Change may not be for the best for Stoke City

Stoke City Britannia Stadium

The departure of Tony Pulis from Stoke City has gone reasonably unheralded with the managerial comings and goings since the Premier League season finished.

For obvious reasons, the movements in the North West between Manchester United, Everton and now even Wigan Athletic have taken precedence. 

The job which Pulis has done at the Britannia should not be underestimated however.

Having guided the Potters into the Premier League, and then solidified and stabilised the club to become a fixture in the division, towards the end of his tenure he came under fire for the football his side played. 

Pulis was though shrewd in the transfer markets, he gradually got star players in without completely overhauling the existing playing staff. Players like Ryan Shawcross, Asmir Begovic and Matthew Etherington have flourished, but Chairman Peter Coates still decided that this was not enough to keep Pulis on. 

The Britannia is a loud, intimidating ground for any away side to visit, and the high tempo, high octane style of play which Pulis employed seemed to fit the atmosphere and surroundings perfectly. 

Sure, this was no tiki taka, no patient keep ball waiting for the perfect pass to split a defence, but it had its own beauty and was a throw back to a more robust, physical era. Proponents of the more beautiful, cultured game disliked the Stoke style with a passion, but there is a place in the game for it as it asked a different type of question to which many sides could not answer. 

Part of the dislike for Stoke and Pulis came from specific incidents, rather than the overall style of play. Shawcross’s tackle on Aaron Ramsey springs instantly to mind, and Arsenal fans certainly have no love lost for the perceived style of play. 

But incidents like this, while unsavoury and needless in the modern game occur sporadically and when Callum McManaman was vilified for his horror challenge on Newcastle’s Massadio Haidara, the furore had McManaman been in the Red and White stripes of Stoke would have been multiplied exponentially, due to the perceived aggressiveness of Pulis’s team. 

Roberto Martinez, who has incidentally been linked with the vacant Stoke position plays nice, cultured football, and Wigan have never been seen as a dirty or aggressive side. It would be interesting if a manager who does play football in the Martinez mould gets the job, and it is one of Coates’ wishes that the style of football improves. 

The favourite, at the time of writing though appears to be Mark Hughes, who, after being unceremoniously dumped by QPR after a disastrous start to the season which ultimately saw them relegated, has somehow put himself in the shop window again. 

Coates knows that signing a manager with the track record of Mark Hughes will not appease supporters who want a more aesthetically pleasing style. He will also know that Hughes brings with him a whole team of backroom staff.

Hughes will want to change the squad to his liking, and while there are still some good players at Stoke, having seen some of the dealings at Loftus Road and how they worked out, it is doubtful that these are the kind of changes that Potters fans will be excited by.

Evolution, while not revolution may be in the Staffordshire air but these will be worrying times for all Stoke fans. If this appointment goes wrong, Stoke could also be looking at the wrong end of the table very soon after the new season kicks off, and in the worse case scenario, this change may not be for the best

image: © ronnie macdonald

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