10 years of Tony Pulis at Stoke City: TP has been a revelation, says Peter Coates
PETER Coates is only half-joking, perhaps, when predicting Tony Pulis will remain manager of Stoke City for "about another 25 years."
It's six years and counting in his second spell as boss, nine years in total at the club, and already a full decade since he was first appointed.
Another quarter-of-a-century might be pushing it a little, but the Coates/Pulis partnership looks solid for another year or two yet.
Has there every been a stronger relationship between manager and chairman, or manager and owners, than that between Pulis and the Coates family?
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And with the manager's 55th birthday approaching in January, Coates sees no reason why Pulis can't go on for a good while longer.
Issuing one of football's biggest votes of confidence ever, he says: "He's a very fit, strong man, so as long as he retains his energy and enthusiasm he will want to go on and on.
"You are not old in your 50s anymore. People don't think being in their 60s is a big deal either any longer."
Just in case you think Pulis has a job for life, however, the chairman adds a note of caution.
"But of course it is a sporting arena that affects people in different ways and one that is driven by success and results, and that isn't going to change."
Their parting of the ways will be a huge wrench after seeing the lines between working relationship and friendship blur considerably down the years.
Coates, who had courted Pulis in 1999 when he ended up at Bristol City instead, remained a big supporter when the Welshman's name cropped up a second time 10 years ago.
The Icelanders were in charge of Stoke City on this occasion and Coates, though still a director, admits he was merely a voice in the background.
It was a voice that aired its view in favour of Pulis, however, after the embarrassment of George Burley's U-turn on a decision to join Stoke as manager in late October 2002.
"I wasn't keen on George Burley," says Coates. "I hadn't got anything against him, but I thought he was so shattered after losing his job at Ipswich.
"It was the job of his life, where he had played and where he had been successful in management.
"When I saw him, I thought he looked a bit shell-shocked and thought it was a move on the rebound almost if he came to Stoke.
"As it happened, though, he changed his mind."
Coates and his fellow directors met for a pre-arranged board meeting on the morning of October 31 to hear the news of Burley's escape.
"The Icelanders walked into the meeting all glum faced, but I was quite pleased, without showing it.
"We then had a couple of other options, one of whom was Tony Pulis. I said we must take him, but they wanted to go back to Iceland and think about it.
"I said we hadn't got time because of our poor league position. Fortunately, the then chief executive Jonathan Fuller agreed. He was their man and he persuaded them rather than me."
Within 24 hours, therefore, the new manager of Stoke City was Tony Pulis.
It was during his first spell as manager, while Coates was a minority shareholder, that their relationship blossomed so productively that there was only one man for the job when the Coates family returned to power in 2006 and sought a new manager to replace Johan Boskamp.
So what are the strengths that so impress the chairman about his manager?
"Well, he's an ambitious man," says Coates. "He's got two things in his life, his family and his football.
"He's always looking to be better, to learn and improve, and I think we have seen that happen in his career.
"He's been a remarkable success for Stoke City, it has worked well for us and for him.
"I'd always liked him as a manager. I suppose I first began to take notice of him at Gillingham because of how well his team had done against us whenever we played them.
"He had also won one promotion with Gillingham and came really close to a second promotion when they lost a Wembley play-off to Manchester City.
"I always thought there was something there. His teams always looked well prepared, had worked hard on shape and were well organised.
"And as I found out later, he was a good judge of a player and always got the best out of his team."
He has no hesitation in nominating his favourite Pulis signing at Stoke from the 100-or-so to choose from.
"I think my favourite signing will always be Ricardo Fuller. His price was good (£500,000) and he brought a bit of magic to football.
"Now I'm hoping Tony can find someone else to change my mind!
"But he doesn't get them all right. Every manager has successes and failures in the transfer market because it is not an exact science."
He pulls no punches in assessing the manager's character either, but it's an honest assessment gilded with obvious respect and affection.
"He can be quite volatile, quite difficult, and not always an easy person to handle, but I get on very well with him.
"It is a good relationship because I respect him and he respects me.
"He is very straightforward and nobody works harder. He gives you everything he's got.
"But he also thinks about your position as well as his own."