Tony Pulis: Should He Be Named Premier League Manager of the Year?

Nick MillerFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2014

Crystal Palace's manager Tony Pulis awaits the start of their English Premier League soccer match against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland, England, Saturday, March 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
Scott Heppell

When Tony Pulis arrived at Crystal Palace, fans of the Eagles might have been forgiven for feeling rather apprehensive.

Pulis, after all, carries with him a reputation for functional, if not just plain ugly football from his time at Stoke, where physicality usually trumped slick passing.

It was quite a shift in philosophies from Ian Holloway, who seemed fairly unconcerned with minor details like defence, preferring to concentrate on gung-ho attacking play.

Sang Tan

The problem was that Holloway's tactics were not working. Palace very nearly threw away promotion under his leadership last season in the Championship, conducted a muddled summer transfer window that was so poorly planned that one signing, Florian Marange, was not even included in their 25-man squad, and gained only three points in the eight games he was at the helm this season.

To his credit Holloway recognised this, but he left his successor a team in the relegation zone and a horribly imbalanced squad, something that initially seemed to put Pulis off taking the job.

However, since he has arrived at Selhurst Park, the job he has done has been just short of miraculous, taking Palace from virtual relegation certainties to the brink of survival.

Pulis has been in charge for 21 games, in which Palace have gained 30 points, which if extrapolated over a full season would put them in eighth place, just below Manchester United and above the Southampton side that has attracted so much praise this season.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 29:  Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho embraces Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Chelsea at Selhurst Park on March 29, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Scott Heave
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Pulis has managed to tighten a leaky defence without spending lavishly on it. The only defensive signings he made in January were Scott Dann from Blackburn and Wayne Hennessey, a reserve goalkeeper, from Wolves.

Pulis has simply organised the players already at his disposal in a much more efficient way, and his team have kept eight clean sheets and conceded just 20 goals during his time at the helm.

So impressive has Pulis been that Jose Mourinho, not usually a man to dish out lavish praise for anyone but himself, suggested that the Welshman's achievements should be recognised at the end of the season.

Before Palace's recent win over Chelsea, Mourinho said, as quoted by the Daily Mirror:

Tony started with a team in a difficult position.

It wasn’t the beginning of the season. It was a few months after, they were bottom of the league. It looks like other managers were approached and many didn’t want the job because the feeling was, ‘This team has no quality to stay in the Premier League’ – that it was a lost battle...

The normal tendency is to give the Manager of the Year to the champions. But if Palace stay up, he can feel like a champion. He’d have won his challenge. So why not?

It's tricky to disagree with Mourinho. While Brendan Rodgers has performed brilliantly at Anfield and Mauricio Pochettino's Southampton are one of the stories of the season, Pulis's achievement is arguably greater because he was given a team heading nowhere, a third of the way into the season, and has completely turned it around.

Palace are not quite safe, and they have some tricky games in their run-in. However, if they beat Aston Villa at the weekend, they can probably start planning for next season in the Premier League.

And who thought that would be the case back in October?