Last night, Tony Pulis was named as the Premier League Manager of the Year for the 2013/14, deservedly beating off competition from Brendan Rodgers and Manuel Pellegrini to secure the award.
Whilst there had been some comment to suggest that Rodgers transformation of Liverpool and Pellegrini’s debut season domestic double had been worthy of recognition, the vast majority of voters and football fans across the country were unanimous in their belief that the job Pulis had done in SE25 was by far the biggest achievement of any manager this season.
Without wanting to sound as if I’m looking at the world through red and blue tinted lenses, to stand back and simply observe the turnaround in the club’s fortunes since Pulis’ arrival does make for truly remarkable viewing.
Cut adrift without a snowflake’s chance in hell when he first donned a Palace baseball cap back in November, many pundits labeled the task of keeping us in the top flight an “impossible job”. With just seven points on the board, the Welshman set about changing the mentality of the players, not to one of bristling disdain for their opponents, instead instilling a belief in their own collective spirit and ability that had been sorely lacking under his immediate predecessor.
The tactics were simple, but effective. Rather than attempting to out pass our counterparts, we began to defend as a unit, improving week on week and slowly but surely beginning to cultivate a counter-attacking edge which we had first begun to show a penchant for under Dougie Freedman just before he upped sticks for the bright lights of Bolton Wanderers.
Selhurst Park, buoyed by a sense of momentum, began to rediscover its ferocity, once again becoming the fortress we’ve all known and loved. In Pulis, Palace had a manager who understood the ethos of the club without ever really having to study its history, thanks to a shared belief in the benefits of hard graft and organisation.
As results steadily improved, we found ourselves safe with games to spare following a run of five consecutive wins, topped off by a victory at Upton Park which mathematically secured our Premier League status for a second consecutive season, the first time in the club’s history that the milestone had been reached.
From then on, it would have been easy for Pulis and his players to take their foot off the pedal, but following a defeat to Manchester City, the team managed to haul themselves back from 3-0 down with just over 10 minutes remaining to secure a magical point against Liverpool ending the Reds’ title hopes in the process.
In Pulis, the club have found an ideal leader, not simply content to see on-field affairs going well, the former Stoke manager is keen to ensure the we grow organically throughout his time in charge, with the training ground, stadium and general infrastructure of the club as important to him as the playing staff.
Having looked all but doomed when he first stepped into the dugout, Crystal Palace have undergone a quite astounding transformation under Pulis’ stewardship. After years of bring pigeonholed as a “tactical dinosaur” he has proved each and every doubter wrong. Long may it continue.