Crystal Palace & Tony Pulis Must Both Compromise to Make Best of Tough Challenge

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Crystal Palace & Tony Pulis Must Both Compromise to Make Best of Tough Challenge
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Barry Bannan's goal against Hull won the game—but where will he fit in Tony Pulis' plans?

In total, it took a full 29 days from the first time Crystal Palace informally approached Tony Pulis over the vacant manager’s job to the moment the club finally announced his official appointment.

In the interim, it became increasingly difficult to avoid the perception that this was one job Pulis was really not too interested in taking.

If that was the case—in the end, it seems a rumoured £1 million bonus should he keep the Eagles up helped to change the 55-year-old’s mind—then Pulis was not alone in that regard.

Depending on what you believe, after initially receiving a lukewarm response from Pulis about the job his close friend Ian Holloway had left behind, Palace pursued a vast number of potential candidates—Aitor Karanka (now of Middlesbrough), Dan Petrescu, Neil Warnock, Andrea Stramaccioni and Iain Dowie to name just a few of the more frequently linked.

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Tony Pulis watched Palace's win over Hull

Beyond a common desire not to take the job (Petrescu was reportedly close, but compensation due to his current club Dinamo Moscow proved prohibitive), little seemed to unite the many managers mentioned in dispatches.

Some, such as Petrescu and Karanka, were foreign and with no managerial experience in the Premier League. Others, such as Dowie and Warnock, had previously managed the Eagles in their Anglo-centric careers.

It seemed the Palace hierarchy did not know what they wanted—experience of domestic matters or a bit of continental vision?

Following on from the incoherent mess that was Palace’s summer transfer activity, was this just further evidence of the board’s lack of clarity and planning?

That was certainly the conclusion drawn by the London Evening Standard early last week, as Holloway’s former No. 2, Keith Millen, entered his fourth full week in caretaker charge. Of Palace's managerial hunt, columnist James Olley wrote:

There is no consistency in the profile of these candidates.

It must surely be questionable whether those who have interviewed know what exactly they are interviewing for; a club planning for the future or one prepared to pull out the stops and avoid relegation?

This criticism was not taken kindly by the most visible of the club's four co-chairmen, Steve Parish, who responded to Olley—who usually focuses his reportage on the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea—on Twitter.

Parish, though, will struggle to convince many outsiders that there really is a clear plan in place. Indeed, even the appointment of Pulis seems a case of finally piecing together the sort of stable infrastructure that needed to be operating at the start of the season.

Parish, lest it be forgotten, effectively admitted that the board had been overwhelmed by their Premier League promotion, at the press conference to confirm Ian Holloway’s departure:

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We’ve got such a tiny infrastructure and I didn’t put anything in place. I should have seen that. When we were top of the league and thought we might go up, I should have put more of a scouting infrastructure in place.

We’ve got a whole group of people [on the coaching staff] who were used to the Championship and dropped them into the Premier League and then really said to Ian: ‘Well you’ve been here once, can you sort this out.’

As hard as we worked, we probably need some help from somebody knows the division. Even in the three years since Ian’s been there [with Blackpool] it’s evolved and moved on.

Since Holloway’s exit, Palace have moved to address their structural problems, appointing Iain Moody as sporting director.

Formerly of Cardiff City, Moody—who speaks four languages fluently—had garnered a reputation at the Welsh club for operating astutely in transfer market before becoming an unfortunate casualty of mercurial owner Vincent Tan’s peculiar whims.

It was an appointment almost universally welcomed by Palace fans.

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Moody will now work closely with Pulis, although one wonders how a reported promise to Pulis—that he will have the funds to sign as many as five new players in January—will fit into the mix.

Will Pulis get to choose his targets, potentially marginalising Moody in the area Parish initially said he would be "responsible for all areas of" or will the director of football have the ultimate authority to identify and sign players—possibly antagonising the new boss?

Compromise would seem to be best for the club (and, considering Palace have already had problems with Premier League squad registration rules, presumably only so many new faces can be added); Parish must be hoping that the two men can strike up a working relationship quickly.

One hopes (although one cannot be sure of it with any great confidence) that extensive talks between the pair took place before Pulis finally committed to the cause.

"I will enjoy it, it’s a new challenge," Pulis told Sky Sports on Monday, ahead of his first press conference at the club. "Obviously it’s going to be a hard challenge and everybody knows that, but it’s a new challenge, a fresh start."

