Premier League - Early Doors: Football's academy of misfits
Tony Pulis is surely football's least understood, least appreciated and least fashionable coach, but he sure is doing a damn fine job with football's academy of misfits.
Stoke City reached their first FA Cup final with a 5-0 drubbing of Bolton Wanderers in a semi-final everyone tried the utmost to ignore, and that is just the latest achievement from the self-effacing Welshman, who has still never experienced a relegation or suitable acclaim.
Pulis can seem to do no right in the eyes of many (the same people who only watch Barcelona, Arsenal and Brazil because they are 'purists') because his Stoke team do not gush over their own pass counts or showboats.
His peers are loathe to praise him, his side's playing style is roundly derided, and his dress sense makes him look less like a respectable manager and more like the face of the 'middle-aged men can shop at JD Sports' marketing drive.
Pulis was appointed as Stoke's manager in November 2002, and he turned the club around, saving the Potters from Championship relegation on the final day of the season before he was sacked for "failing to exploit the foreign transfer market" by then chairman Gunnar Gislason.
But new chairman Peter 'Bet 365' Coates reinstalled Pulis in May 2006, and the 53-year-old gave the club its first top-flight campaign in 23 years in 2008 and proceeded to consolidate their status, above all expectation.
Pulis may be as concerned with the style of his side as with his own, but he has proved that playing in a direct fashion and dressing like a chav on the touchline can breed success.
Not only have Stoke managed to slot themselves nicely into a mid-table spot in the league once more, but their 5-0 thrashing of Bolton was also the biggest margin of victory in an FA Cup semi-final since 1908.
Such a performance hardly correlates with the widespread opinion held of Stoke being a boring, turgid, win-at-all-costs side managed by a one-track coach.
Pulis oversees the 'academy of the mistreated and misused talent' in a ruthless and progressive manner, squeezing every last drop of ability out of his prudently-assembled squad.
A lack of money means nothing if you can simply turn players' stuttering careers around, taking misfits from other clubs and transforming them into consistent over-achievers.
Talent extraction is the name of the Welshman's game, and the way in which Stoke have been slowly and grudgingly accepted as part of the Premier League furniture shows that he is producing the goods.
The man who obtained his FA coaching badge at the age of 19, while most young men in football are busy pounding shots and flexing their financial muscle at the local luxury cars dealership, will only ever receive scant praise or recognition for his sustained exploits.
There should never be a day in which the Potters 'do a Charlton' and take their man for granted looking to 'go to a new level'. The same demise which befell the Addicks would surely come their way.
But could Pulis work his magic at a so-called bigger club? Probably, but it would almost certainly be a case of 'the cap just don't fit'.
Perhaps if Pulis ditched the baseball cap and tracksuit in favour of a sharp Italian suit and brogues his methods might be treated with less suspicion, but then he may not still be at Stoke, running the academy of misfits with distinction.
United's mood must have improved markedly after watching Arsenal implode late in stoppage time (Sir Alex Ferguson's age-old friend) against Liverpool.
The Gunners are six points adrift of United with half-a-dozen games left, so it is far from being the 'must win' clash it is currently being billed as by some.
Anything United get out of tonight's match will only leave the 'title race' slightly more dead than it already is.
United may be facing fixture congestion right now, but with Rooney and Hernandez suddenly so fresh, surely Ferguson's side have little to worry about as they target a record 19th league title.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "You'll not find a thing about football in the house at all. My wife... she's unbelievable! I can't even take a football book home or she will say 'What are you doing with that?' When Alastair Campbell phoned her about my knighthood, she said to him 'Do you not think he's had enough rewards?'" Ferguson certainly plays second-fiddle at home, as he revealed prior to this evening's clash with Newcastle.
FOREIGN VIEW: It's one thing for a coach to tender his resignation, but quite another for one to literally beg a reluctant board of directors to let him leave. That's exactly what Spartak Moscow coach Valery Karpin did after overseeing a dismal start to the club's campaign. The former Russia midfielder said: "This morning the board of directors finally accepted my request to stand down. I was ready to leave the club and did not even consider this matter."
COMING UP: St James' Park has been the scene of many a classic Premier League encounter between Newcastle United and Manchester United, and everyone will be hoping for another as the two sides lock horns once more. You can follow live text commentary from 19:45.
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