I’m not entirely convinced anyone has ever called Tony Pulis a breath of fresh air, but what the heck, there’s always a first time. Tony Pulis is a breath of fresh air. There, I said it.
OK, there may be a whiff of Brut Eau De Cologne swirling around the Crystal Palace gaffer, but who cares. Fashion isn’t really his thing, anyway.
And that’s the point. Refusing to follow fads, the 56-year-old is his own man. Confident enough in his skin to know that as long as he achieves the targets that are set, he couldn’t give a monkey’s how he looks or what other people think.
From choosing club shop attire over a fancy designer jacket, his insistence on legging it to the dressing rooms as soon as the whistle blows, combatting criticism over his team’s aggressive style of play, or stubbornly refusing to show us his ego, there’s no doubt the Eagles boss is a little bit different. Some might say, refreshing.
I look at Pulis and his diligent Crystal Palace side, and straight away I think 1992. Stick the South Londoners in the very first Premier League season and they’d slot straight in nicely.
Back then, teams and top-flight football were far less fancy. Not remotely continental in style (just 44 overseas players were involved in that inaugural campaign) almost every side in the division placed an emphasis on hard work, organisation and a strong team ethic. There were no prizes for possession stats, very little interest in red zones or rotation.
A manager’s job was to form a team of good players with excellent character, work them hard and bring the best out of them. If the squad bought into it, you had yourself a decent side.
This season at Selhurst Park, and in previous years at Stoke City, this is what Pulis has achieved. His transfer policy as a Premier League manager makes for very interesting reading.
Since 2008, Pulis has purchased just three players from overseas clubs who’ve had no experience in British football. Yes, three. Diego Arismendi for £2.5m from Nacional 2009, Geoff Cameron on a free from Houston Dynamo in 2012, and Brek Shea at a cost of £2.5m from Dallas last year.
In an era where English football’s top managers shop outside the UK for unproven foreign talent as a matter of course (Paolo di Canio signed seven in 53 days) I think that’s a remarkable statistic.
Tony Pulis clearly isn’t a man that likes to take risks. He needs to know what he’s going to get from his players before signing them. Having never been relegated in 21 years of management, it’s a policy that’s not just worked well, but wonders.
Prior to last night’s magnificent 3-2 success over Everton at Goodison Park, the Palace boss had kept the same XI for the previous four matches. He’ll only ever make a change based on form or fitness.
OK, they’re not in Europe or any of the cup competitions, but does his side look tired? No. His players are all match-fit, used to one another, and 100 per cent clear on what their role in the side entails. Dip their standards and they know they’ll be out. Do the business, and they’ll rack up the appearances. It’s a decent incentive.
Considering the Eagles have hit the 40-point mark with four games to spare, having lost nine of their first ten league matches before his arrival, it’s impossible to argue that while it may not be modern, Pulis’ old school selection policy is effective and in a rood state of health.
I’ve not been a fan of some of the football his sides have produced down the years, and on occasion Stoke’s abrasiveness and ugliness went a step too far.
However, I find it impossible not to admire a manager that will devote weeks to charitable causes every year (climbing Mount Kilimanjaro just one of many ventures he’s undertaken) who also continues to succeed without fuss, and without conforming to what modern managers are supposed to do.
Crystal Palace play decent football too. Yes, they’re strong on set plays and work incredibly hard without the ball, but what’s wrong with that? When they have it, talents like Jason Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie have proven they can make magic happen at the highest level.
Brendan Rodgers will win Manager of the Year, I’m sure of it, but there’s a part of me that hopes Tony Pulis is recognised for his astonishing achievements in keeping Palace up this season.
He may not be contemporary, but he’s very, very clever.