When Tony Pulis was appointed as manager of West Brom, the brief from the Baggies’ board would not have been: ‘Anthony, we’d really appreciate it if you could turn this team into a Black Country Barcelona and thrill the world with a midlands brand of tiki-taka.’
No. It would have been something like: ‘Big T, we’re a mid-sized club aspiring to continue playing in England’s top tier – we want you to consolidate our position at all costs.’
Which is precisely what the Welsh Fergie did for most of his two-year spell at The Hawthorns. Until recently, that is, when his side’s form dropped from its previously acceptable level of ‘mediocre’ to ‘worrying’.
West Brom fans have been critical of their manager for quite some time now, partly as a result of this dip in performance but also because of the ugly style purveyed by Pulis’ teams. And the football was, indeed, utterly dire: the Baggies were about as easy on the eye as staring directly into the sun through an extremely powerful telescope.
It’s also true that the team hasn’t progressed significantly under Pulis.
However, it hasn’t progressed significantly in the Premier League under any manager since Romelu Lukaku was convinced to spend 2012/13 there and fired his side to an unlikely 8th position under Steve Clarke (who was duly let go as soon as the club returned to a more realistic league-position, just six months later).
In truth, that season doesn’t reflect West Brom’s true level in the modern era, which is anywhere between 17th and 10th based on the vagaries of a given campaign. Pulis’ abilities as a manager are very much in line with that. Retrogressive or not, his presence is pretty much a guarantee of safety. A club like West Brom simply can’t afford to take the risk of leaving that assurance behind.
Whoever comes in will have a tough job.
Not because Tony Pulis left the place in a mess, but rather because it’s always going to be something of an anomaly for West Brom to finish anywhere other than the bottom half of the table. All the more so in an age when almost every Premier League team seems to have a rich Asian or American owner and several billion quid in the transfer kitty.
The new(ish) Chinese owners have rolled the dice by getting rid of a man with a proven track record of helping modest teams survive at a high level. They want better football and better results, but the two don’t always go hand in hand.
Anyway, if West Brom didn’t want Pulisball, then why hire Tony Pulis in the first place?
The answer to that is obvious. When he was given the job, the club were in no position to prioritise attractive football. In fact, Pulis almost single-handedly kept them in the Premier League after an utterly shambolic first half of the season.
That was under a different owner, of course, and expectations have shifted as a result of that change. The board and supporters of a club can’t be blamed for wanting more. But now, they can only hope that West Brom don’t end up playing pretty patterns in the Championship.