In the weeks before being sacked by West Brom, Tony Pulis claimed he was a victim of his own success. He was partially right. Why shouldn’t a team that finished tenth last season be looking to continue their upward trend? Simply put, their style of play is one reason why that was the best they could hope for.
The expectations at West Brom had become too high for a team whose manager thrives off playing long-ball football and leaving spectators (and opposition defenders) with sore necks. David Moyes, upon leaving Everton for Manchester United, commented that sixth place was the best a club like Everton could hope for – but then Roberto Martínez came fifth the immediate season after Moyes’s departure. The players had been freed from a rigid system and the goalkeeper was even allowed to roll the ball out.
The 2013-14 Premier League Manager of the Year cannot claim to have been unfairly dismissed. The football had gone turgid and lost all the efficiency that pushed WBA to a top-half finish last season. The fans had turned on him, one of the smallest stadiums in the league wasn’t being filled and the team never regained form following Pulis’s sides’ traditional decline once survival has been secured. No wins in 10, it was time to go.
A team’s style of play often clouds judgment. When a side loses but plays expansive football with more phases of play and short passing, there are positives to be drawn. The team has the right idea, you can’t fault a manager for trying to play ‘the right way’, come the comments. When a team has a more, shall we say, industrial game plan, no one mentions it when they win and perform well. Only when they lose does the criticism of their methods arise.
Managers like Pulis are often discarded once their goal of steadying a sinking ship is achieved. When results start to worsen, they are quickly moved on. WBA’s board now has a vital decision to make: do they go for someone to get the team back in order or go for a manager with a completely different style of play? It’s a quick fix to appoint managers who play defensively and go back to basics. Playing open, attractive football often takes a while to implement and success may take more time – but they don’t have time.
The paradox of the whole situation is that which manager would be appointed of any Premier League club struggling for form and motivation other than Tony Pulis? He has shown that he can save sides that look destined for the drop with direct football and an alternative approach to squad discipline.
Tony Pulis will be appointed as manager of another struggling club before the end of this season. He will ensure that they do not finish in the bottom three and will have everyone choosing his defenders for their Fantasy Football team. Just don’t expect him to stick around for long.