New Crystal Palace manager defends his tactics at Stoke City but reveals little about plans to avoid drop
Tony Pulis may or may not keep Crystal Palace in the Premier League but after a bullish and unexpectedly allusive public unveiling at the club's training ground one thing seems certain. Palace's new manager is unlikely to go without a fight.
Looking rugged, lean and tanned alongside his – in the best Palace boardroom tradition – smooth, coiffed and perma-tanned co-chairman Steve Parish, Pulis refused to elaborate on tactics, January transfer targets or the rumours of a substantial anti-relegation incentive in his contract.
He did mention the charge of the Light Brigade, Genghis Khan, Winston Churchill and his own enduring love of Napoleon, while communicating also that familiar sense of single-minded purpose. Pulis left Stoke in May after five Premier League years garnished with a cup final and a mini-run in the Europa League, succumbing eventually to a sense of declining momentum and of gathering lassitude among the club's support.
There is undoubtedly a mutual expediency to his appointment on a contract rumoured to be worth up to £1m a year. Palace need a dramatic and improbable shift of fortunes. Pulis needs a club who need Tony Pulis.
"I went to the Crimea and spent a week looking at different things. I saw the field where the charge of the Light Brigade took place. I saw the palace where Churchill and Roosevelt divided the world up after the war," Pulis said of his recent spell out of football.
He will no doubt get the desired militaristic headlines but beyond the Balaclava analogies – the British may have charged straight and long but they were also cut to pieces – this was still a rather opaque opening statement of intent by a manager whose methods have already attracted a degree of scepticism from Palace fans after a month in which the club has been linked with an ever-revolving cast of improbables (from Dan Petrescu to Iain Dowie).
Pulis may have a distinguished Premier League pedigree at a club of similar stature, albeit with more in the way of disposable income, but attention will naturally focus on his preferred style of play, an unapologetic version of aerial muscle ball.
In the white heat of the Terry Venables era Palace were once dubbed "the team of the 80s". Under Pulis, enduring zealot of direct football, they might get the chance to live up to that billing. Not that he has ever accepted this is the way he sets his teams out to play.
"I personally don't think we were [a long-ball team] at Stoke. When you have Matthew Etherington, Charlie Adam, Steven Nzonzi you've got some really top players and we weren't that. The problem is you start in a way that will make you successful and you build up from there and you get a reputation for playing a certain way, but you try to take it on. For the seven years I was there we had that upward curve.
"It's down to the players you've got. You put an identity on a team, you put an identify on a football club.
"I hate going to watch games of football and at the end you don't know what that team is trying to achieve. So having an identity is key for me. Whether it's Swansea or whoever. It's determined by the players."
Methods aside, Pulis can point to the fact he has never been relegated (sacked, but never relegated) during a 21-year career as a manager during which a key strength has been his ability to reverse failing fortunes.
For those supporters concerned about whether Palace have the right man to manage the development of a thriving club academy there were some reassuring words, albeit laden with caveats.
"The academy was one of the reasons I came here. They've always produced fine young players," Pulis said, referencing his past successes with Ryan Shawcross, Asimir Begovic and Nzonzi at Stoke (none of whom actually came through at Stoke) as evidence of his credentials.
"Sometimes it gets lost in the wash. Everybody wants to have a young vibrant team, everybody wants young players but they have to be good enough."
It is a dilemma that seems to speak to Palace's position. Supporters may want a manager for the next five years, and a move away from the club's own grand Premier League tradition of mid-season panic hires, but for the board the next six months are everything.
It is a familiar wrangle at a time when simply existing in the Premier League carries such vertiginously disproportionate financial rewards.
Pulis may not be everybody's Mr Right but he is Mr Right Now.
Palace's new manager will take training for the first timeon Tuesday, the first step in a lucrative two-and-half-year contract that is rumoured to have its fair share of exit clauses, before kicking off the Crystal Pulis regime at Norwich on Saturday.