Tony Pulis: Stoke City's Chilled Out Entertainer

Fans of free-flowing football claim he's the Antichrist, but ask any Stoke City fan and they'll tell you winning is more entertaining than any number of step-overs.
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Fans of free-flowing football claim he's the Antichrist, but ask any Stoke City fan and they'll tell you winning is more entertaining than any number of step-overs.

It doesn’t take long to understand what motivates Tony Pulis when it comes to football. In his interviews he says that he is in the entertainment business and he aims to entertain. Most observers would state that there’s nothing entertaining about his team and that his football goes against everything that is held good in this world.

However, you need to understand who he is trying to entertain before making such a judgement. Unlike major TV programmes and blockbuster movies, he has a much smaller audience which he sets out to entertain and that audience is the fans of his own club, Stoke. The hype machine behind the Premier League will have you believe that they run the biggest and most exciting league in the world. For Pulis, this doesn’t matter. He is setting out to entertain his audience and no one else. In that respect he has the correct approach. How you entertain them is entirely subjective, but in football, a win in any respects goes a long way to entertaining most fans. Playing swashbuckling football week in week out is fantastic, but if it ultimately ends with zero points then not too many fans are going to class that as entertainment that keeps them happy and coming back for more.

He knows that people want to be thrilled, tantalised, exhilarated and at the end of it, win. For Pulis, winning is entertainment. The outcome is more important than what it takes to get there. If he can’t give a win to his fans, he makes damn sure that they don’t lose. Losing isn’t part of his plan, nor does it constitute entertainment.

When you hear him talk about football you realise that everything he does is done with passion and rooted in his upbringing. This is a man who driven by his core values; family, roots, pride, passion, preparation and hard work. You won’t find a team more prepared for football matches than Stoke City. Pulis knows that matches are as much won off the pitch as well as on it. He talks openly about his favourite part of match day being the half hour before the game. That’s because he’s finishing off everything that has gone on in the previous week, the watching of videos, the staff meetings, the data analysis, the hours of training ground drills. He brings it all together in the final moments before switching his machine on and producing the entertainment that he so desperately craves.

From the moment Pulis landed in the Premier League he laid his plans both on and off the pitch. He has a clear goal; survival – and he knows what to focus on in order to achieve that. He sets his goal at the forty point mark and plans his season around getting that. He will target teams where he is confident of success and allow his team to lose games that he sees as being out of reach. He picks the points he knows he can reach; he is fully grounded in reality. Once he does this, he knows exactly what he wants to get out of each game and can start breaking his season in to chunks and preparing for each challenge. He picks out the weaknesses of opposition teams and works out ways to exploit them. This is nothing new, but Pulis does it well. He surrounds himself with a great staff that all know what their role is and he gets the best out of them. The same applies to those on the pitch, each man knows what he is expected to do in every game and is expected to win his individual battle for the good of the team.

Playing swashbuckling football week in week out is fantastic, but if it ultimately ends with zero points then not too many fans are going to class that as entertainment.

Pulis may have a simple approach to the game, but the best approaches to everything in life are usually simple. It may be based on the percentages, but some of the greatest sports people in the world are grounded in percentages. It’s simple, you stick to what you know is achievable and you ensure that you do it. A plan fulfilled on the pitch is key for any manager no matter what sport you are planning. If you don’t carry out your plan you are likely to fail, if you do and still fail then let a post-mortem commence. Pulis will rarely fall in to the latter whilst many other Premier League managers may fail as they constantly search for the right blend, the right way. Pulis knows the way he wants to achieve his goals and will waste little energy in a season rethinking or reworking his plans.

His game strategy is a little more sophisticated than the anti-football moniker his team is given. He may use long balls, but these are not necessarily aimless. A long ball can be a thing of beauty and there’s not a team in the world that hasn’t scored a goal
that was initiated by a long ball. However, the focus on this element of their game is wrong. It’s a distraction away from the fact that they have a great team structure. They generally defend with six and attack with four at home, away that ratio may drop to two and eight, but these are sound principles that lots of teams follow.

