A parting of the ways for Pulis and Stoke?

asks if Stoke have reached the peak of their powers under Tony Pulis, and if the time has come for change at the Britannia

Image: Staffs.Live via flickr Creative Commons

Image: Staffs.Live via flickr Creative Commons

Ryan Shotton at right midfield. On its own this may be insufficient evidence of Tony Pulis’ failings, but it’s a helpful indicator of his flawed reliance on defensive discipline and set-pieces to steer his side towards another mid-table finish. Shotton possesses a handy long throw, if nowhere near as effective as Rory Delap’s sloping deliveries, but lacks the slaloming runs and dangerous crossing of Jermaine Pennant, who he has replaced on the wing in recent months. The presence of Pennant and Etherington on the flanks was the common rebuttal to suggestions that Stoke remained a one dimensional side incapable of raising their game beyond the brutish. Yet, with these players cutting increasingly forlorn figures as the Potters stagger towards the season’s in largely forgettable fashion, perhaps it’s time to reassess Tony Pulis’ position.

To some it would seem heresy to even question the achievements of a man who has kept Stoke safely in the Premier League for four successive seasons, took them to last year’s FA Cup final and led them into Europe for the first time since the seventies. However, during this time he has had a lot of money to play with, and it has largely been invested unwisely, swelling the numbers with chronically average squad-fillers. Tom Soares, Andrew Davies and Michael Tonge still remain on their books from a frenzied squad bolstering exercise in anticipation of entering the Premier League. In the intervening four years these three players have made just 21 league appearances between them, and are set to leave for nothing this summer. It’s fair to say that all managers make mistakes in the transfer market but Pulis has made a habit of such profligacy.

This wastefulness is especially evident in his tentative attempt to evolve a more rounded, less set-piece heavy style of play. Undoubtedly more complete players like Tuncay and Eidur Gudjohnsen have been through the revolving door at the Britannia Stadium, but Pulis persists with more hardworking options like Jonathan Walters and Cameron Jerome. Even previous club record signing Kenwyne Jones, a physically imposing if languidly disposed striker remains a distant fourth choice in the forward stakes. The emphasis is still on disrupting the opposition’s game plan as a first priority before overwhelming them with an aerial bombardment. They are capable of subtlety and nuance on occasion, but by and large, even at fullback, an increasingly forward thinking position in the modern game, Pulis keeps things strictly functional by fielding converted centre-halves like Wilson, Huth, and rather disastrously Woodgate. Their aim is to hit the target man and feed off him, Crouch performing this role admirably in adverse circumstances.

However, the acquisition of Crouch is itself indicative of a misguided transfer policy; the 31 year old agreeing a lucrative contract that extends well into the hinterlands of his effectiveness. He may be a big name England international and reasonable success in the short term but the combined cost of his transfer fee and wages is staggering for a player who has already peaked. Despite Peter Coates’ deep pockets, £22 million was spent on the August deadline day alone, the popular perception of Stoke is still that of a relatively small time club thriving against the odds. The stats tell a rather different tale. Due to the generosity of Coates, boyhood Stoke fan and founder of Bet365, his club have the fourth highest net spend on transfers over the last four years, their outlay exceeded by only the ultra-rich Chelsea, Man United, and Man City.

Supporter enthusiasm for the Premier League experience hasn’t diminished since that riotous first season, but a substantial number are beginning to question the previously untouchable Pulis. A certain level of application and commitment is always to be expected from his teams, but there remains a discernible lack of quality amongst the overwhelmingly workmanlike bunch he has assembled at Stoke. They still play exceptional risk-averse football, and, despite there being no imperative to change on the basis of results alone, some are tiring of such predictably drab affairs. This view is given credence by the lack of ingenuity in Stoke’s misfiring side, their inability to move away from this bluntly singular style Never the most prolific of scorers, they have regressed to less than a goal a game this season, their current total of 31 being the worst record in the division.

This lack of penetration isn’t helped by Pulis’ penchant for alienating many of his more capable attackers. Jones and Pennant are just two recent examples of his begrudging attitude towards players whose effort isn’t always what it should be, James Beattie and Dave Kitson previously falling foul of his hostility too. This array of British based signings also outlines another of Pulis’ limitations, his unwillingness to venture far from the confines of these shores in search of new talent. As part of his narrowly self-limiting transfer policy, Premier League experience is a pre-requisite. His fingers were undoubtedly burnt by the purchase of Uruguayan midfielder Diego Arismendi, another who arrived over three years ago and is yet to see Premier League action, having been farmed out on loan multiple times, but a reluctance to scout further afield sees him paying significantly over the odds for relative passengers like Dean Whitehead instead.

Would it be ungracious to ask for more given what Pulis has already delivered? As another Midlands side Wolves have realised to their cost this season, there is a price to be paid for persisting with mediocrity. Their shambolic slide towards relegation was a direct result of keeping on Mick McCarthy, another fine motivator held back by an inflexible view of the way football should be played, after last day survival. The situation is nowhere near as desperate at Stoke, who currently reside in 14th place of a packed midtable, but it is similarly apparent that little to no tangible progress is being made on the pitch, Pulis failing to move beyond an ideology that, at the top level, can only take you so far.