Compromise will be needed on the pitch, too. Much has been made of Pulis’ presumed style—a direct and uncompromising approach being the stereotype—but the Welshman was at Stoke for so long, perhaps a supposed "preferred tactical setup" is being confused with a particular style he felt continued to suit Stoke’s particular circumstances best.

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Keith Millen has helped stabilise Palace

Either way, Pulis will have to adapt to what he now inherits at Palace—even if he is given the funds to shuffle his pack in January, he cannot afford simply to stumble through December first if the club 19th in the current standings (and only on goal difference) are to have any hope of staying up.

The problem, however, is that, under Holloway, the club pursued targets that could play the old manager’s "trademark" opening, attacking style going forward.

"The positive thing for our football is it’s moving forward," Parish stressed last month. "Ian’s got a certain philosophy he’s developed on football.

"That’s why I wanted him, as Blackpool beat all the odds and played fantastic football in the Premier League. Maybe we’ve both tried to move it on too quickly."

Pulis’ pragmatism, then, might be an attempt to pump the brakes slightly. At the back the new boss will hope to impress upon the likes of Danny Gabbidon and Damien Delaney—limited, often agricultural defenders even when compared to Ryan Shawcross or Robert Huth—of the same principles that made Stoke such a difficult side to break down, even if they are two prime candidates to be replaced when the window opens.

Then again, having kept clean sheets in their last two games, Pulis might consider Millen to have already done good work in that regard.

"I spoke to Keith last week, quite a few times actually," Pulis noted, perhaps suggesting he was actually always somewhat interested by the challenge.

"I’ve known Keith for a while, I signed him at Bristol City, he’s a very competent lad and I look forward to working with him as well as everybody else at the football club."

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In attack, Pulis will consider Marouane Chamakh and Cameron Jerome—a player Pulis bought for Stoke before successor Mark Hughes loaned him out—the sort of physical presences that can allow him to play a direct style when needed, although Chamakh’s ongoing reluctance to make himself known in the opposition penalty area might quickly infuriate.

Mile Jedinak, the captain, will also continue to provide a presence (along with a fine passing touch) at the base of midfield. But it is the rest of the Palace personnel that Pulis will have to adapt to.

It is the likes of Barry Bannan, Jon Williams and Jose Campana who will wonder where they fit in Pulis’ plans, though. All better on the ball than they are contesting for it, none fit the bill of a "typical" Pulis player.

Summer arrival Campana, it is rumoured, has already burned many of his bridges at the club after angrily confronting Holloway at half-time in the abject 4-1 home defeat to Fulham in October and may be on his way out of the club sooner rather than later.

Bannan, one of four deadline-day signings, scored the winner against Hull on Saturday—a somewhat ironic intervention considering in much of the 90 minutes he had been looking to facilitate and create attacks rather than finish them.

Pulis, who signed Charlie Adam for Stoke after all, may consider the Scot a useful asset—but will he use him in the same team as the similarly diminutive Williams, who is just returning from injury?

Palace fans will be especially keen to see Williams, light-heartedly nicknamed "Joniesta" for a playing style that mimics the famous Barcelona midfielder, back in the first team. The academy product offers a deftness of touch and lightness on the ball that some fans hoped would become a hallmark of Palace’s play in the top flight.

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The appointment of Pulis creates the possibility that the style might move in the opposite direction. It appears an initially unpromising recipe—a new manager known for a direct style of play, taking over at a club most recently seen making somewhat ham-fisted attempts to fashion a squad of players able to deliver an attractive passing game.

If the club are to survive, then—and, even with a £1m incentive involved, it remains a considerable if—surely a speedy merging of the two methods needs to be found.

Compounding that issue, Pulis really does not have very long to assess the options available to him and convey his ideas to the squad.

Palace are preparing for what appears a particularly pivotal run of games—they visit fellow strugglers Norwich City on Saturday before hosting West Ham on Tuesday and recently-promoted Cardiff the following weekend.

Nine points from those three games would make Pulis an instant hero. No points would be a disaster. But you feel four points is the absolute minimum (even after the three gained at the KC Stadium) the Eagles can afford to claim from such an amenable stretch, if survival is again to become a realistic goal.

The task facing Pulis is a huge and immediate one. But, like anything else, it can only be attacked one step at a time.

Michael Regan/Getty Images

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