Pulis vs Martinez: Who's Doing The Better Job?


Tony Pulis and Roberto Martinez have both done commendable jobs with Stoke and Wigan in recent seasons. Today on the blog Amit Singh from Think Football takes a closer look at their performances.


Tony Pulis and Roberto Martinez are two very different Premier League managers. Martinez is widely praised for being a footballing purist, setting Wigan up to pass the ball, rather than opting for rigid defending or long balls. Pulis on the other hand works solely to his side's strengths, building a side that defend deep and move the ball forward as swiftly as possible, in turn making Stoke a very ‘hard to beat’ Premier League outfit.

Pulis guided Stoke to the Premier League in 2008-09, whilst Martinez took over at Wigan a year later, making it quite interesting to compare the two clubs success, transfer spending and levels of popularity. Martinez is very widely praised, but in truth it is arguably a bit overly exaggerated, in contrast to Pulis who rarely gets the recognition he deserves.

2009-2010 11th 16th
2010-2011 13th 16th
2011-2012 14th 15th
2012-2013 10th 18th

Pulis has finished higher than Martinez in every season they have competed together, including the current campaign where the gap is huge. Not only has Pulis finished higher but his sides have always been far more comfortable. Every year Martinez is in a relegation scrap, whereas Pulis has not been in one since bringing his side into the Premier League.

Last season Stoke only finished a place above Wigan, but they'd already secured a safe league position and thus tailed off, not winning one in their last six. On the other hand Wigan were desperate for survival and managed to win five of their last six, pushing them up and away from danger into 15th. Of course Martinez deserves credit for this turn around, with his switch to a 3-5-2 widely credited for re-invigorating his side.

Negative versus 'positive' perceived tactics

One reason for the differing perceptions surrounding the two managers is due to style of play. When the Liverpool and Spurs jobs became vacant in the summer Roberto Martinez was tipped as a potential manager for both sides, whilst Pulis was not, despite his, on the face of it, superior league record.

The main reason for this is down to styles of play. Martinez is deemed to be an advocate of tika-taka whilst Pulis is seen in some quarters to promote 'negative' tactics, such as frequent use of the long ball and tough tackling from his defenders. The style of play from both clubs is a key factor determining perception. Here is a look at some statistics for the 2012/13 season:

 PossessionPass SuccessLong PassesShort PassesYellow CardsRed Cards
Wigan 53.9% 83.0% 61 411 37 2
Stoke 42.3% 70.5% 61 273 44 3

A glance at this table demonstrates what many deem to be true; Wigan play a more attractive brand of football. Wigan's possession is 10% higher; they play almost twice as many short passes with a much higher pass success rate.

One interesting stat is for long balls, but the long pass statistics are subjective, for example a cross field ball counts as a 'long pass.' The main criticism levelled at Stoke is how they thrash the ball up to Crouch at times almost aimlessly (a harsh criticism in my view).

This is part of the fact that in football there is definitely a large degree of snobbery in some quarters. Many pundits and fans believe that there is only one right way to play; to emulate the ball playing tactics seen in Spain. This is frankly ridiculous as football is about variety and a range of styles, often conflicting.

Whilst it is frustrating to come up against Stoke, it is necessary to be able to overcome them. A top side should be able to deal with a plethora of styles. An under-appreciation for Stoke's style of play has arguably led to a negative perception of the club, as well as, by de-facto, an under appreciation for what Pulis has achieved. Pulis has turned Stoke into a safe mid-table Premier League side, a very admirable and impressive feat.

Wigan's player-sales versus Stoke's relative big spending

Whilst it is clear that Pulis has made Stoke a much safer side than Wigan, one argument against him is that his net-spend has been very high, especially in comparison to Martinez's at Wigan. Martinez, unfortunately, is regularly forced to part with his prized assets. This season he lost Victor Moses and in seasons past he has lost N'Zogbia and Valencia. The table below compares spending by both managers during the period 09-13:

 Transfers InTransfers OutNet Spend
Wigan* £32,100,000 £43,750,000 -£11,650,000
Stoke £67,575,000 £8,600,000 £58,975,000

This makes it abundantly clear what sort of conditions that Martinez is operating in. During the same period Pulis has spent net almost £60 million, whilst Martinez recorded over £11 million in profit. The financial positions of the two sides’ are almost in-comparable. Wigan, as noted, almost sell a top player each season, whilst Stoke have not had to sell a player against their will, due to their strong finances.

Stoke have also shelled out large sums on 'marquee' signings over the years, not all of which was spent well. The club spent around £8 million on Kenwyne Jones for example, who has only managed 13 league goals in 68 appearances. £4 million was also spent on Cameron Jerome who has scored just six goals in 32 appearances. A further £18 million was also spent on Wilson Palacios and Peter Crouch from Spurs. Crouch was 30 when the club signed him for £10 million, a luxury Wigan simply cannot afford, despite Crouch's success for the club.

Despite this, the large spending only started after Pulis managed one safe season in the Premier League. On entering the league back in 07/08 Pulis net spend was a profit of £270,000. On securing safety he was backed with cash and has been ever since. Using this financing and his shrewd tactics he has developed Stoke into the safe mid-table side they have become. Wigan on the other hand have been constantly rebuilding as a result of weak finances.


A comparison of Pulis and Martinez is interesting, whilst not necessarily a fair one. Both managers have done well to keep their sides in the Premier League, whilst Pulis has turned Stoke into a safe mid-table side. This is one area where the managers successes diverge, Pulis has cemented Stoke's position as a Premier League club, whereas Martinez's Wigan side are constantly involved in relegation scraps.

Part of this is down to the differing levels of finances given to each manager. Stoke have spent relatively huge sums to ensure their place as a Premier League club, whereas Martinez has had to deal with losing his star performers on a regular basis. It would be interesting to see how Martinez would do if given more funds.

One point remains though, Pulis is massively under-rated as a result of snobbery regarding his tactics. What Martinez has done is admirable, trying to play a 'progressive' brand of football, but that is not to take anything away from Pulis, who has deserved far more credit. Pulis has made his Stoke team an incredibly tough one to beat, particularly at home, where Stoke are the only unbeaten Premier League team this season.

*All financial stats taken from TransferLeague.co.uk



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