  1. The person who wrote this garbage has obviously never attended a Stoke City game, nor have they been stood on any terrace when Stoke City languished in the lower divisons.
    Tony Pulis has delivered! Admittedly on occasions his tactics can be questioned, a tad too defensive.
    Dean Whitehead is a consistent player.
    The Transfer policy, most Stoke fans, will agree with. Why pay over the odds for a player who’s only interest is the money?

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  2. Stoke City show no sign of improving, than perhaps to the dizzying heights of 11th.

    They play a drab, unattractive brand of football and their transfer policy, save for very few exceptions, is overly rooted in the domestic sphere.

    Pulis must be given credit for consistent premier league survival no doubt, but he is not the man to take them forward, unless he really does rethink his approach.

    Stoke are the lowest scorers in the league this season. They don’t deserve the passionate supporters they have. Aside from Crouch’s wonder goal, what have they really had to cheer?

    Played off the park at Newcastle and Pulis says it wasn’t that bad a performance?

    Stoke are piggy backing on a reputation of grit and grind more than anything? But really, they don’t add anything to the league. Things have to change, other than perhaps a bogey team to Arsenal and one that is ultimately frustrating to watch.

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  3. I think it’s a very decent article with several bang-on-the-money points.

    Most Stokies don’t want Pulis out, we simply want him to change. Even Barca only have a plan A after last night’s showing, it’s just that our plan A is pretty grim unless played at full tilt, with fast tempo.

    We stull play a plethora of round pegs in square holes. And many don’t see that as good enough.

    Rohan: we add nothing to the league. I presume you don’t know football existed before 1992 as our crowd is still one of the very, very few who still makes a difference at matches. Most who actually go to maches and come to our ground still hold it in the highest of regards for atmospeher.

    By all means berate what we do on the pitch. Off it, we add plenty to this most anaesthetised of leagues.

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  4. Interesting article and comments. The article itself is well reasoned and the evidence backs it up. Yes, as a Stoke fan there is a lot to be grateful for but that should not prevent a critical analysis of the situation. There can be no doubt that a lot of money has been ‘wasted’. However, this in itself is not, unfortunately, a baromoter of a manager’s success. Even Sir Alex has made a significant number of signings over the years that don’t work out.
    The Pulis way was accepted by the majority of Stoke fans when we entered the Premiership and, I believe, with good reason. The last thing anyone wanted was to be the whipping boys or ‘do a West Brom’ at that time and end up back in the Championship. The problem is that all that has changed in the intervening years, is that we now have better quality players being asked to do exactly the same thing. I agree absolutely with the issue of the defence. We have enough central defenders to fill the team and yet we don’t have one true full back let alone two! Midfield is it seems an inconvenience and, if anything, the progress we made with the introduction of Pennant and Etherington has been lost this year. Etherington has not looked the same player since his injury prior to the Cup Final and Pennant is further evidence of what can happen if you get on he wrong side of Pulis. He’s a stubborn man who holds a grudge for a very long time it would seem.
    I wonder what the morale of the team is like really? Just because they get extremely well paid does not mean that job satisfaction is any less of a motivator than for the rest of us. Can the team enjoy playing this way? What has gone on with the likes of Palacios? Is he really still unfit? He is clearly the best midfielder we have yet can barely get a game. What must he, Pennant and Cameron Jerome think when they see Dean Whitehead, Ryan Shotton and Jon Walters consistently picked ahead of them? There are two things that can distinguish the former from the latter: Their perceived work rate in the Pulis system and that they will conform to what Pulis wants. He does not appreciate those that have a footballing brain of their own as they might disrupt the system. You never know, they migh actually entertain us!

    As for him changing. Yes, it would be great if he did. We have the players to make a decent side, but desperately need a creative midfielder (not exactly ten a penny) and at least one specialist full back. However, Pulis is mid 50s. He is unlikely to change his style now. If I was the Chairman I would certainly be thinking ‘do I want this guy to be spending any more of my money?’ Peter Coates has showed tremendous backing for the club and Pulis but I hope he will remember that he is a shrewd businessman and not stick by his man for too long.
    We are in a tricky position as fans. The comments on the thread indicate the polarised views. My concern is ‘be careful what we wish for’. Bolton represent a salutory lesson in what can happen if you want to change to a more attractive style. Granted Stoke have deeper pockets thanks to Mr Coates and Bet 365, however, that never guarantees success.

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  5. 28 Apr ’12 at 8:53 pm

    Robert Huth's Moustache.

    Anybody remember what happened to Charlton? Getting 10th place every year with Alan Curbishley, fans started getting restless and above themselves. He got sacked and then pretty much plummeted straight down to League 1, where they are only just about to escape.

    I can’t understand complaining about the style of play. It’s bloody awful, of course, but do you really think the majority of fans care? You seem to be failing to realise that being in the Premier League is a luxury for Stoke, not a default position. The transfers, as much as you criticise them, have undeniably been effective. Stoke were promoted with a largely Championship level team, and now they can compete with anybody in the league. Jones, Beattie and Kitson not getting a proper chance? Bless. Next you’ll be saying it’s a travesty that Chamakh has yet to displace van Persie.

    Also, Wolves didn’t pay the price for persistent mediocrity. They paid the price for sacking their manager. There might be a lesson in that, but off the top of my head…

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