Tony Pulis axed over lack of progress at West Brom, as club stagnate
After his team had been thrashed 4-0 by Chelsea on Saturday, Tony Pulis turned his thoughts to life beyond football and it became clear he knew the end was nigh at West Brom.
"I've got a family and I do a lot of work for certain charities," he said in his postmatch news conference. "I can move, I've been in the game long enough to understand that you can't affect what someone else is going to do."
Pulis clearly accepted the consequences of just two victories in 21 matches, and was fully aware of the sentiments of those fans who had sung for his sacking as soon as his team fell behind. "Tony Pulis, get out of our club," they chanted. And that was the most polite plea for the manager's departure.
The presence of owner Guochuan Lai in the stands, in the West Midlands on a rare visit from China, meant that the man responsible for the ultimate decision was now fully aware of the unpopularity of the club's manager (if he hadn't been before.) Banks of empty seats for a match against the Premier League champions hardly helped Pulis' case for staying on, either.
"I am disappointed we didn't get the results we were hoping for, for them as much as anyone else because they [Lai and his entourage] are decent people," said Pulis, refusing to reveal the details of a private, dressing room conversation with chairman John Williams. Instead, he talked of how he was looking forward to "a few drinks" with some friends back at his home in Bournemouth -- though was probably looking ahead to his payoff negotiations.
Those who have not suffered West Brom's mind-numbingly dull football this season may still hold the commonly held view that sacking Pulis removes a safety net against relegation. "Be careful what you wish for" has become a cliche aimed at clubs who axe safety-first bosses like Pulis and his friend Sam Allardyce.
Pulis departs the Hawthorns with his unblemished record of never presiding over a demotion intact, but had he stayed on, there were few guarantees West Brom would survive. A single point above the relegation zone, none of the team's departments were in working order despite Pulis' protestations that his players "still run around." Against Chelsea, they did so aimlessly while leaving great spaces for Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata and Cesc Fabregas to enjoy themselves.
The signs on Saturday, and since two wins in August put the Baggies in an early-season Champions League position, have been of a manager unable to find good performances from his players. West Brom had added some genuine quality in the summer: Kieran Gibbs and Gareth Barry are experienced Premier League campaigners; Oliver Burke is a Scottish winger with a potentially bright future.
Grzegorz Krychowiak, meanwhile, cost Paris Saint-Germain an initial fee of €30 million in the summer of 2016 and was coveted by a number of other club when he became available for loan. But the Poland international's desperate performance against Chelsea, so bad he was taken off at half-time, served as further evidence that Pulis struggles to work with players of a higher class than the type that gave him success at clubs like Gillingham, Stoke, Crystal Palace, and in the early part of his near-three years at West Brom.
Having accepted safety as a constant, football clubs, their owners and fans start to think of the next steps, perhaps even want the team to play better, more entertaining, football. This is an age where the Premier League has become a global entertainment franchise but Pulis, like Allardyce and Ireland manager Martin O'Neill, sees the game as nothing more than a results business.
The goal record of Pulis' teams show what fans must endure. His Baggies team scored 105 goals in 106 Premier League matches, while at Palace, it was a goal a game in 26 matches. At Stoke, it was 188 in 190 matches. Of those 319 goals, 157 came via set pieces.
And when the results do not come, disquiet descends. Fans, already irked by the low quality of entertainment they are paying for, are liable to get restless. Last season, West Brom finished 10th, but won once after February, losing eight of their last nine matches. That saw the knives drawn and a failure to improve results or entertainment levels set Pulis on the road out of West Brom.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.