Saturday, 16 August 2014

Parish's Post-Pulis Palace Possibilities

It all started with rumours on Thursday morning that a £500 bet had been placed with William Hill on Tony Pulis to become "the next Premier League manager to leave his position". Given that he was at that time priced 40/1, it was hard to believe that anyone had been able to get more than 10p on, but what was certain was that William Hill shortened Pulis’s price to 6/4 (2.50) making him favourite ahead of long-time favourite Sam Allardyce.

Other books followed suit or suspended their markets and, as we all now know, by Thursday night Tony Pulis had indeed left his post by “mutual consent”, although “mutual contempt” might have been a more accurate description.

Someone knew, and this kind of scenario highlights the reason why bookmakers need to protect themselves and should be able to refuse to accept a wager. They are in business to make money, and are not a utility offering a public service as some people seem to think. It's hard to see how any regulation could be implemented which would leave bookmakers exposed to coups of this nature.

The markets soon adjusted to the turmoil at Crystal Palace. Their price for relegation dropped a full point, from around 4.05 to a low of 2.82 before a bounce back up to ~3.00.

As implied not only by the drop in price for relegation, but also by his award of Premier League Manager of the Year last season, Tony Pulis was widely considered a key 'player' for Crystal Palace.

As I mentioned a few days ago, the Soccermetrics prediction model for the 2014-15 English Premier League season had Crystal Palace's projected to finish in 18th place and be relegated.

I wrote a rather excoriating post about this, at the time, rather unlikely prediction, but given recent events, the prediction looks a little more insightful with Palace now second favourites (behind Burnley) for the drop according to the Betfair markets.
Well, what do the markets know? Last season Palace were first favourites, and ended up in 11th place! By my reckoning, this means we'll finish 10th this year.

It would be stating the obvious that Tony Pulis did a great job last season, and only he and the insiders at Palace know the full story behind the split, but having had a close working relationship with Peter Coates at Stoke City for several years where his every wish was granted, it wouldn't be surprising if Pulis wanted more Stoke-like money spent at Palace.

Having only signed on in November, there were rumours back in January that Pulis wasn't happy about the lack of activity during the transfer window, so the break up is not the biggest of surprises. In the end, Palace made five signings, all on the final day. If it was true that Pulis and Parish had differences after just two months, and there's no smoke without fire, it was hardly likely to be a long term relationship.
More a marriage of convenience perhaps? What is a surprise though is why Pulis would have taken the job, knowing the constraints in place, and then start whining loudly enough for rumours to leak. Palace are not yet Manchester City. Heck, they're not yet Stoke City, but ironically the latter is the kind of example they might be looking to follow.

The timing of the departure is shocking of course. Tony waits until all the pre-season games are played, and with less than 48 hours before the season kicks-off, decides he can't continue.
If TP kicked up a fuss at the 11th hour then he's unprofessional in putting the club in what can only be called a blackmail situation. If that is the case he's better away from the club. Sometimes the nasty face of someone is exposed and maybe it's happened today.
Many of the quotes in this post are from a Crystal Palace fan forum, and like most forums it is best not to believe everything you read, but there were some insightful and well written comments that perhaps throw some light on the possible background to the split. The comment above does question Pulis's motives. If someone was looking for an out, what better excuse than "I don't have the owners' support" but leaving it until the last minute to thrash out any problem does smack of a distinct lack of integrity. I work in IT, and if a key resource decided two days ahead of going live on a major project that he or she would quit "unless you spend money that you told me you wouldn't spend when I took the job", it wouldn't be well received to say the least. If this is what happened, credit to Parish and the owners for not giving in.
As a Stoke fan I would just like to say TP has previous when it comes to this kind of thing. Probably a tactic to convince the owner/chairman to sign a player he wants.
At Stoke, If TP really wanted a player (like when we were after Crouch) he would always question the 'club's ambition' in any interview and manipulate Mr Coates into giving him more money. As proven in the past, TP is far better with a smaller budget because he gets far too excited with a healthy cheque book in his hand. Behind the smiles on camera he's a very stubborn and controlling figure. He got what he wanted from Coates for years but when he's challenged he throws his toys out of the pram.
Steve Parish and his co-owners are Palace fans and have the best interests of the club at heart. I am confident that they would not let have let Pulis walk unless his demands threatened the long term plan for the club and that a compromise was not possible. As a Palace fan, I have to say that despite the relative success Pulis enjoyed, I never felt that Pulis ever really felt part of the club in the way that Steve Coppell, Dougie Freedman or even Ian Holloway did. He always seemed to be keeping a distance.

Steve Parish has in the past stated that he and his co-owners want to leave a lasting legacy at the club, and that means building slowly but surely, and not risking the entire project on buying one or two big money players. It's not just the initial outlay, but there's the significant issue of committing to contracts into the future which, as several clubs have found to their cost, can become crippling liabilities. Portsmouth are the most recent example, and an extreme one at that, but other former established Premier League members such as Birmingham City, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers and Leeds United have been languishing for some time outside the Premier League.

As one fan put it: 
Let us be thankful that the worst thing which could happen to us would be relegation to the Championship with the club in a healthy position financially.
Understandably, managers aren’t interested in long-term thinking. Their interest is themselves, immediate results and thus usually very short-term, (Arsene Wenger at Arsenal is a rare Premier League exception) but no one man is, or should be, bigger than the club. Besides, the money isn't coming out of their pockets. We could all ask our bosses for a bigger budget to pay for better resources and then take the credit when our productivity improves, but as important as Pulis was, at the end of the day he is an employee and needs to work with what was agreed when he took the job, not threaten to quit when he doesn't get his way.

