Farewell Tony Pulis, a piece of England dies with you today

David Rogers

Tony Pulis' departure from Stoke City leaves a sucking wound in English football. He was the archetype of the tracksuit manager.

There are few people in the football management game, let alone those at Stoke City, who could headbutt one of their own players whilst naked and not go down in history for this alone, and Tony Pulis is one of them. That infamous episode did prompt the response "hold on, Tony Pulis showers with his players?", to which the Guardian's Secret Footballer gave the endlessly haunting insight that "a tracksuit manager will generally shower with his players. A manager who wears a suit will not."

Once we'd picked our way through that minefield of images, exorcising the ghosts of David Moyes, Owen Coyle, and, yes, Steve Bruce, howling through our mind's eyes, it was quite fitting that Pulis should be described as such. Many managers can wear a tracksuit from time to time, but it takes something else, something special, to truly achieve that crown of 'tracksuit manager.' In the same way Roberto Mancini's scarf failed to elevate him to the status of José Mourinho, the Armani manager, a legend cannot exist on man-made fabrics alone. Pulis, however, had something else.


Sam Allardyce, the former long-ball bogeyman, and the incumbent. Mike Hewitt / Getty Images

The tracksuit manager once prowled the English landscape as its dominant species, but their decline has sadly gone under the radar. Part of this is the general preference towards what is popularly known as 'attractive football', but it's also because their traditional territory has been encroached upon by a new scion of coach; a mongrel breed which is difficult to conceptualise, partly because 'faded-sports-jumper-and-trackie-b's-washed-so-much-they've-gone-fluffy' doesn't roll off the tongue quite well enough to enter the lexicon of English sporting clichés.

You know from the examples though - Martin O'Neill, Paul Lambert, still living off the fumes of that Brian Clough steez, apparently similarly endangered until Aston Villa stayed up and one of them somehow ended up getting the Manchester United job. The faded look of their more natural fibres, however, shows them up - they're Pulis-lite, of the same mentality but trying to whitewash it through fifteen years in the spin cycle, too many ideas above their station to seriously contemplate picking Mamady Sidibe over Tuncay and Eidur Gudjohnsen.

In this sense, Pulis has long performed a kind of service to English football as a whole. He can represent many things - a wistful harking back to the past, a terrible reminder of the ills still to be eradicated from the game, and a calm assurance that this land, after all the sponsorship, sell-outs and 4-5-1, still has its own identity. All of these are performed simultaneously, and when in need of confirmation that England exists, if you want to eulogise or criticise, you can lie back and think of Pulis. The MBE for services to tired and hackneyed narrative cannot be far away.

By these means, his transformation from football manager to mythical beast has long been underway. He was the man who would deliver the kind of crunching challenge on the newly-imported goalkeeper to allow the "welcome to the Premier League!" commentary staple to persist. He performed a footballing service, fashioning an outfit forever lurking on the horizon, the tired old trope and anti-trope of going to Stoke on a wet whenever. Now, his transfiguration is complete. He has been elevated a higher plain of existence, not actually there anymore but still a threat. For he is England. As long as he's available, then sit down, shut up, and enjoy your Roberto Martinezes and Mauricio Pochettinos, or Tony Pulis will get you. And Carlton Cole's available on a free too.

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