Think back a year. If I asked you what you thought of Tony Pulis, what would come to your mind? For most people, including myself, it would have been some sort of combination of the words “dinosaur”, “long ball”, and “club shop”. Fast forward to the present, and the words that come to mind are “manager of the year”.
It is no secret that Pulis’s Stoke teams did not inspire much love during his tenure. They were extremely defensive, brutish, and main form of attack was booting the ball long. It was a style that suited them well, but after seven years the club decided to go in a different direction, unexpectedly letting go of Pulis and replacing him with Mark Hughes.
There was a stigma attached to Pulis, a perception that he was a managerial dinosaur stuck in an age of football that had long passed by. This perception is what made taking over what looked like a hopeless Crystal Palace side such a huge gamble. If the so-called dinosaur failed at Selhurst Park, there was a good chance he could have gone extinct. After all, this was a side that had earned only four points from their first 11 games, conceding 21 in that time. It looked a poisoned chalice for any manager to take, even one who boasted the proud record of having never been relegated.
Instead, seemingly against all odds, Palace and Pulis have thrived. Since taking over on November 24, Palace has earned the seventh most points in the Premier League, along with boasting the second best defensive record during that time.
What Pulis has accomplished this season in South London is nothing short of extraordinary. The Welshman has taken a side that looked guaranteed a position in the Championship next season, and instead has them sitting comfortably in the mid-table, about to enjoy their second consecutive season of Premier League football for the first time in the club’s history.
The driving force behind the incredible turnaround has been Pulis’s expertise in organization and work-ethic. The centre-backs started sitting deeper, closing down the spaces that had been so rigorously exploited in the beginning of the season, and the wide players played more narrow, squeezing the pitch and making Palace difficult to break down. The result is that Palace have conceded only 25 goals since November 24, and only one of them has been from a set-piece.
Palace don’t score many, but they haven’t had to. Pulis has made them more direct, and their possession and pass accuracy has dropped, but they are far from being the new version of Stoke. Palace play good football. In fact, they’ve played so well, that they are tied with Liverpool for the most points picked up in the last six games, and only three points behind their boss’s former employers.
Pulis not only worked wonders with the team’s organization, but also with their work ethic. He arrives at the training ground at dawn almost every morning, and he makes sure his coaches do the same. It is difficult for players to slack off or find excuses for not putting in the hard work with Pulis’s commitment and work-ethic around, and it has manifested itself on the pitch with consistently disciplined displays that have seen rise nine places in the table since Pulis took over.
While Brendan Rodgers has done an excellent job at Liverpool this season, Tony Pulis has undoubtedly been manager of the season. He took over a team that had the appearance and mentality of one that should still be in the Championship, and took them to a very comfortable mid-table finish. Down the home stretch, they have beaten Chelsea and Everton, and most likely ended Liverpool’s title hopes after a miraculous three goal comeback in the last 10 minutes of Monday night’s game. He has adapted his style to Palace’s strengths and made them one of the toughest sides to beat in the league, along with playing some genuinely attractive football. Not bad, for a dinosaur.