Early Doors

The man behind football’s academy of misfits

Early Doors

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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.

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This evening's Premier League bill sees Manchester
United look to right a few wrongs in the wake of being gloated over by a
jubilant, and inevitably angry, Mario Balotelli.

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.

Ferguson welcomes back the ranted and rested Wayne
Rooney for the match, while Javier Hernandez is fresh after making all but a
cameo against Manchester City.

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.

And don't forget, you can follow Early Doors on Twitter!

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