Premier League Clubs Managed: Stoke City (2008-2013), Crystal Palace (2013-2014), West Bromwich Albion (2015-PRESENT)
In 2018, Tony Pulis will celebrate his 60th birthday. The Welshman has become a specialist in stabilising Premier League teams. He gets the absolute maximum out of all of his players and whilst his teams might lack the overall superstar who will wow supporters, he will ensure his sides are tough to break down and specialise in their strengths to win football matches.
Pulis has attracted criticism from some of the modern day fans. Some feel his tactics are dull and make games to watch uninspiring. Sometimes, it is a fair point but if you asked fans of his current club West Bromwich Albion, you would want to survive in the Premier League. Survival is more important than substance and Pulis does this brilliantly.
He now been managing for the best part of 25 years and it took a while to reach the promise land with Stoke City in 2008. Since then, Tony has been a regular fixture in the Premier League managerial dugout.
Like many before him, Pulis went into management after the end of his playing career. He spent 17 years kicking footballs rather than coaching footballers and being a defender, you can see why he always builds his teams from the back.
During his playing days, Pulis played for five teams in his career. He even spent one season playing abroad in Hong Kong for Happy Valley – one of the most successful clubs in the country with six domestic championships.
He began his playing career at Bristol Rovers and also featured for local club Newport County AFC, Gillingham and AFC Bournemouth. He would go on to manage the latter two clubs in his career and his break came soon than expected at Dean Court.
Filling Harry’s shoes
Coaching was always in Tony’s mind, even in his early playing career. He obtained his FA coaching badge at just 19, followed by his UEFA ‘A’ licence aged 21 – making him one of the youngest professional players ever to have obtained the qualification.
He wound down his playing time with Bournemouth, eventually taking the management role in 1992 when Harry Redknapp quit, becoming Billy Bonds’ no.2 at West Ham United. A couple of 17th-place finishes weren’t anything to write home about but he was up and running and his next stop was a more successful spell at Gillingham.
He managed them for four campaigns and turned them from relegation strugglers to promotion contenders. In 1999, he took Gillingham to the Division Two playoff final and a meeting with Manchester City at Wembley. What followed next was one of the most sensational playoff finals of all-time. It looked like Pulis was going to take Gillingham up. They dominated the game and eventually took the lead through Carl Asaba, before Robert Taylor doubled the lead. Then, Manchester City produced an unbelievable turnaround to level the game at 2-2, before winning the penalty shootout 3-1. City would go onto achieve back-to-back promotions. Pulis would be out of work just weeks later. A falling out with owner Paul Scally led to his sacking for a claim of gross misconduct. He would sue Scally later for unpaid bonuses which were eventually settled out of court.
Brief spells at Bristol City and Portsmouth going into the millennium didn’t work out and it wasn’t until 2002 until he seemed to have found a home which was with Stoke City. However, that wouldn’t be without dramas of its’ own.
Reaching the promise land eventually at Stoke
Tony took over a team struggling in the First Division in November 2002 and managed to grind out enough victories and points to survive relegation on the final day of the season. The loan signings of Mark Crossley and Ade Akinbiyi played a pivotal part in the Potters’ escaping the drop. Even to this day, Pulis claims this is one of his finest achievements in management.
An 11th-place finish followed in 2003-2004 but soon, relations soured between Pulis and the Icelandic owner of the club, Gunnar Gislason. Rows broke out over the club’s transfer business. Pulis was furious that his main forward, Akinbiyi was sold to Championship rivals Burnley and no proven replacement came into the club. Gislason wanted the Welshman to spread his wings and use the foreign market. It was never going to end well and he was sacked in June 2005. The official reason given was “failing to exploit the foreign transfer market.”
He went to Plymouth Argyle, who were also flying high as a Championship club and a 14th-place finish was an overachievement considering the club’s own restrained budgets and expectations. Although he enjoyed his time with the Pilgrims’, Pulis had unfinished business at Stoke and when a board takeover happened, speculation intensified that he would return to the Britannia Stadium.
Less than a year after leaving Stoke, he returned to the club as manager with Peter Coates as the new owner. He backed Pulis in the transfer market and Tony started to bring in very solid Championship players including Danny Higginbotham, Ricardo Fuller and Rory Delap. They were in the playoff shake-up for much of the 2006-2007 season but a draw on the final day against Queens Park Rangers meant they eventually finished in eighth spot. A more serious push followed in 2007-2008. Again, Pulis used the loan market to great effect, which included the arrival of Ryan Shawcross. On the final day of the campaign, Stoke’s draw with Leicester City was good enough to take them up to the Premier League for their first top-flight season in 23 years.
His Premier League break had finally arrived.