It might be how the players in defensive positions are deployed that give rise to grievance, but again, there’s a method and it works. His back four are defenders and that is what they do. His two central midfielders will do the same, defend and hustle the opposition to stop them from scoring. The other four players will attack. Again they have specific roles and duties to carry out. Wide men are told to run wide, exploit spaces on breaks, cross with quality and variety, get in to the corners of the pitch where it’s likely with endeavour that you will win a corner, free kick or throw in. The long throw has it’s detractors but it’s just another way of setting up an attack. Attacking for Stoke isn’t built around passing up the pitch and intricate passing between lines and in to the channels. Exposing their wide men in duels with the opposition full backs is key as is the opportunity presented from set pieces. Set pieces are given due to the laws of the game they are key opportunities that every team plans for and tries to exploit. Even Barcelona has plans for them and very specific ones too, they use them to retain even more possession or to catch out the opposition with a short ball.

Pulis likes his strikers to win their battles, usually one or both will be good in the air, after all a long ball will be played from the back for the head of a forward to firstly relieve any pressure, but should the ball be held up and support arrives then there is an
attacking chance. Height is key in Pulis’ team, as is strength. Again this is by design. If football is a series of individual battles to be won, then why not set up the parameters of that battle around physicality. It’s up to the opposition manager to alter those parameters. There is always a physical element in any game of football and Pulis knows he is likely to win them. He has designed his team to not lose the physical battle; if you can do that then you have a foundation to build on. Lose it and you must find something else to hang your plans off.

Some people assert that Stoke are bullies or thugs and resort of foul means to win games. Pulis has argued and will continue to argue that they don’t and he would be right. Their game isn’t based on thuggery. Yes, occasionally they may commit fouls, bad ones too, but all teams do. Most teams rack up yellow and red cards. Where Pulis has struck a key difference is by using physically imposing players and sophisticated marking and blocking techniques working within the rules of the game to ensure that attacking teams have little place to run or hide.

A long ball can be a thing of beauty and there’s not a team in the world that hasn’t scored a goal
that was initiated by one.

Stoke aren’t fallible, their approach has obvious flaws, but Pulis ensures that if mistakes are made, they are rarely repeated. Teams have everything to gain, but looking at the Everton game last Sunday, you could question David Moyes’ commitment in his game preparation and in game tactical outlook. In fact that Everton side were exactly the opposite of Stoke. They had players who were injured, players not quite in the roles that they would like to play in, they seemed to have very little plan to exploit the opposition. The job David Moyes is doing is superb, but playing players out of position is an indictment on either lack of squad depth or an injury list, which leads to the next point. Pulis has put in place the backroom team and facility to ensure that each of his players is kept as fresh and injury free as possible so that he has as many options available to him as possible and he can refrain from resorting to the modern day rotation policy oft touted by managers, but not always implemented successfully. Footballers are fit, they could possibly be fitter, and again the devil is in the detail. Can footballers play fifty games a season? Of course they can, it’s a game of short sharp shock. It demands good endurance and physical mobility but there are much ‘fitter’ athletes out there. Pulis knows this and knows that rest and rehab are key and ensure that his players are kept fresh and ready for action. Last season he had no qualms about his players playing three matches in ten days at Christmas, and rightly so.

In fact teams need to look at themselves before lashing out at Stoke and ask themselves if they have done all they can to find and exploit the weaknesses that Stoke have. They do have them after all. Every team that fails in this respect deserves to come up short. It is more difficult to implement than to plan on paper, but it can and has been done. Stoke aren’t world class, they are an average Premier League team who are highly prepared and efficient in what they do. Teams know that Stoke’s back line isn’t going to move too much, in fact they’ll probably sit very narrow. You have to either pull them out or break through them. If you can go through them then go around them, it can be done, just don’t start unloading crosses at them like Everton did. They will let you have the ball so teams need to be prepared to use it wisely. They have clear plans of attack, study them and work out a plan. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.

Pulis demands respect for what he has achieved, he hasn’t stumbled upon this approach, and it has been many years in the making. Last season he made a comment that Blackpool played ‘roulette football’ and it was met with distain by most Blackpool fans and the wider football public took this as a measure of disrespect too. However, it’s true when you consider his own approach. Pulis wouldn’t play roulette, there’s more of a chance of losing than winning, and he wants to ensure that the chances of losing are reduced as low as possible. At the time Blackpool did chance their arm, they won some games magnificently, but left themselves dreadfully exposed at times. Pulis was right and is still right, a manager of a successful team must ensure that everything he does swings the odds further in his favour so that it become less about a roll of a dice but more like a toss of a coin. The closer he can make that coin has two sides the same the more successful he is going to be.

It sport it’s often said that it’s not how, but how many. Nothing can be truer for any football team; it’s not about how you score, but how many you win. Three points is three points and Pulis has only one group of people to entertain, Stoke fans. Is he doing it? You bet your life he is.

