Debunking the Tony Pulis Myth - an honest assessment of West Bromwich Albion's current struggles

West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis

The West Brom away following finally turned on Tony Pulis last weekend but many neutrals and pundits still think it would be a mistake to let him go. Let’s put Pulis’ time at West Brom under the microscope and unpack what has really been happening.

The Statistics

The biggest statistic in support of Tony Pulis is that he has never been relegated from the Premier League. Along with his remarkable ability to register clean sheet after clean sheet, his untarnished record is the foundation of any pro-Pulis argument. But recent stats suggest Pulis’ knack for getting results is beginning to fail him.

Albion’s 1-0 opening day win away at Crystal Palace is their only league win in 13 games. This a run that included defeats in home games against soon-to-be relegated Norwich City; struggling Watford; a 3-0 drubbing by West Ham; and a dull draw against newly-promoted Middlesbrough. During these 13 games, Albion have scored six goals, with only of these two of these coming at home. Not to mention, West Brom are yet to score a league goal from open play this season.

Results are the anaesthetic for Pulis’ brand of football, but once they disappear, the pain returns – and it really, really hurts. No other manager would be excused from closer inspection but Pulis escapes it because of the narrative he creates for himself (which will be discussed later) – his knack for survival gives him a seemingly universal pass in the media.

 

The style of football

Albion fans used to mock Stoke City for their style under Pulis - but now those same fans have to turn up to The Hawthorns every other week with gallows humour. A typical afternoon at The Hawthorns leaves many resorting to finding pleasure in the opposition’s style of play, a sad reality for a club who were once revered for the likes of Laurie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis, Bryan Robson, Zoltan Gera and many other gifted, free-flowing footballers. There may be current players who can excite us but in this current system they are largely anonymous – let’s hope Nacer Chadli doesn’t suffer the same stifling fate. It is difficult to get behind your own team when they only get you out of your seat for set-pieces.

There have been some enjoyable workman-like performances under Pulis, but that shouldn’t be the weekly aim for any tenured Premier League club. Go and read the comments of any Albion-related social-media and you will see trolls calling West Brom an “irrelevant club” or more juvenile equivalents. The painful truth is, Pulis-ball has helped to create that impression of the club, and worse still, it has given it an element of credibility.

Think back to previous managers like Tony Mowbray, Roy Hodgson, Gary Megson, and even Roberto Di Matteo and Steve Clarke, they all had their failings but their styles of football generated a sense belonging - a feeling that West Bromwich Albion Football Club goes beyond results-driven financial spreadsheets. Football for the love and passion of the club – to create a legacy, not a profit. That feeling has been long ebbing away.

 

Straight-talking or politicking?

Pulis press-conferences are like a scene from House of Cards – it wouldn’t be surprising if he broke the fourth wall and, in a Kevin Spacey-esque soliloquy, revealed the true intentions behind his words. The Welshman is just as deliberate with his words as he is with his tactics. He constantly downplays the potential of the club and vaguely builds up a narrative that he has the hardest job in football. There may well be issues behind-the-scenes that won’t come out in the press but fans don’t care for boardroom squabbles – they want results, but will also settle for performances that inspire some semblance of pride. At the moment, Pulis is delivering neither.

After each game, Pulis is asked about his reaction to the fans growing disillusionment, his response is typically evasive. Within the same conversation he will tell reporters that his team played well and worked hard, as he recently did after the appalling cup exit to Northampton Town. It’s always an odd decision to make these statements when there are thousands of frustrated witnesses who can testify against it. Pulis’ talk may still charm the wider-footballing media but Albion fans have already seen through it.

Life after Pulis

It’s always entertaining to hear pundits, like Paul Merson, tell Baggies fans they should be grateful for having Pulis at the helm. It is as though no other manager is capable of keeping a side in the Premier League. And it may well be the case that there aren’t many better options out there beyond Pulis - in terms of Premier League survival.

Championship managers like Chris Hughton and Gary Rowett or even an unemployed option like Steve Bruce may signify a sideways step. But who’s to say the club can’t identify a lesser-known manager to take the club forward? Like when Southampton plucked Mauricio Pochettino from the Spanish League. Of course, you have to be selective to avoid a repeat of the Pepe Mel situation.

Albion fans must not buy into the narrative that the end of Pulis means the end of our Premier League status. This simply isn’t true. Stoke have shown the way: well-selected successor; slow transformation of playing staff and playing style; and importantly investment at board-level. If Albion’s new ownership can plan for this – then there will be the potential for prosperous life after Tony Pulis.

A final thought

This article shouldn’t be misinterpreted as a rallying cry for anti-Pulis chants or boos on Saturday. Get behind the team for 90 minutes against West Ham – the players will need it. And regardless of the result, remember a fact that Pulis likes to bring up himself – this is our club and we will be here long after he is gone.

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