Saturday, 24 January 2015

It' s a Dog and It Barks

Within moments of the Albion team being announced on Monday evening for the game against Everton there were dozens of tweets along the lines of where's Varela? The answer he was at home packing his bags for Parma.

The Portuguese winger was an undoubted talent but his time at West Brom had been blighted by injury and lack of fitness. Although there were signs that he was capable of making a contribution. However it was plain from the off that Pulis did not fancy him and he has been shipped out as part of the clear out that accompanies the appointment of a new Head Coach when the transfer window is open and a team is under going a turnaround.

To date Samaras Blanco and Daniels have also left and in truth these players were on the fringe of the team even under Irvine but certainly didn't have a future in Pulisball. I would guess that anything up to half the squad does not fit the Pulisball model and whatever happens during this window more players will be leaving in the summer.

Pulisball is based on a rigid 4-4-2 which sits deep and counters with wingers being the sole source of creativity in the team. It is based on solid defensive organisation and getting the ball forward quickly. It requires players to be physically fit and disciplined. Players are judged by their contribution off the ball as much as on it.

Throughout his management career Pulis has tended to shun rotation both at Stoke and at Palace he had a core of players he played week in week out. That is part of Pulisball methodology the more close knit the unit is the stronger is it's bond and the stronger the team ethic. As such he will settle on a line up he trusts and unless something happens to radically change things those players not in the side may as well pack their bags.

Bearing in mind this window is only the opening salvo in the Pulis revolution outlined below is how I see the squad shaping up or in some cases shipping out.

Goalkeepers Foster Myhill with the promising Rose being promoted to the first team as backup. Neither keeper is prone to thinking that they really are footballers and playing silly buggers with the ball at their feet which I guess would be a trait that would give Pulis a minor coronary.

Defenders are expected to defend and are judged on their contributions as defenders and this includes the full backs. It is little surprise that Gamboa and Pocognoli are out of favour both can be barnstorming as axillary wingers but can be a little flakey as defenders for Pulis this is the wrong way round. Wisdom and Baird are solid defenders hence their inclusion.

With regard to Centre Backs he will have a favoured pairing and it will be played week in week out. At the moment it would appear to be MacAuley and Lescott. The question marks around the centre backs are not specifically to do with the style of play but ones which any coach need to resolve at some point, namely does MacAuley have another year in his ageing legs? Is Dawson good enough to be first choice? If Olsson is not a regular starter will he be content to get the occasional outing  as a squad player? None of the answers to these questions will be resolved much before the summer unless we recruit another Centre Back which an answer in itself although to which question remains to be seen.

Midfield  A 4-4-2 requires central midfielders to be all rounders and be able to cover the ground box to box. Of the current squad only Gardner fulfils the specification. Mulmbu whose form has been sporadic for a little while is out for the next 4 to 6 weeks in any event and I fear that his indiscipline in a positional sense might not find favour with Pulis longer term.

Yacob presents an interesting dilemma. He is absolutely not a central midfielder in a 4-4-2. His whole footballing education and instinct is to play as a no 5 in the classical Argentine tradition which in the modern game is most often associated with a 4-2-3-1 formation. The danger when deployed in a 4-4-2 it becomes a 4-1-4-1 which was pretty much the shape at Everton on Monday night although Yacob delivered defensive master class. While Yacob's willingness to tackle anything that moves will find favour with a coach that values defensive solidity above all else in the short term but longer term if the team is to become more progressive I suspect Yacob will be replaced with a genuine all rounder.

There are three players you could argue are best deployed as attacking midfielders behind a lone striker  Morrison, Dorrans and Sessegnon the bad news for those players is that role don't exist in Pulisball and if they are going to have much of a future they need to find a new role in the team. Morrison is too light weight to do the heavy lifting in the central midfield and while Dorrans is more physically robust there has to be a real question mark over his ability particularity as a central midfielder at Premier League level.

I could write a whole blog on the enigma that is Sessegnon but regardless of how he is deployed it is difficult to see Pulis being happy with the one brilliant performance in five particularly when he is not in the mood he really can be totally anonymous . Coaches have lost their jobs backing Sessegnon,  Pullis won't nor will he deploy him centrally unless he pushes him up alongside the main striker or perhaps as a winger. In truth I cannot see this working long term.

Finally Chris Brunt who now Varela has gone is the only wide player at the club (aside from possibly Sessegnon). Ironically if played with an attacking full back like Pocognoli Brunt can be quite effective in a 4-4-2. but he absolutely is not the type of winger required to make Pulisball work.


In a team which will typically sit deep a target man is a must ideally one that is good with his back to goal,win more than his fair share of possession and bag a few goals. Anichebe is okay in many respects but has a question mark over his fitness and has never been prolific. Neither Idye or Berahino are classic target men in the Pulisball tradition (think Crouch Fuller Beattie and Chamakh ) but partnered with the right target man i.e. one that would drop a little deeper and allow their partner sit on the shoulder of the last defender could be effective and deliver the team's main goal threat.

