Tony Pulis has given a no-nonsense critique of the way modern football clubs are set up – as he repeated the ‘front of house’ phrase he used as Stoke City manager to illustrate where he thought priorities should lie.
Pulis emphasised the importance of recruitment while speaking as a pundit on Radio Five Live and how responsibility should be shared if there is failure.
He suggested that it can take two or three years to recover from one bad transfer window – and, as an example, he pointed to the window before he took over at Middlesbrough as probably the worst in the club’s history.
“For all the people who are running around – the chief executives, sporting directors or this, that and the other – the most important thing is the people who are watching games, looking and bringing in the talent that you need to win football matches,” he said.
“It is the front of house product that supporters come to see.
“That has changed a lot in my time in football. It used to be the people who ran a club were the secretary, the owner and the manager. Now there are so many layers of people involved and a lot of it is smoke and mirrors.
“The ‘sporting directors’, the ‘directors of football’, the people who bring these players in… if the signings turn out to be not good enough it is the manager who gets the sack. The sporting director still stays in place which I find absolutely astounding.
“You get some football clubs where there are people who have seen off four or five different managers and are still there.
“If you are going to give someone that responsibility then that person has to take responsibility.
“If they are spending money and bringing people in who are not performing then they should know that their job is at risk too.”
Pulis suggested there is no ‘right’ model of talent spotting and no exact science for getting every signing right.
But he added: “Recruitment is everything. Absolutely. You have to get that right. And there are some great examples up and down the leagues where people have done that without spending a fortune.”
Pulis – Stoke manager for the best part of a decade from late 2002, either side of a season when Johan Boskamp was in charge – enjoyed a close relationship with chairman Peter Coates as he guided the club into the Premier League.
He had a strong relationship with Steve Gibson at Middlesbrough too before leaving at the end of last season – after just missing out on the play-offs – to be replaced by Jonathan Woodgate.
“The most important relationship at a club is the one between the manager and the owner”, he said. “If that is right you can weather most things. If it is not right then things can get difficult.
“And the most important thing in football is recruitment. The product you are working with is the most important thing and in football the product is players.
“What has changed is that it isn’t an English game now, it is a world game. It used to be you could jump in a car and drive five or six hours and watch the players you wanted.
“Now they are being pulled in from South America or Africa or wherever and you have to get that spot on and it is hard.
“If you get the recruitment right then you have a good chance of being successful.
“The problem you have is that clubs get uptight and frustrated and they take chances signing players and that is the worst thing in the world.”
It was Garry Monk who had been in charge at the Riverside before Pulis, spending heavily but ending up with an unbalanced squad on high wages.
In that spree Boro splashed out a club record £15m fee on Britt Assombalonga from Nottingham Forest plus £9m on Danish striker Martin Braithwaite from Toulouse and another £6.5m on West Ham fringe forward Ashley Fletcher.
There was also £5m to West Ham for keeper Darren Randolph, £2.5m on Derby full-back Cyrus Christie and the same again for Birmingham defender Ryan Shotton and £5m was handed to Norwich for Jonny Howson.
“That window was probably the worst in the club’s history and it takes two or three years for a club to recover from that,” said Pulis.
“Yes, two or three years, very much so,” he insisted. “Because if you have a bad window and bring in players who have not performed and they are on enormous amounts of money, who else is going to take them?
“You are very, very lucky if you can get rid of them, especially a whole group of them. You might be talking about six or seven players earning big wages. Who will take them?
“The other thing is that you have to balance is are you going to get your money back if you do sell them?
“Football clubs are run as a business as well and chairmen look at these players and think ‘we are not going to sell him for half the price we paid for him’ after just 12 months.
“Then you think ‘the kid hasn’t shown it in the first year but he might show it in the next’ and then you get yourself in a whirlwind. It is very dangerous when you get caught in it.”