Finals and Europe visit the Britannia
Stoke immediately made the Britannia Stadium a feared place to come for opponents. Aston Villa, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur were among the early casualties to come a cropper in Staffordshire. A poor Christmas programme dropped the club into the bottom three but the January signings of James Beattie and Matthew Etherington were brilliant bits of business that allowed the club to push clear of danger.
Despite starting 2008-2009 as a favourite for relegation, Pulis took the club to an impressive 12th-place finish, securing safety three games from the end of the season. In 2009-2010, there was more progress with a run to the FA Cup quarter-finals and an 11th-place finish in the league, two points better than the previous campaign.
The achievements kept coming for Tony and the club. In 2011, Stoke thrashed Bolton Wanderers 5-0 in the FA Cup semi-finals to reach an FA Cup final for the first time in their history. Although they lost 1-0 to Manchester City in the showpiece event, City’s guaranteed Champions League participation ensured Stoke a place in the UEFA Europa League for the 2011-2012 campaign.
As Europe beckoned, a stronger squad was required. The club’s transfer record was broken to sign the likes of Wilson Palacios and Peter Crouch. Crouch’s £10million arrival meant that record had been broken for a fourth successive season. They advanced to the knockout rounds of the Europa League and only narrowly went out 2-0 on aggregate in the last 32 to former Spanish superpower Valencia.
However, despite all of this success and a strong bond with the club’s owners, Tony couldn’t break Stoke into the Premier League’s top 10. 11th in 2009-2010 remained the highest finish and as progress stagnated, he parted company with the club at the end of the 2012-2013 campaign. He took a six-month hiatus from football but was soon back to try and rescue Crystal Palace.
Reviving Palace and rejuvenating Albion
Pulis succeeded Ian Holloway in November 2013 to take over a Crystal Palace side that had won just twice and were bottom of the Premier League. It was going to be a tough job but early victories in his reign at home to West Ham United and Cardiff City suggested he could turn things around.
He exploited the January transfer market again and did some great business. Joe Ledley from Celtic, defender Scott Dann from Blackburn Rovers and Wayne Hennessey were among the five acquisitions he made. A run of five successive victories in April 2014 saw him take the Manager of the Month award and eventually, survival was comfortably achieved. To put it into context, no Palace manager had previously steered the club clear of relegation in the Premier League era. They finished 11th with 45 points and Pulis’ work was recognised. He was given the title of Premier League Manager of the Year.
However, his time at Selhurst Park would be short. Feeling he wasn’t being backed in the summer transfer market by the Palace board, he left by mutual consent just two days before the start of the 2014-2015 campaign. For the second successive season, Tony would spend the opening weeks away from the dugout.
He returned on New Years’ Day 2015 though, taking over as Head Coach at West Bromwich Albion after they dispensed with the services of Alan Irvine. There was an immediate response to his appointment. Darren Fletcher arrived from Manchester United to take over the captaincy and victories included a 3-0 win over champions Chelsea. West Brom finished 13th having looked like a serious relegation contender until Pulis’ arrival through the door at the Hawthorns.
In 2015, he broke West Brom’s transfer record to sign the nomadic Venezuelan forward Salomon Rondon and also added Jonny Evans, James McClean and Rickie Lambert to the ranks. In 2015-2016, West Brom were in no relegation danger for much of the campaign but did finish a rather uninspiring 14th. The highlights of the campaign were home victories over Arsenal and Manchester United.
2016-2017 saw Pulis finally finish a season in the top 10 as a Premier League manager at the ninth attempt of asking. Matt Phillips, Hal Robson-Kanu and Nacer Chadli for a new club-record fee were among the new arrivals and West Brom started to become a more attractive side to watch. Their 2-1 victory in November 2016 at champions Leicester City was seen as a turning point in their season – a day when they outplayed and outclassed the champions.
There was an excellent 3-1 success over a dispirited Arsenal in March 2017 and for much of the campaign, West Brom were best of the rest, looking set for an eighth place finish. Unfortunately, form tailed off after a creditable point at Old Trafford and they slipped behind Southampton and AFC Bournemouth in the final week of the season. Nevertheless, it had been a very positive season for everyone connected with West Bromwich Albion.
Although club captain Fletcher departed for Stoke after talks broke down over a new contract, Pulis has had an outstanding summer transfer window. He brought in long-time target Jay Rodriguez from Southampton, young Scottish talent Oliver Burke from RB Leipzig and the loan signing of Grzegorz Krychowiak from Paris Saint-Germain. Two wins and a draw from the club’s first four matches of 2017-2018 hints that it could be another strong season at the Hawthorns.
Tony Pulis’ ability to keep struggling clubs away from the threats of relegation can’t be questioned. He might one of the rare breed of old-fashioned managers who prefers the long ball style of play. However, it has always worked for him and there is no need to change this, especially as he has a proud record of never being relegated as a player or manager. Having just extended his contract to stay at West Bromwich Albion until 2019, expect Tony Pulis to be around in the Premier League for some time to come.