by Tony Attwood
You will probably have seen that several newspapers have opened up on the behaviour of Pulis and his team in matches in which he played against Mr Wenger’s Arsenal teams. The articles express how hurting and indeed maiming Arsenal players was at the centre of the Stoke campaign, and how a few players objected, and were then sent to train with the reserves.
It is an issue that arisen now because three days ago several newspapers returned to Pulis and Wenger. The Mail’s long headline was, “Tony Pulis was ‘out of control’ before Stoke’s infamous clash with Arsenal which saw Ryan Shawcross break Aaron Ramsey’s leg, says Dave Kitson: ‘It crossed the line and went too far’.”
After running the original The Sun ran, “Tony Pulis defends his managerial style and insists it pulls players together after Dave Kitson accused his former boss of hating Arsene Wenger so much that he contributed to Aaron Ramsey’s broken leg.”
The original article was by Dave Kitson who was a sub in the game wrote in the Sun, “Stoke manager Tony Pulis absolutely despised Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, and hated the way he played.
“All week I had never seen a manager so desperate to win a game of football, it was bordering on out of control. In training, I remember doing the set-piece routine from corners. Shawcross and Abdoulaye Faye were preparing to play as central defenders, one of them would go across the near post. And I just remember us practising it over and over again, the corner coming in and Pulis screaming: “Ryan go across the f****** front — if you miss the ball you f****** well make sure you take someone out. “You put the keeper through the net and into the stand behind. If you miss the ball you make sure you take someone with you.”
“Like every other game he was telling us to turn them and get at them and all the usual stuff managers say. But that particular game it was very much ‘lads, don’t forget, be aggressive in the tackle, dominate your man.’ That was the message….”
“His desperation was to beat Wenger and justify his way of playing football. It crossed the line and went too far. He was just desperate to win and some of the tackles we would put in — myself included because it was asked of you — were shocking really.
After the game Mr Wenger said, ‘This is a young player who has been kicked out of the game. I’m shocked, that wasn’t football. If I have to live with that, I don’t want to be involved in the game. My players were too upset to celebrate.This is the third player – Eduardo, Diaby and now Ramsey – we’ve lost to tackles that are unacceptable, and spare me the articles tomorrow about how nice Shawcross is because we had all that with Eduardo’.”
But in contrast we must note that in March 2017 Christopher Eccleshaw wrote an article in the Telegraph on Pulis v Wenger called, “A brief history of the Premier League’s ultimate philosophical rivalry, subtitled ‘I’ve got nothing against foreign managers except Arsene Wenger’.”
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The article was very critical of Arsenal including such lines as, “Arsenal’s record away at Pulis teams is dreadful – played seven, won one, lost four – as if the micro-climate of Pulis-land is too inhospitable for Wenger’s delicate sensibilities.”
In essence, it was all Arsenal’s fault. And my point here is that although the Sun is “revealing” now what a total cretin the Stoke manager was and is, his behaviour was utterly defended by the media throughout his years at Stoke. If the manager is to blame, as he most certainly is, so is the media for defending him. And so is the League for taking no action.
The Telegraph piece, one of many that has appeared over the years, also noted that “In November 2008 Arsenal were at their most brittle.” Again you will notice how the whole thing was turned against Arsenal – that somehow it was Arsenal’s fault for not being able to “man up” – that there was nothing wrong with Pulis’ approach, that you should not play in the big league with the real men unless you could take it, and so on. The answer to this is obvious – a brittle team has as much right to be protected from Shawcross and others as a strong team.
But no, in the Telegraph, Arsenal brought this upon themselves in that they were “a young side”. It is noted that “Arsenal lost three players to injury” but no comment is made as to the nature of the injuries.
In fact the Telegraph uses the whole article to laugh at Arsenal’s approach. It actually says, “Reports that Theo Walcott had his head flushed down the toilet and Gael Clichy had his lunch money stolen by Danny Higginbotham were never confirmed.”
In short bullying, beating, rule breaking and outright violence is perfectly ok, it is a man’s games, the rules are for nancy-boys, and don’t play football if you can’t take it. And this from a newspaper that sets itself up to be taken seriously!
And then as if that was not enough, they quote Pulis’ notorious comment
Wenger is moaning like a drain,” without suggesting that he had every right to complain.
Then when he he comes to Shawcross Pulis defends him by saying, “I know Shawcross, he has no bad blood in him whatsoever,” and without any investigation the newspaper accepts that.
Gradually through this article it is not Pulis who is the criminal, the crook, the man who encourages players to commit career ending fouls, but rather it is Wenger for making a complaint – a complain not just about the way Pulis sets up teams but also for the way in which he glorifies his approach and the way he gets away with it.
As Mr Wenger said of Pulis’s approach to a match against Tottenham: “You cannot say it is football any more. It is more rugby on the goalkeepers than football. When you see the way Shawcross kicked Heurelho Gomes, how Robert Huth pushed Gomes in the goal, you cannot say that is football anymore.”
Pulis makes a reply defending himself and the Telegraph gives the two comments equal weight. “Wenger is perceived to be a genius, but he hasn’t delivered a trophy in six years. I don’t think we need foreign managers running the national sides. I’ve got nothing against foreign managers, they are very nice people. Apart from Arsene Wenger.”
You can almost hear the Telegraph reporters chuckling at good old down to earth English humour which these sad po-faced foreigners can’t get because they are, well, foreign. And po-faced.
We all know what happened – the Stoke crowd turned on Ramsey and booed him, as if he had done something wrong by getting himself crippled. The Telegraph wrote that “Pulis responded with typical bullishness: ‘I was more concerned about the Arsenal supporters booing Shawcross so I didn’t hear the ones on Ramsey’.”
“Bullishness” – it is a word to remember, because it suggests that what Shawcross had done was ok, and what the Stoke supporters were doing was ok.
My point is simple. The way Pulis worked has been disgraceful, and the League should have looked not just at individual games but at his work across games, the behaviour of his players and the comments he made. But they did not. And one reason they got away with not doing so was that Pulis and his approach were glorified as good old British toughness against the foreigners who are all whimps, by the English media.
That is what we face all the time – the support for awful behaviour by the media. The Telegraph should be disgusted with themselves at having run such articles and reports as the League should be with having allowed Pulis to continue with his re-invention of football as a thug’s game without rules. But I am certain they are not.