The first sacking of the season came - 2 days into the season, as Tony Pulis left Crystal Palace in the lurch going into their first game. The Palace display against Arsenal bore all the marks of the solidity and organisation that Pulis injected into the side last season, saving them from what looked like being a Derby-style plummet back down to the Championship under the buccaneering Ian Holloway.
They lost, but made it difficult for Arsenal - or Arsenal looked particularly short of practice, depending on who you're talking to - and their display with give hope that they remain sufficiently well-trained by the former manager for the upcoming season, though a few weeks of Tim Sherwood or Malky Mackay could let that discipline slip. Whomever takes over will have to work with the same financial restraints that led Pulis to depart, as well as the same players, and the challenge to keep them in the Premier League will be great - though there are plenty of Championship looking sides around them in that particular 'battle'.
The measly budget given to Pulis to try to avoid the fabled 'second season syndrome' was the cause for departure, and there will be plenty of debate among Palace fans about Pulis' decision. Considering Pulis' mixed record in the transfer market for Stoke - think Wilson Palacios here - it was understandable for chairman Steve Parish to not give Pulis the most substantial of 'war chests'. But at the same time, the budget given was minuscule compared to what your average Premier League manager is likely to expect. Pulis understandably had cause to question Palace's ambition given what the budget afforded to him. As a manager who will be in immediate demand for any struggling Premier League come next week, Pulis' decision to leave could result in him eventually finding a club that can match his ambition - any slip-ups at West Brom, say, and the rumours will be deafening.
Pulis is hardly the first manager to make such a bold decision in the days immediately preceding the season. Martin O'Neil did the same at Villa following 3 consecutive sixth place finishes after which he felt the club's potential under him had peaked. Villa were beginning to sell their players at this stage (the likes of Young and Milner) and investment into new players of a sufficient standard to replace them was not forthcoming. 5 years later and Villa have gone through multiple managers and are now among one of the outside bets for relegation, despite an impressive victory against Stoke on the opening weekend. To further the irony (or is it just merely coincidence?), Villa would be one of the sides Pulis could be linked with should their results slip from now on.
Steve Parish is no Randy Lerner, however. While Lerner has clearly lost the motivation and desire to take Villa to the 'next level' (or that should be, the level they were at under O'Neil), Parish can not be said to not care about his club. Many Palace fans remain grateful for his rescuing of the club from administration, his investment to take them back to the Premier League and his genuine desire to take Palace forward in a sensible economical manner. Pulis clearly has an ambition to ascend the league in a shorter timespan, and as the current in-vogue manager, he should get a shot at doing so.
At a time when there is a growing, if begrudging, acceptance that players no longer should necessarily feel the need to embrace 'old-fashioned' values of loyalty to the club, 'the badge', the same acceptance is not always felt for managers. Managers are rarely given time by their clubs, who mostly view sacking the manager as the quickest way to redress their bad form, but when managers instead end the relationship, they are often viewed with scepticism by their fans - Everton fans derided David Moyes last season, while O'Neil was criticised after leaving Villa.
But as Palace fans, as far as I can see, accept Parish's long-terms strategy but at the same time respect Pulis' decision and still admire him for his brilliant management last season, the whole situation seems remarkably pragmatic from all sides. The only problem is that Palace have nonetheless lost the perfect manager to keep them in the league, and the managers tipped to replace him will do little to convince anyone that Pulis wasn't right to take his cap and his ambition elsewhere.
Ambition isn't just important for doing well in this league, it's vital for staying in it - case in point, Fulham last season. By placing a cap on their transfer budget this season, Palace have lost their famous cap-wearing manager, and potentially capped their chances of staying in the league.Suggest a correction