Tony Pulis interview: Superstitious West Brom manager won't relax until safety is secured

Baggies boss tells Pete Lansley club will need a reboot... once they avoid the drop

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The Independent Football

Tony Pulis is so eager not to jinx West Bromwich Albion’s chances of staying in the Premier League that he won’t even book his summer holidays until his latest survival act is complete.

Notwithstanding West Bromwich’s eight-point buffer from the relegation zone, Pulis, voted the Premier League manager of the year last season for keeping Crystal Palace up, can gain an almost insurmountable advantage over Queen’s Park Rangers if his team can beat them at  The Hawthorns tomorrow.

Not even then would Pulis start flicking through the Thomson catalogue. “No, not until then… I’m absolutely useless at relaxing until it’s mathematically over,” the head coach says. “There’s so many things I’m holding back that I want to do but won’t do because I’m so superstitious. It’s silly but it’s the way I am.”

It is this single-minded focus that helps Pulis achieve his targets. He has told  Jeremy Peace, his chairman since being appointed manager on New Year’s Day, that West Bromwich have been “drifting” over the two years since they achieved successive top-10 finishes and need rebooting this summer.

“Everything is in place for it to be a good club, and it is a good club,” Pulis says in a joint interview with Fanbookz and The Independent at a Street League event in Birmingham this week. “I’ve been impressed with the whole structure of the club. But it needs certain things to be done.

 

“I think the chairman understands that. He’s seen it drift as well. There’s got to be certain changes made to get the club back on the track it was when Roy Hodgson was there and Steve Clarke. We need to do that when we’re safe, not now.”

West Bromwich fans may care to glance back at what Pulis achieved in establishing Stoke City in the Premier League over his 10 years in the Potteries. But for now, the 57-year-old cannot take his sights off reaching the 40-point mark that generally brings safety.

Pulis wants to cast tomorrow’s game as one of four “Hawthorns cup finals”, to avoid any complacency, to keep the edge that has enabled his team to prosper in such tight and orderly fashion since the Welshman became the club’s fourth manager in just over a year. QPR cannot really afford to lose tomorrow. “It’s a massive game,” Pulis says. “For both clubs.”

West Bromwich have taken 15 points from 10 games, keeping six clean sheets, since Pulis succeeded Alan Irvine over New Year. He has organised them from back to front, made them more compact, while re-energising Ideye Brown and Saido Berahino to offer pace, penetration and goals up front.

“We found a system and a way of playing, especially at home, that has suited us,” Pulis says. “Our home form has improved and we need to continue that. And then if we get the points to stay in the Premier League, we’ll sit down and really talk about what has drifted and try and eradicate all the mistakes that have led to that and get it back on course. It could be a top-10 Premier League club, without question, and it needs to really focus on attacking the cup competitions as well.”

Berahino’s transformation from sulking goalscorer to willing runner highlights the man-management skills Pulis brings to his clubs. When the England Under-21s Gareth Southgate rang up after Berahino had withdrawn from the recent squad with an ankle injury, perhaps worried about the striker, he received from Pulis only a glowing testimony of the player’s recharged attitude since he refused to celebrate against Gateshead in the FA Cup when scoring four of the 10 goals in 12 games he has contributed in 2015.

“Gareth was asking me about Saido and I said at first I was a little bit reticent about his attitude, but he’s washed all that away and he’s been fantastic,” Pulis reports. The player’s off-field troubles, with a drink-driving charge curtailing contract talks in November, have been well documented but, even if Berahino leaves in the summer, he and Pulis agree his prospects will only have been enhanced if he maintains his contribution to the cause. Pulis “massively” agrees Berahino should go to the European Under-21 Championship in June.

“Saido’s impressed me immensely over the past month,” Pulis adds. “He’s played [through] an injury. His quality as a footballer has never been in question, but the way he’s worked for the team, his running stats have gone through the roof, and he’s become much more of a team player. The players have now accepted him a lot more and that’s lovely to see.”

Pulis has always loved the challenge of helping troubled players back on to the straight and narrow, so it is fitting that he should show his support to Street League, a charity that uses football to help unemployed young people get into work, this week.

On the programme, unemployed people aged 16 to 24 acquire key employability skills, such as goal-setting, teamwork and communication, before enhancing their football skills in the afternoons. It is the power of the game to change lives for the better that impresses Pulis as he engages in the classroom discussion.

“We all get knocked down in life, the big thing is getting back up,” he says. “You have all had your knocks, but you are all here today and that shows there is something in you which wants to drive forward.” It is an attribute Pulis knows all too well.

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