Steve Parish and his fellow owners have been in a similar situation before. After making a flying start to the 2012-13 Championship season, manager (and playing legend) Dougie Freedman took the money on offer at Bolton and left. Parish came in for some criticism at the time for not doing enough to keep Freedman, but Bolton’s pockets were deeper than Palace's, and the responsible decision as an owner was the one Parish made. It paid off. Incidentally Crystal Palace was in fourth place at the time, while Bolton was twelve places lower in sixteenth. Managers move when there's a better offer, and that doesn't necessarily mean to a higher placed club.

The managerial appointment of Ian Holloway was a good one, if not a great one. Holloway fitted the bill perfectly - he was a manager with experience of taking a club into the Premier League, and while he wasn’t immediately seen by some fans as a great choice, his success in steering Palace to promotion via the play-offs more than vindicated the owners’ decision.

The Premier League was a different matter. After too many changes in the summer, it became clear that Holloway was out of his depth after just a few games. To his credit, Ian Holloway admitted as much, and the parting was genuinely by “mutual consent”. Pulis got a lot of credit last season, but just as crucial was Holloway holding his hands up early enough to give his replacement a sporting chance.

The club took their time appointing a replacement. For one month, three matches, Keith Millen was interim manager, and in my opinion, never got the credit he deserved, because there was a marked improvement even before Pulis was appointed.

Looking back, the delay was possibly down to differences in opinion about how much control Pulis would have, but they compromised enough to reach a deal which ultimately saw the Eagles soar up the table with Palace making the most of their goals, winning eight games by 1:0, and finishing in 11th place. Heady stuff.

As Pulis possibly realised, without any big money signings, that strong run was always going to be a tough act to follow. Leave now, and he's ready and available to take over in October or November for a struggling team who are looking for a new manager. Hopefully it won't be Palace! Wait too long, have a bad start, and his star starts to shine a little less brightly, but a good manager working with an improved squad from last year, should have been more than capable of another mid-table finish. The top seven in the EPL are for the time being at least, all but set. Did Pulis seriously think we could break into that elite group? The only way that will happen is to build a strong foundation off the pitch as well as maintaining a 'good enough' team on it. Any success needs to be sustainable. This season is one where the goal is consolidation.

Another observation is that, with the exception of his second spell at Stoke City which lasted seven years, it's interesting that Pulis doesn’t seem to last for too long anywhere. I'll leave readers to draw their own conclusions regarding that.

His managerial career started in 1992 with two years at Bournemouth which were followed by four years at Gillingham where he was “controversially sacked by the club amidst claims of gross misconduct”.
He later brought a £400,000 court case against Gillingham chairman Paul Scally for unpaid bonuses, which was settled out of court in 2001 for £75,000.
Ten months at Portsmouth followed before he was sacked, and after two years out of work, he had a three year spell at Stoke City followed by a season at Plymouth Argyle.

Steve Parish's task is now is to stay calm, find a manager who can keep the club in the Premier League while accepting that his role is as a manager, not the owner, and that he needs to work with the funds available, and that funds are not unlimited. Someone who buys into the long-term nature of the project. How long was Moyes at Preston North End and Everton for? I'm just saying. 

Pulis is not the messiah, and Moyes is not a pariah.

One door closes, another one opens. Tony Pulis pulled off something of a miracle last season, but no one in football is irreplaceable. Iain Dowie was once a hero. That finished well as some of you may remember:
The case was heard in the London High Court in the summer of 2007, and on 14 June The Hon. Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled that Dowie had "deceived" Jordan and made "false representations" in conversations with Crystal Palace on 20 and 22 May, stating he had had no contact with Charlton when he had in fact spoken to them on 17 and 22 May. Dowie was ordered to pay Palace's legal bill, estimated at up to £400,000 and a similar amount to his own legal team in addition to compensation due to Crystal Palace. In 2008 an out-of-court agreement between Dowie and Crystal Palace was reached "on terms acceptable to Crystal Palace Football Club".
Don't mess with Palace! Dowie was allowed to leave "to be nearer his family in Bolton" but eight days later was revealed as Premier League Charlton Athletic's new manager! Charlton is nowhere near Bolton of course, except in league position.

Dougie Freedman was a Palace hero too, as a manager for keeping Palace in the Championship after a 10 point deduction for entering administration had put that status at risk. He left, but most Palace fans understood why. 

Ian Holloway was the hero just a year ago, but football moves on, and "impossible to fill" voids are soon filled.

Given their past record, I have no doubt that Steve Parish and his co-owners will steady the ship and make another decision in the club’s best interest. 

They are heroes too in their own way, for saving the club in 2010 when it was on the verge of ceasing to exist. 

The position of manager at Crystal Palace is a lot more attractive than at most clubs these days, and the CVs dropping in to the mat at Selhurst Park next week should be impressive. Sir Alex may well be considering coming out of retirement as you read this, and Pep Guardiola is quite possibly reading the fine print on his contract. Malky MacKay is reportedly licking his chops. Roy Hodgson's a Croydon boy and a former Palace (youth team) player. He might be interested in a bigger challenge...

Anyway, Keith Millen will be in charge for the first game at least, and probably the first three with an International Break in early September, and there is no need to make a panic decision. Millen knows the players, he worked with Pulis last season, and the shortening in Palace's price in the relegation market is an overreaction and an opportunity.

This article pretty much sums up what I have been trying to say.

Now read the title of this post out loud ten times. I bet you can't do it. 

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