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It doesn’t take long to understand what motivates Tony Pulis when it
comes to football. In his interviews he says that he is in the
entertainment business and he aims to entertain. Most observers would
state that there’s nothing entertaining about his team and that his
football goes against everything that is held good in this world.

However, you need to understand who he is trying to entertain before
making such a judgement. Unlike major TV programmes and blockbuster
movies, he has a much smaller audience which he sets out to entertain
and that audience is the fans of his own club, Stoke. The hype machine
behind the Premier League will have you believe that they run the
biggest and most exciting league in the world. For Pulis, this doesn’t
matter. He is setting out to entertain his audience and no one else.
In that respect he has the correct approach. How you entertain them is
entirely subjective, but in football, a win in any respects goes a
long way to entertaining most fans. Playing swashbuckling football
week in week out is fantastic, but if it ultimately ends with zero
points then not too many fans are going to class that as entertainment
that keeps them happy and coming back for more.

He knows that people want to be thrilled, tantalised, exhilarated and
at the end of it, win. For Pulis, winning is entertainment. The outcome
is more important than what it takes to get there. If he can’t give a
win to his fans, he makes damn sure that they don’t lose. Losing isn’t
part of his plan, nor does it constitute entertainment.

When you hear him talk about football you realise that everything he
does is done with passion and rooted in his upbringing. This is a man
who driven by his core values; family, roots, pride, passion,
preparation and hard work. You won’t find a team more prepared for
football matches than Stoke City. Pulis knows that matches are as much
won off the pitch as well as on it. He talks openly about his
favourite part of match day being the half hour before the game.
That’s because he’s finishing off everything that has gone on in the
previous week, the watching of videos, the staff meetings, the data
analysis, the hours of training ground drills. He brings it all
together in the final moments before switching his machine on and
producing the entertainment that he so desperately craves.

From the moment Pulis landed in the Premier League he laid his plans
both on and off the pitch. He has a clear goal; survival – and he knows
what to focus on in order to achieve that. He sets his goal at the
forty point mark and plans his season around getting that. He will
target teams where he is confident of success and allow his team to
lose games that he sees as being out of reach. He picks the points he
knows he can reach; he is fully grounded in reality. Once he does
this, he knows exactly what he wants to get out of each game and can
start breaking his season in to chunks and preparing for each
challenge. He picks out the weaknesses of opposition teams and works
out ways to exploit them. This is nothing new, but Pulis does it well.
He surrounds himself with a great staff that all know what their role
is and he gets the best out of them. The same applies to those on the
pitch, each man knows what he is expected to do in every game and is
expected to win his individual battle for the good of the team.

xx

Pulis may have a simple approach to the game, but the best approaches
to everything in life are usually simple. It may be based on the
percentages, but some of the greatest sports people in the world are
grounded in percentages. It’s simple, you stick to what you know is
achievable and you ensure that you do it. A plan fulfilled on the
pitch is key for any manager no matter what sport you are planning. If
you don’t carry out your plan you are likely to fail, if you do and
still fail then let a post-mortem commence. Pulis will rarely fall in
to the latter whilst many other Premier League managers may fail as
they constantly search for the right blend, the right way. Pulis knows
the way he wants to achieve his goals and will waste little energy in
a season rethinking or reworking his plans.

His game strategy is a little more sophisticated than the
anti-football moniker his team is given. He may use long balls, but
these are not necessarily aimless. A long ball can be a thing of
beauty and there’s not a team in the world that hasn’t scored a goal
that was initiated by a long ball. However, the focus on this element
of their game is wrong. It’s a distraction away from the fact that
they have a great team structure. They generally defend with six and
attack with four at home, away that ratio may drop to two and eight,
but these are sound principles that lots of teams follow.

It might be how the players in defensive positions are deployed that
give rise to grievance, but again, there’s a method and it works. His
back four are defenders and that is what they do. His two central
midfielders will do the same, defend and hustle the opposition to stop
them from scoring. The other four players will attack. Again they have
specific roles and duties to carry out. Wide men are told to run wide,
exploit spaces on breaks, cross with quality and variety, get in to
the corners of the pitch where it’s likely with endeavour that you
will win a corner, free kick or throw in. The long throw has it’s
detractors but it’s just another way of setting up an attack.
Attacking for Stoke isn’t built around passing up the pitch and
intricate passing between lines and in to the channels. Exposing their
wide men in duels with the opposition full backs is key as is the
opportunity presented from set pieces. Set pieces are given due to the
laws of the game they are key opportunities that every team plans for
and tries to exploit. Even Barcelona has plans for them and very
specific ones too, they use them to retain even more possession or to
catch out the opposition with a short ball.

