Time out with Tony Pulis

Nicholas John recounts when Tony Pulis, fresh from his departure at Crystal Palace, was in Malaysia as a special guest at Astro SuperSport...

Tuesday night. I posted up a photo on Twitter of the team having dinner with Tony Pulis, hours after he landed in Kuala Lumpur.

The former Stoke and Crystal Palace manager was down for his eight-day punditry stint with Astro SuperSport, and in a matter of minutes, there was a buzz on social media as football fans began picking up on the news that the 2013/2014 Barclays Premier League Manager of the Season was in Malaysia. You know how football fans think: they start deducing information, and get carried away. I’m guilty of that too sometimes.

It's not everyday you get to go shopping with a former Premier League manager

You see a photo of Louis Van Gaal in the stands of the Signal Iduna Park in Germany, and people automatically speculate that he’s there to sign Mats Hummels. You see a photo of Edinson Cavani in London, and rumours will start circulating that he’s in talks to join Arsenal. You get what I mean.

Now imagine if you were sitting beside Van Gaal in that stadium or having breakfast with Cavani in London. Working with Pulis for a week gave us that type of rush. You see, when I first asked him to join us at Astro for some TV work, it was meant for a stint in December. He said it was too far ahead for him to plan. So we agreed to bring it forward to September, which is one of the best decisions I’ve made because by the end of the year, he might already be back on the sidelines for a Premier League team – the sack race tends to get busy around that time of the year.  

Who knew that there would be a few managers’ jobs on the line by September? Ole Gunnar Solksjaer at Cardiff City, Felix Magath at Fulham and now possibly Alan Pardew at Newcastle United. To make things juicier, Pulis was staying at the Berjaya Times Square Hotel – yes, owned by Cardiff owner Tan Sri Vincent Tan himself. You couldn’t have written a better script. Except maybe Frank Lampard.

The former Manchester United striker was sacked recently

Throughout his stay, I was constantly checking on Twitter for tweets containing the name ‘Tony Pulis’. There were at least 50 tweets a day, dropping comments such as these:

“Tony Pulis is the only man I want to see in charge of Cardiff”

“Tony Pulis living in hotel owned by Cardiff top man in Malaysia. Coincidence?”

“Sack Pardew! Sign Tony Pulis and the magpies will stay up”

“I just saw Tony Pulis on Malaysian TV”

“Pretty sure I saw Tony Pulis walking in Berjaya Times Square just now. Is he really in KL?”

“What are you waiting for Fulham, get Tony Pulis”

I even realised a UK sports website releasing a feature story on him, and his love for Stoke City. Clearly it was done a while back – but it was written like the interview was done after he finished his cycling routine somewhere in the UK. They decided to publish it now – while he was in the news. Good move to jump on the buzz; I would’ve done the same.

A natural in football analysis

Of course we had to ask Pulis all the questions that were circulating because we wouldn’t be sports broadcasters if we didn’t. A lot of things were shared in confidence and that made us feel, well, powerful. That we knew the ‘truth’ while the rest of the footballing world was searching for it.

But finally, the news broke – from our side, almost accidentally. Ahead of our scheduled one-on-one interview with Pulis for Stadium Unplugged, we tweeted to our viewers, encouraging them to post questions they would like to ask him with the hashtag ‘#AskPulis’. As expected, the bulk of the questions were about his future.

After the interview, we posted up photos from the interview recording on social media. In a heartbeat, it was picked up by websites in the UK. Host of the program Belinda Chee replied a tweet, explaining that Pulis would prefer to manage a Premier League club based in London. That closed a few doors but opened some as well. Cardiff fans picked up on that news almost instantly and you could see their disappointment across Twitter. It was amazing. All in a matter of minutes! The team wanted to rush back to the studio and cut out the best part of the interview to run as a promo on the channel, but Twitter beat us to it.

Pulis and Jeevan on Revive Football Countdown

This was very new to us in Malaysia, because while we may have access to Malaysian football and its stories, European football is just too far away, literally and figuratively. Very often we just re-produce or quote news sources – because we simply have no idea. Just imagine how it must feel like to have access to all the biggest names in world football on a daily basis; we would be able to then generate news on European football (or any international sports for that matter) versus relying on outside sources.

The other thing that really resonated with me (and the team) during the eight-day stint with Pulis was his spirit. Just like with Mike Phelan in August, he was always graceful, humble and friendly throughout the stint. You may think he’s a fierce, snobbish, uptight person just by looking at him on TV, but his personality couldn’t be further from that.

I know we only had a week with him but let me try to give you some insight to what kind of person Tony Pulis is outside of football:

He loves to drink green tea. He’s a health freak, going to the gym every other day and sleeping early. He is a Frank Sinatra fan, citing his favourite song as ‘Over the Rainbow’. He is the type of person who would travel to a certain country just to learn about their history – in fact, he wanted to visit museums in Kuala Lumpur badly to learn about colonial Malaysia. If you caught our Champions League coverage you would know that he was exchanging text messages with Sir Alex Ferguson during half-time. He’s very close to Steven Gerrard and even promised our host Reem Shahwa a signed jersey from her idol.  All in all, he was a true gentleman – an absolute joy to work with.

"Now, boys, follow my lead..."

In a couple of months’ time, we will probably see him on our TV screens again – not in the studio but on the touchline.