Manager of the Year? Spare a thought for Pulis, Bruce and Hughes

As the title race draws to a close, talk will soon turn to candidates for manager of the year. For many observers, that will be a conversation dominated by three names: Brendan Rodgers, Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pelligrini. Each have led their side impressively this season, and could yet claim the championship for their teams.

Yet while a strong case could be made for each of these bosses taking the prize, there are a number of other managers who operate at the less glamorous end of the division, whose achievements are every bit as remarkable.

1. Steve Bruce, Hull City

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When Steve Bruce was sacked from his post at Sunderland at the end of 2011, having endured a torrid spell characterised by repeated wholesale changes to the playing squad, and a career low win percentage of 29.6% from just under 100 games, few would have predicted the affable Geordie would have made a return to top flight management just over 2 years later.

Yet Bruce returned to the big time last summer with Hull City, and has made great strides in rebuilding his reputation as one of the leagues most effective operators. His priority, it seems, has been in making Hull difficult to beat, instilling a tactical discipline in midfield and defence, ensuring that only one team (Tony Pulis’ Crystal Palace) has a better defensive record outside of the top seven.

The other key aspect to the Bruce reign at Hull, has been his shrewd recruitment of players. Huddlestone and Livermore have been particular highlights in the middle of the park this season, but just as important in the second half of the campaign have been January recruits Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long. Both purchased for a relative premium, their Premier League experience and eye for goals have nevertheless been crucial in securing key points for the Tigers since the turn of the year.

Bruce’s sole objective at the beginning of the season will have been to keep Hull in the Premier League. He is more than on course to achieve this, and as a bonus, has also navigated the club to a Wembley FA Cup Semi Final against Sheffield United.

But what really marks him out as one of the top managers in the league this season is the approach he has taken to getting the best out of the limited resources at his disposal. Built around a clear structure, Bruce has more often than not got the basics spot on this season, and looks set to overachieve as a result.

2. Tony Pulis, Crystal Palace

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When Tony Pulis finally took up the reigns at Crystal Palace, the South East London club were beginning to resemble a club in crisis. Seemingly abandoned by their previous manager Ian Holloway, who had come to the conclusion that he couldn’t hack it at the top level, Pulis inherited a squad big on numbers, but short on quality and organisation.

His impact was almost immediate. A win in his first game away at Steve Bruce’s Hull City, was followed by two further wins in his next three matches – a remarkable turnaround for a side that had won just once in eleven previous attempts in the Premier League this season.

Pulis clearly sought to instil defensive rigour to Palace as a priority, and his efforts yielded three clean sheets in his first four outings. Stability at the back has continued to characterise their play – they have kept nine clean sheets since Pulis took charge, and more often than not, where they have been able to shut out the opposition, they have had enough to register a goal and take the three points.

Many outside of the club will look down their nose at the methods adopted by Pulis as being a carbon copy of the brutalist approach he adopted at Stoke City. But that is to do him a huge disservice. For a club the size of Palace, with the resources available to him, and the lack of Premier League experience in the board room and the dressing room, Pulis has worked wonders.

At the time he took over, just over a third of the way through the current campaign, most were already advising Palace to plan for next season in the Championship. Should Pulis secure a second season of Premier League football for the Eagles, he must surely be a candidate for the boss of the year.

3. Mark Hughes, Stoke City

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At the beginning of this season, Tony Pulis’ successor at Stoke City, Mark Hughes, faced the daunting prospect of replacing one of the longest serving and most successful managers in the club’s history. To make matters worse, he was charged with maintaining the Potters’ solid progression up the Premier League table, while adjusted their style of play and philosophy, on an extremely limited budget.

Many did not give Hughes much of a chance. The former Wales boss had not long emerged from a disastrous experience at Queen’s Park Rangers with his credibility badly damaged. Yet freed from the expectations of a big transfer budget, Hughes has set about his work in an understated, but highly effective manner.

The few new additions he brought into the squad have proved successful acquisitions – Marko Arnautovic and Stephen Ireland have had a particularly positive impact – and he has also made strides towards breaking away from Tony Pulis’ rigid playing style, to a more fluent and expansive game.

Although very much a work in progress, Hughes’ Stoke side have improved as the season has gone on. He has successfully ensured the Brittania Stadium is a fortress opposing sides will fear to visit – Stoke have the sixth best home record in the division – and although by no means prolific all season, the Potters do boast the second best goals record in the bottom half of the division.

Indeed, since the beginning of February, only Manchester City have beaten Stoke, a run that has seen the Potters steadily climb the table with wins against Arsenal, Manchester United, Aston Villa, West Ham and Hull.

Tipped as an outsider for relegation before the season started, Hughes has defied his critics to lead Stoke to mid table safety while beginning the work to mould the side into his image. The Potters have never finished higher than 11th in the Premier League. If Hughes can guide them into the top ten, that will represent a hugely successful season.


  1. […] Given the difference in wage and transfer budgets between Palace and the seven clubs who have accumulated more points than them since Pulis’ appointment, he simply must be a leading candidate for manager of the year. […]

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