Pulis likes his strikers to win their battles, usually one or both
will be good in the air, after all a long ball will be played from the
back for the head of a forward to firstly relieve any pressure, but
should the ball be held up and support arrives then there is an
attacking chance. Height is key in Pulis’ team, as is strength. Again
this is by design. If football is a series of individual battles to be
won, then why not set up the parameters of that battle around
physicality. It’s up to the opposition manager to alter those
parameters. There is always a physical element in any game of football
and Pulis knows he is likely to win them. He has designed his team to
not lose the physical battle; if you can do that then you have a
foundation to build on. Lose it and you must find something else to
hang your plans off.

Some people assert that Stoke are bullies or thugs and resort of foul
means to win games. Pulis has argued and will continue to argue that
they don’t and he would be right. Their game isn’t based on thuggery.
Yes, occasionally they may commit fouls, bad ones too, but all teams
do. Most teams rack up yellow and red cards. Where Pulis has struck a
key difference is by using physically imposing players and
sophisticated marking and blocking techniques working within the rules
of the game to ensure that attacking teams have little place to run or
hide.

xx

Stoke aren’t fallible, their approach has obvious flaws, but Pulis
ensures that if mistakes are made, they are rarely repeated. Teams
have everything to gain, but looking at the Everton game last Sunday,
you could question David Moyes’ commitment in his game preparation and
in game tactical outlook. In fact that Everton side were exactly the
opposite of Stoke. They had players who were injured, players not
quite in the roles that they would like to play in, they seemed to
have very little plan to exploit the opposition. The job David Moyes
is doing is superb, but playing players out of position is an
indictment on either lack of squad depth or an injury list, which
leads to the next point. Pulis has put in place the backroom team and
facility to ensure that each of his players is kept as fresh and
injury free as possible so that he has as many options available to
him as possible and he can refrain from resorting to the modern day
rotation policy oft touted by managers, but not always implemented
successfully. Footballers are fit, they could possibly be fitter, and
again the devil is in the detail. Can footballers play fifty games a
season? Of course they can, it’s a game of short sharp shock. It
demands good endurance and physical mobility but there are much
‘fitter’ athletes out there. Pulis knows this and knows that rest and
rehab are key and ensure that his players are kept fresh and ready for
action. Last season he had no qualms about his players playing three
matches in ten days at Christmas, and rightly so.

In fact teams need to look at themselves before lashing out at Stoke
and ask themselves if they have done all they can to find and exploit
the weaknesses that Stoke have. They do have them after all. Every
team that fails in this respect deserves to come up short. It is more
difficult to implement than to plan on paper, but it can and has been
done. Stoke aren’t world class, they are an average Premier League
team who are highly prepared and efficient in what they do. Teams know
that Stoke’s back line isn’t going to move too much, in fact they’ll
probably sit very narrow. You have to either pull them out or break
through them. If you can go through them then go around them, it can
be done, just don’t start unloading crosses at them like Everton did.
They will let you have the ball so teams need to be prepared to use it
wisely. They have clear plans of attack, study them and work out a
plan. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.

Pulis demands respect for what he has achieved, he hasn’t stumbled
upon this approach, and it has been many years in the making. Last
season he made a comment that Blackpool played ‘roulette football’ and
it was met with distain by most Blackpool fans and the wider football
public took this as a measure of disrespect too. However, it’s true
when you consider his own approach. Pulis wouldn’t play roulette,
there’s more of a chance of losing than winning, and he wants to
ensure that the chances of losing are reduced as low as possible. At
the time Blackpool did chance their arm, they won some games
magnificently, but left themselves dreadfully exposed at times. Pulis
was right and is still right, a manager of a successful team must
ensure that everything he does swings the odds further in his favour
so that it become less about a roll of a dice but more like a toss of
a coin. The closer he can make that coin has two sides the same the
more successful he is going to be.

It sport it’s often said that it’s not how, but how many. Nothing can
be truer for any football team; it’s not about how you score, but how
many you win. Three points is three points and Pulis has only one
group of people to entertain, Stoke fans. Is he doing it? You bet your
life he is.