For years, it has seemed that West Bromwich Albion was content to be either a yo-yo club or barely scraping by to avoid relegation. Steve Clarke raised the club to unseen heights in the Premier League era finishing 8th in the 2012-13 season but was sacked before Christmas when 2013-14 didn’t start off quite as well. Since then the Baggies have seen Pepe Mel and Alan Irvine both take the reins and struggle – though it must be stated in Irvine’s case he was probably simply unlucky as West Brom’s play at times was good enough to warrant better results.
The idea of a manager with the pedigree and quality of Tony Pulis managing the Baggies was unthinkable to me when Irvine was sacked. This is a club that has proven time and again they will not spend money or back their managers. Not since Tony Mowbray was in charge at the Hawthorns has the club really spent in proportion with the clubs around it in the table. Given the circumstances as we understand it as to why Pulis left Crystal Palace, it seemed this job would be a non-starter for the Welshman.
Pulis’ appointment as Baggies boss means that not only will the club keep its Premier League status for 2014-15, but that conceivably they could compete for a European place in a watered down division next season. Regardless of what propaganda is out there, the Premier League is not as strong at the top, in the middle or in the relegation places as it was a few seasons ago. The possibility for a team that is fighting relegation one moment to shoot up to mid-table and beyond the next is well-established in this most recent era. For example, Crystal Palace who were second from bottom of the table when Tony Pulis took over last season right before Christmas, finished the season in 11th.
The strengths of Pulis’ management style have long been understated. He is not the 19th Century merchant of long-ball his numerous critics would lead you to believe. He is in fact the master pragmatist, a manager whose style changes with the personnel at his disposal and whose principle trademark is an incredibly disciplined defensive organization and shape. Hard work, fitness and commitment in training sessions are also characteristics of Pulis’ management.
We saw at Palace that Pulis was willing to play at times without a traditional target man and with the ball on the deck. Even at Stoke, where Pulis’ tactics were derided by fans of other clubs and members of the media, the style of play was as direct as many had claimed and during his tenure the club became less and less reliant on set pieces and long throw-ins for scoring.
The appointment of Pulis’ is a cannot miss for West Brom. He was the best manager on the market and they snapped him up ahead of Newcastle United which is by most standards a much bigger and more ambitious club. The question now is whether this club can truly satisfy Pulis’ ambitions which are to guide a team with a decent transfer budget, high level of support and an ability to qualify for continent competition. Only time will give us this answer.
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