Saviour Showering Solo: What Next For Tony Pulis?
If managers are divided between those who wear suits and those who wear tracksuits, Tony Pulis is the archetype of the zippered half. Pulis’ man management is (ahem…) tracksuit optional, of course, as he is also known to shower with his players -- lest any of us forget the naked headbutt he unleashed on James Beattie in the Emirates Stadium dressing room while managing Stoke City.
But there is much about Pulis which can be summed up by his image on the touchline, clad in athletic gear and a baseball cap and yelling about getting stuck in. He is living evidence of the passage of time, and for every petty critique of Pulis there is certainly another tired eulogy of the old school to be written in his honor.
Much has happened in the five years since the Beattie headbutt, but the Welshman loomed large in the Emirates dressing room in a different way on Saturday. With all the talk of Pulis’ departure, the match on Saturday unfolded in a particularly cruel manner for Palace and Caretaker Keith Millen. Things started well enough, with debutant Brede Hangeland burying a header at 35’. Palace supporters could be forgiven for thoughts of “Pulis? We don’t need no stinkin’ Pulis!”. But it was a fleeting thought: Just before halftime, Laurent Koscielny scored from an Alexis Sanchez free kick. In the second half, the Gunners gained strength but lacked incisiveness.
Locked at 1-1 late, it was the sort of match Palace might have pushed on to win during their impressive run last spring. The gods of narrative conspired otherwise: Palace lost its concentration late and, down to ten men, allowed a set piece winner from Aaron Ramsey in stoppage time. If such an ending had been submitted by a scriptwriter, it would have been rejected for being a bit on the nose.
Much has happened in the five years since the Beattie headbutt, but the Welshman loomed large in the Emirates dressing room in a different way on Saturday...
Pulis apologists will be quick to point to Ramsey’s winner as evidence that Parish made a grave error in taking a hard line on transfers. Given time at the Britannia, Pulis consolidated the club in the top flight, gave them European football, and made “a rainy Tuesday in Stoke” the calling card of a hard-fought fixture. There is more to the story, of course, and Stoke supporters would be quick to remind you that Pulis spent over £100 million to finish 12th, 11th, 13th, and 14th while playing “turgid, one-dimensional, crude, basic and acutely… utilitarian” football. Such spending is precisely what Palace’s owners have vowed to avoid.
The decision to let Pulis walk may well signal a harsh end to Palace’s heady days of midtable glory. But it is also a move which fits into the ethos of the Crystal Palace ownership group. Since saving the club from insolvency in 2010, there have been two hallmarks of the current Palace owners: bold moves and a tight budget. Promotion under Holloway and survival under Pulis were happy accidents accomplished on meager funds -- miracles performed ahead of the ownership group’s timetable. They will hope for another survival. But if things go belly up in South London this season, parachute payments will only stabilize the club’s financial position further. The Cult of Pulis is shocked by Parish’s apparent blunder, but it is business at its pragmatic usual for Palace.
Lest the Pulisites arrive at my door wielding pitchforks, let me be clear: Tony Pulis was never going to be at Palace long, but this takes nothing away from his skill as a manager. Letting him walk is a calculated risk for Palace. For Pulis, there is nothing but upside. His hard-earned reputation as a cunning coach and survival specialist could not be higher at the moment, and it is doubtful he will still be unemployed at season’s end.
Exactly where Pulis will go is already the source of much speculation by the #ITK twitterati. Villa is a popular choice, but it would seem Roy Keane is already the heir apparent in East Midlands. And despite the noise for bringing Pulis to Upton Park, it’s questionable whether Tony could satisfy shouts for the “West Ham Way” any better than Big Sam. The best money is on a club like West Brom hitting the relegation zone and calling in Saint Pulis for an encore of last season’s miracle. The key for Pulis is finding a club willing to allow the Saviour become the Spender after the crisis has passed.
Tony Pulis, we can only assume, showered alone on Saturday. This is a temporary arrangement. Depending on the fixture list, he may well shower at Selhurst Park or Emirates Stadium this season. That he won’t be doing so as the Eagles’ manager was only a matter of time. With whom he will be lathering up, however, is yet to be seen.