Have Stoke City lost their identity under Mark Hughes?

Tony Pulis Interview - 23/02/2014

Tony Pulis' methods may have been too ugly for the snobs, but Stoke City have become a bit boring now that their brutality has been turned down.

Under the baseball cap wearing Welshman, the Britannia Stadium was a fortress, and not just because of the Potters' home record for most of his time at the club.

The atmosphere created by the local support remains second to none, but it was more powerful when their heroes on the pitch romped about the league, taking no prisoners and reveling in their role as the bad guys of English football.

Not that the club or their fans cared until fairly recently. It was them against the world, and it was brilliant.

Mark Hughes is a good football manager and has done well so far in the Potteries but it seems a shame that a side with such personality have had to be toned down to better fit in with the norm. It wasn't as if Stoke under Pulis played poor football. Of course they churned out results just as any other team outside the top six or so do, but in Matthew Etherington they also had a classic winger who embodied all the best traditions of the English wide game.

He worked hard down his flank, was committed to winning the ball and beating his man, and had far more hustle than he has been given credit for. After all, showering praise on a Stoke player who was able to entertain with a ball at his feet playing attacking football never did fit the narrative projected about the club.

As Pulis admitted himself on various occasions, his squad was a half-way house and last resort for the waifs and strays of the Premier League. He took in numerous players with troubled pasts, failed potential or talents that were never going to be in vogue in the 21st century.

Peter Crouch, Jermaine Pennant and Robert Huth all came with varying degrees of baggage and history, but they were all put to good use in Staffordshire. Crouch and Pennant even combined for arguably the finest long-ball goal ever scored when the big man volleyed past Joe Hart in 2012.

That's another thing that Stoke and their image problems. They stretched the truth over what Pulis set out to do and why. He wasn't interested in ruining football or killing the game but was as committed to his style of play as Pep Guardiola is to his own.

However, while the Spaniard was praised for getting Barcelona to take their passing style to a one-dimensional extreme, Stoke were ridiculed for being the very best that they could be at playing strong, powerful direct football.

You could even argue that Pulis effectively built his very own Total Football, with the likes of Geoff Cameron seemingly able to play in any outfield position on the pitch while Jonathan Walters & Co. often played higher up or lower in the team as required.

The first team players at the Britannia were almost always good, solid footballers who came together to punch above their weight and shake up the established order. That obviously didn't go down well however, and they were demonised for their sins.

Now that he's working wonders once again at Crystal Palace, the PR balance is swinging back in Pulis' favour. After all, he's no longer a threat to anyone's sensibilities now that he's based in metropolitan London, riding a feel-good story rather than making enemies with his band of rebels from the provinces.

Of course, his final season in Staffordshire wasn't a vintage year, and it's totally understandable if Stoke fans prefer the way their team plays under Hughes. It just seems a shame, in a league that's classed as the best in the world because of the variety of its teams and all-action football, that a side that truly stood out for being different is no more.

However, the future does look bright for the Potters' new era under Pulis' successor, even if much of their terrifying identity has been lost. Hopefully this is just a short lull before Stoke are riding high and bullying the pompous stiffs once again.

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