Ideye has not flourished since his arrival and part of that is his attributes are very much the same as Berahino's therefore it is difficult to imagine a partnership between the 2 working. Plainly at the moment Berahino has won the battle for the shirt and it does not look Ideye will be around beyond the summer if he is not moved on by the end of this month.

The question marks surrounding Berahino's future are nothing to do with Pulisball but are entirely dependent on his willingness to sign a new contract and even then the possibility of a stellar bid materialising cannot be discounted.


This summer's work is currently being undone and the club is busy in the market trying to recruit as many as four players. There are many questions as to how system that delivered success as recently three summers ago could have completely unravelled in such a short space of time. I think the departure of Ashworth was key and since then there has been growing disconnect between the Recruitment Department and the club's Head Coaches.

With a bigger role in scouting for the coaching staff under Pulis with an extra coach hired and two Senior Scouts let go it should be hoped that any new arrivals will be hired to fill a role in the Pulisball model. Thus far the players where there is a confirmed interest namely McManaman. Fletcher and Ameobi are all players that fit the template and it is obvious where they might fit into the side.

However the one thing that the arrival of Pulis will not change is the player budget and fans that think there will be any improvement in quality of the players in the squad will be disappointed. The players might look better but that is only because they are playing in a set up that fits their attributes.


The arrival Pulis marked the end of a number of Albion careers and the beginning of the end for others. Pulisball is what it is, those fans that are looking for creativity in the middle of the park will  not find it. Players that don't deliver on a consistent basis won't be tolerated and the full backs will not be rampaging forward. To pine after these things or to expect free flowing high scoring football is pointless that is not Pulisball and never has been. You know exactly what you are buying into when Pulis is put in charge of your club you are buying a dog and it barks so you should not be surprised nor complain when it does.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Who You Going to Call ?

Track back or die, okay?
Stoke City and West Brom two similar clubs were promoted  from the Championship in 2008. Albion were managed by Tony Mowbray and Stoke City by Tony Pulis.

It was Cavaliers v Roundheads. Mowbray's side was a fluent passing team which won plaudits for the style of football as they swept to the title. Stoke on the other hand were dogged, hard working and played rugged no nonsense percentage football.

Many people thought the Albion were better prepared for life in the Premier League, alas that was not the case. Mowbray's team carried on getting plaudits for playing the right way but never the less finished rock bottom the following season. Stoke unencumbered by any notion of the beautiful game and often criticised for their robust approach stayed up comfortably. One - nil to the Roundheads.

Mowbray's departure in May 2009 (not sacked despite his side being relegated) marked the end of the Baggies Cavalier phase each management appointment since was a little bit more pragmatic than the last (Pepe Mel aside). The free flowing football was quietly ditched for something a little bit more solid and less expansive particularly under Hodgson. but the football was never as industrial as that served up by Pulis's Stoke sides.

Less than seven years on the chief Roundhead is about to take charge of the one time Cavaliers, which is a bit of a turn up for books. The fact that he has been invited to take the reigns is a reflection of how high his stock is following his transformation of Palace last season from relegation certainties to a team that looked entirely at home in a mid-table berth. To some extent his reputation has been further enhanced by the fact that Palace have regressed this season which makes him look even more like the Red Adair of the Premier League.

Equally the fact the board seems to be prepared to push the boat out financially and compromise on coaching appointments is a reflection on how the team has lost it's way recently and needs a strong personality to take it by the neck and give it a shake. The moment seems right for Pulis to come in fight the fires and steady the ship.

Longer term I am not sure that it is a marriage made in heaven. I personally still hanker after the Cavalier days of Mowbray. Swansea and Southampton have both shown that smaller clubs can thrive in the Premier League without resorting to hoofball, although both of those clubs laid down their blueprints while they were in the lower leagues and not burdened by the annual war of attrition to stay in the Premier League. Although the other leader of the Roundhead tendency Sam Allardyce has shown that given the players even he can move to a style that is a little easier on the eye. So maybe Pulisball will evolve into something a little bit less industrial there were signs that happened at Palace but let's not kid ourselves you would never of mistaken his Palace side for Brazil.

I am under no illusion that just staying in the Premier League is an achievement and 5 straight years in the top flight is not be sniffed at and if we want a sixth appointing Pulis is entirely logical, but  I feel it is surrendering any hope that the quality of our football will evolve or that the youngsters in our academy will be given a chance of breaking into the first team squad. For the club to grow that needs to happen, to get beyond the annual war of attrition to stay in the league we have to be bold. Unfortunately the Pulis appointment is the opposite and while we cling onto the hard won Premier League status maybe we are right to be cautious and maybe only when that battle is lost will we be able to properly regroup and rebuild under a regime that brings the Cavalier spirit back.