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Success for Pulis with Malta connection

Tony Pulis (left) with Ray Calleja after a Stoke City training session last week.

Tony Pulis (left) with Ray Calleja after a Stoke City training session last week.

Followers of the English Premier League this season will have noted Stoke City's return to the top flight after an absence of 23 years and defying all odds to retain their top league status.

Most will agree that the manager, Tony Pulis, is the architect of this success but few will be aware of his pride at his Maltese roots.

He acknowledged this during a planned but brief meeting at Stoke's training ground, on the eve of this season's last home match against Wigan on Saturday.

I first met this extremely polite, affable, yet unyielding, man last year when my team, Stoke City, clinched automatic promotion by drawing at home against Leicester.

So, when I asked the club if I could catch up with him again this time, Pulis agreed straight away.

I asked him about his Maltese connections.

"My grandfather was actually from Żabbar," he said.

"After he married my grandmother, who was Welsh, they settled in Wales and had six children. I'm the son of the oldest boy. So, it's just fantastic really!"

Pulis admits to only visiting Malta once in 1975 when he was playing for Wales in a UEFA U-18 tournament against Malta.

Wales won the first leg at Cwbran 4-0 then narrowly beat Malta 1-0 at the Empire Stadium in Gżira a month later.

"So, that's the only time I've ever been to Malta... over 30-odd years ago."

Stoke secured a safe position in the standings in the beginning of this month with a 2-1 away win at Hull, which left Pulis's record of having never been relegated unblemished.

Acknowledging that his side's achievements have been way beyond expectations, he said:

"The success we've had in the past two years has been pretty amazing and it is most probably the best period this club has ever had. To get promoted and survive in the Premiership when everybody had already written us off are indeed remarkable achievements.

"It's been a great effort by everyone not just the players and the coaching staff. The fans were united and got behind the players."

Stoke's home form (10 wins from 19 - only two other teams have won more at home outside the top three) has been "absolutely magnificent".

"It's been nice to win a few games away from the Britannia but our home form was absolutely magnificent and pushed us to where we are now. It's a big credit to the supporters."

The manager believes the tremendous support of the fans has been the 12th man for Stoke and has helped his team in many games this season.

Pulis obtained his FA coaching badge at 19 and his UEFA A licence two years later, making him one of the youngest coaches ever to have achieved the qualification. Last summer he also completed his UEFA Pro Licence.

His coaching career started right down in the lower leagues before he took his ultimate test in the Premier League this season. He managed Bournemouth, Gillingham, Bristol City, Portsmouth, and also Plymouth sandwiched between his two stints at Stoke.

Pulis is now planning to recruit quality players next season.

"The important thing is that we find out what is out there first," he said.

"They've got to be better players than what we've got. We need next year and the year after to make sure we consolidate and then we'll push on. At present, we're miles behind lots of clubs but we've stayed up and we have to make sure we work on long-term plans."

Last Saturday, I was proud to hear Pulis speak so assertively to journalists knowing this man has Maltese blood running in his veins.

All the praise he got is richly deserved. He has worked hard in the face of adversity and on a very limited budget but his desire to succeed has shone through.

No wonder he is now being mentioned as a possible candidate for the Premier League manager of the year award!

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