootballclub.com):

“And for the players. Make no mistake, we were all delighted when the draw came in,” said Heaton. “It’s a fantastic match we are all looking forward to. It’s a fantastic night as players, fans and for the club.

“We’ll be going there geared up to win the game and give it everything we’ve got. The new lads coming in will certainly get an eye opener for the atmosphere and how good it is. They’re brilliant games to play in, I’ve enjoyed every minute of them.”

If you’re surprised by the rivalry, you have company in Blackburn boss Tony Mowbray. From Rovers.co.uk:

“I have to say living in the north east of England, Suffolk and Scotland most of my life I never would have grasped that Blackburn and Burnley and the geography of how close they were to be honest,” he said.

“It is not something that has hit me in the face before of a huge rivalry and yet I can feel it from the people around the building who have lived here all their lives how important this game is to them. … We’ll give it our very best shot and leave no stone unturned in trying to get a result.”

Elsewhere…

Southampton, fresh off adding $19 million Dutch center back Wesley Hoedt, will host Wolverhampton Wanderers at St. Mary’s, one of four 2:45 p.m. ET kickoffs.

Also kicking off at that time is Newcastle United and Nottingham Forest at St. James Park, with USMNT fullback Eric Lichaj likely to feature for the visitors, as well as Rotherham United’s visit to Huddersfield Town and Cheltenham Town’s trip to West Ham United.

A quarter-hour later, the final two second round matches kickoff when Burnley hosts Blackburn Rovers and Rochdale heads to Stoke City.

Southampton lands $19 million Dutch CB Hoedt

Photo by Marco Rosi/Getty Images
1 Comment

Southampton’s added another defender who checks all the boxes, and used its press release to cement its status on the future of want-away center back Virgil Van Dijk.

Saints added Lazio center back Wesley Hoedt on Tuesday, with the reported fee in the neighborhood of $19 million for the 4-times capped Dutch international.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Gooch scores for Sunderland ]

The 6-foot-2 defender is 23 years old, and played 23 matches for i Biancocelesti last season.

Here’s Saints vice chairman Les Reed:

“Finding a naturally left-footed player is even more difficult. We have been tracking central defenders on our target list for the past 12 months and Wesley has always been at the top of that list, so it was important to act when the opportunity came.”

As our own Joe Prince-Wright pointed out, Saints aren’t exactly rolling out the red carpet for Van Dijk’s departure.

Saints also have Maya Yoshida — who won a penalty for Saints this weekend — Jack Stephens, Maya Yoshida, Jan Bednarek and Florin Gardos in their corps.

Will Van Dijk stay? Betting sites have him at 5:6 odds to stay at Southampton, but somehow 1:1 to join Liverpool and 7:1 to head to Chelsea (Man City gets 24:1 odds).

At this point, we’d love to see Van Dijk stay and buck the summer’s (actually much longer than that) gossip as Saints fight for a Top Six place.

UCL preview: Three keys to Liverpool-Hoffenheim

Uwe Anspach/dpa via AP
2 Comments

A pair of away goals are under Liverpool’s wing as the Reds prepare for Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League playoff round second leg versus Hoffenheim at Anfield.

That’s great, but it’s Mark Uth’s late concession goal for Hoffenheim that will have Liverpool supporters wary ahead of the return match.

Three keys to the match for Liverpool? Well, let’s start with an easy one.

1) Avoid these score lines: The 2-1 score line works for the Reds, of course, who will only fail to reach the group stage of the UEFA Champions League through some unlikely scenarios:

  • A two-goals or worse loss at Anfield
  • A 2-1 loss plus failing in penalty kicks
  • A one-goal loss while conceding three or more times

2) Don’t allow gaps in the midfield: Kerem Demirbay was being a little cheeky when he said, “We play better football than Liverpool,” and the sides have one major similarity: If you give them room, they can kill you.

Demirbay is a great example of this. The Confederations Cup winner can rip teams apart in the middle of the pitch, and giving him room allows him to choose between unleashing a cannon from distance and spotting Serge Gnabry, Andrej Kramaric, Sandro Wagner, or even Uth for chances on goal. Heck, even Adam Szalai on the bench is a very good option.

Gnabry and Kramaric played less than a half hour each in Hoffenheim’s 1-0 Bundesliga win over the weekend, while Wagner didn’t play at all. Game on.

3) Embrace the occasion: Jurgen Klopp branded Wednesday’s match and the presumed entry into the UCL group stage “the next step” in the club’s evolution under his watch.

This is Liverpool’s second UCL campaign of this decade, and the first UCL night at Anfield since a 1-1 draw against Basel on Dec. 9, 2014.

That night, Brendan Rodgers trotted out this XI: Mignolet, Johnson, Lovren, Skrtel, Enrique, Gerrard (who scored), Henderson, Lucas, Allen, Sterling, Lambert. His subs used? Coutinho, Moreno, Markovic (the last name earned a red card).

In previous home group games against Real Madrid and Ludogorets Razgrad, the Reds managed two more goals. Gerrard had another and Mario Balotelli the other.

So, and this is hopefully a bit overblown but certainly a concern: A whopping six Liverpool players have played in a home UCL match for Liverpool and no one on the Reds roster has scored a goal at Anfield in the competition.

EFL Cup wrap: USMNT’s Gooch shines; Watford upset

Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Six Premier League teams dodged upsets upon entering the League Cup, stylized as the EFL Cup for a second season, but a seventh was not as fortunate.

[ MORE: 426 world clubs, ranked weekly ]


Watford 2-3 Bristol City

Etienne Capoue scored just after halftime to give the Hornets a leg up, but goals from Freddie Hinds and Bobby Reid eight minutes apart gave the Robins a lead that Niclas Eliasson buttressed in stoppage time. Adrian Mariappa pulled one back, but it wasn’t enough for Marco Silva‘s men.

Crystal Palace 2-1 Ipswich Town

The unbeaten Tractor Boys were as much of a problem as advertised, but James McArthur scored in the 76th and 84th minutes to give the Eagles a spot in the next round. Man City loanee Bersant Celina nabbed Ipswich Town’s lone goal.

MK Dons 1-4 Swansea City

Leroy Fer gave Swans a pair of leads at 1-0 and 2-1 before Tammy Abraham and Jordan Ayew scored late to salt away the win at Stadium MK.

Sheffield United 1-4 Leicester City

The popular score line saw Islam Slimani bag a brace in between goals from Demarai Gray and Ahmed Musa.

Carlisle United 1-2 Sunderland

USMNT youngster Lynden Gooch scored an 80th minute winner after assisting on Donald Love‘s opener, as the Black Cats scored a road win.

It’s the 21-year-old Gooch’s first senior goal for the Black Cats in his 19th appearance. It’s also his first assist and should give food for thought to boss Simon Grayson, who has been using him off the bench. Gooch played 362 Premier League minutes last season.

Tuesday’s other results
Aston Villa 4-1 Wigan Athletic
Leeds United 5-1 Newport County
Middlesbrough 3-0 Scunthorpe United
Norwich City 4-1 Charlton Athletic
QPR 1-4 Brentford
Fulham 0-1 Bristol Rovers
Cardiff City 1-2 Burton Albion
Doncaster 2-0 Hull City
Brighton and Hove Albion 1-0 Barnet
Accrington Stanley 1-3 West Brom
Birmingham City 1-2 Bournemouth
Reading 3-1 (aet) Millwall
Bolton 3-2 Sheffield Wednesday
Grimsby Town 0-1 Derby County (1st round match*)

*Derby will face Barnsley in a 2nd round match