As another Premier League season draws to a close, the prospect of choosing the manager of the year looms on the horizon, surely an obvious choice? The affable Brendan Rodgers could potentially guide a thrilling Liverpool side to their first league title in 24 years.
Liverpool have certainly played breath-taking football this season, with the incessant free scoring of Suarez, Sterling and Sturridge. The most optimistic Kopite would not have expected at the beginning of the season that championship honours would head to Anfield so soon in Rodgers’ reign, and even if they fall short it has been a truly outstanding season with the Northern Irishman at the helm.
However, another man wholly deserves the same credit and recognition albeit for an altogether different achievement this season. When Tony Pulis replaced Ian Holloway at Crystal Palace back in November the team languished at the bottom of the table with only 4 points from 11 games, with not many giving them a hope of survival.
Pulis always seemed the perfect fit at Selhurst Park, the Welshman having gained a reputation for having the Midas touch with squads that appear to lack depth and a shoestring budget to improve them. His style of management is direct and popularly known as unglamorous, but the man is the master at grinding out important results.
Crystal Palace’s track record in the Premier League is shockingly brief as previous play-off successes in 1997 and 2004 ended in swift relegation the first season back in the top flight. That legacy can be drag on a club like Palace. However, Pulis seems to have brought some solidity to the club and the innate belief that they belong where they are.
He has done this before of course with Stoke City. Again he never had the biggest resources, yet he adapted the play of the side and brought a belief that they were part of the furniture when the media were predicting an instant return to the Championship. The Britannia became an intimidating fortress to play at and his direct style was a revelation at grinding the results to finish an admirable 12th placed finish.
How he never got the recognition he deserved during this stage of his career is probably down to his less than fashionable style and the criticism and portrayal of this in the media. His achievement with Stoke was staggering taking them from the bottom of the Championship, to a Cup Final and hosting Valencia in the Europa League.
The fact we now see Stoke as part of the fixtures and fittings of the top flight is solely down to Pulis and laid a solid foundation for Mark Hughes’ current top half success with the Potters. The fans at Selhurst Park will be hoping of a similar return with Welshman.
Arguably his recent achievement at Palace is even more remarkable considering the squad he inherited from Holloway contained a stagnant Chamakh and players of questionable pedigree like Dwight Gayle, and all but four who featured at Upton Park last week were part of side who limped to promotion last season.
He has rejuvenated Chamakh, who has chipped in with vital goals, and has given Damien Delaney a new lease of life after he considered retirement in 2012. The extent of his man management skill has been on display with the Eagles as he has squeezed out every ounce of effort and belief in his players and formed a collective unit from an untested and inexperienced side.
He has also made shrewd acquisitions in Scott Dann and Joe Ledley, in contrast to Cardiff’s wastefulness and Hull’s big spending on Huddlestone, Jelavic and Long; Pulis has been conservative with the transfer kitty.
With only six clubs accruing more than the 39 points in 24 matches since Pulis’ appointment the statistics don’t lie in measuring his impact. The architect of another win at Upton Park last week means that Pulis has delivered Palace’s first consecutive Premier League season after securing safety. It could be yet be a top ten finish.
There seems to be a lot praise being heaped on Pulis, but will it be enough for anyone to shake off the belief that he will come a near second to Rodgers? In England we love an underdog and there has been no bigger one this season than the popular Palace. It’s about time the underdog’s master in Pulis finally got the recognition he deserves.
Image courtesy of Football 365