The Jose Mourinho, Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis Way: Pragmatism is Not Cynicism

Soccer is all about results. It’s a results oriented business, not an entertainment first oriented charity. All too often supporters and many in the media seem to forget this reality.  Obsession with style and aesthetic elements of soccer has always been prevalent, but recently the proponents of the beautiful game have become maddening in their dogma and willingness to chastise anyone who does not share their principles.

Sunday’s 2-0 Chelsea win over Liverpool has been derided by critics as anti-football and cynical. But given the fixture congestion and injuries that the Blues have had to deal with, Jose Mourinho employed a tactic best suited to his side. To do otherwise would be to unilaterally disarm against a Liverpool side that had won eleven on the trot and whose attacking impetus is becoming legendary.

While Mourinho’s narcissistic theatrics and press statements deserve scorn, his tactics ought to be held up as a master class on how you win big matches when undermanned. Chelsea’s fighting spirit and high-energy pressing were a reflection of the manager’s influence.

Sam Allardyce has West Ham United all but mathematically safe for another Premier League season. Yet he is receiving little credit from the masses of Hammers supporters, and instead is being subjected to derisive commentary from those fans whose club otherwise may be still stuck in the Championship under a different gaffer.

West Ham supporters may feel like the ethos of their club has been ripped out by Allardyce’s tactical approach, which is less defined and less long-ball oriented than critics claim. And while it is very true that West Ham has traditionally played a slicker style of soccer that’s easier on the eye than what we witness currently, Allardyce will have kept West Ham up for the second straight season after achieving promotion. Given the tumult at the bottom of the division in recent seasons and the need to maintain Premier League status for the move to Olympic Stadium, “Big Sam” deserves credit for a job well done.

Then we have Tony Pulis. Upon his appointment as Crystal Palace Manager in late November, I wrote the following:

“Ultimately, Palace have a squad that are not equipped for survival, but if any single manager in English football can keep them competitive it is perhaps Pulis.”

Not only has Pulis achieved survival with the Eagles but he has improved the ability of the club to attack properly. Derided for cynicism and style in his long tenure at Stoke City, critics now are finally giving the Welshman the benefit of the doubt. But why did it take so long? Why were Pulis’ accomplishments at Stoke often disparaged by the media and supporters of other clubs?

The simple answer is pragmatism. Results-oriented soccer is now seen as antiquated and perhaps not fashionable in the cosmopolitan scene that has overtaken large elements of the English game. Many in and around British football seem to suffer from an identity crisis. They want English players and others from home nations to excel, but they ridicule any attempt to play soccer in a manner that suits the skills set of most British players. They demand England play like Spain or Brazil, a condition that is completely unnatural to the domestic player. This has become a common theme among soccer fans and the media.

Thankfully the Premier League has managers like Mourinho, Allardyce and Pulis who don’t conform to a phony arbitrary standard of aesthetics and what is good for soccer. While we certainly do not want to see 92 professional clubs in England playing soccer the way these managers prefer, it would be good to see more managers base tactical considerations on achieving results. Often times pressure from the boardroom and supporters becomes insufferable preventing the true pragmatism and wise man-management of the top coaches from taking hold.

But perhaps with Mourinho’s continued success and the realization that Pulis worked a miracle this year at Selhurst Park, the hardened snobbish attitudes will begin to change. We can only hope.

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