by Mike Forrest
What a breath of fresh air Stoke City and Tony Pulis were to the Premiership. Passionate, Fearless, Combative; the list of adjectives to describe how fierce Stoke were, is endless. Normally promoted teams are targeted as an “easy” 3 points by other clubs but not Stoke. Their fiery performances resulted them finishing 12th in their debut Premier League Season, a more than respectable achievement. They followed up their first seasons’ success with 11th and 13th placed finishes along with a cup final, this season European football and are an course for another comfortable mid table finish. Not bad for a club and manager only in their 4th season of Premier League football.
However it has not been all clear sailing for Pulis’ Stoke. They quickly found themselves in choppy waters and under criticism for their style, if you can call it that, of play. Under Pulis leadership, Stoke have embodied the ethos of a traditional English club. My qualm is not that this traditional English type of play consisting of full blooded tackles, 100% commitment and aggression is quickly becoming obsolete, but that Pulis has taken it too far too often.
Pulis “tactics” are primal. Defenders absolutely welly it forward. The forwards knock it on or play it out to the wingers before scrambling into the box and trying to connect to the ensuing cross. The team is sent out by Pulis pumped up with passion and gusto and inevitably this must find some form of release. I wouldn’t be surprised if before every Premier League game, Pulis showed his squad a video of a helpless, cute kitten being brutally murdered with the upcoming oppositions crest subtly super imposed into the background of the image. Robert Huth assaulting Matthew Upson last season, Andy Wilkinson absolutely clattering into Moussa Dembele, the list of examples of Stokes “passion” is a long one.
Yet just because I disagree with Pulis’ methods, doesn’t mean he is wrong. He has found a method that works for him and for Stoke, and that has to be recognised. He has consolidated Stoke into a Premier League team and that is no mean feat. My bone of contention is that surely there will come a time when the Stoke fans will want more? When the paying fans will want more than primal, visceral tactics deployed by Pulis? The Stoke fans are a mightily vociferious bunch, making the Britannia Stadium a feared place. Surely they deserve a better brand of football, they deserve to be entertained. When the most entertaining part of a football match is a throw in, you know you must be going wrong somewhere.
By no means am I saying that Pulis is a bad manager. I do think that his methods are outdated.
Stoke and Pulis cannot stand still. They need to progress instead of regress. Too many times when Stoke are going through a bad patch of form he blames the referees or the FA or luck or whoever he can justify as a scapegoat. He blames anyone but himself. He has threatened to send dvds to Mike Riley or the Premier League showing how Stoke have apparently been wronged, numerous times. Yeah right, Pulis. Might as well send them E.T. on dvd, it would be far more educational that his moaning, whingeing, “woe is me” tripe. If he took a look at how he approaches the game he might learn something. Pulis’ has to add another dimension to his arsenal, he cannot solely rely on his hoofball tactic and he needs something extra. Not only to improve himself as a manager and his team but also for the sake of the fans. Another gripe of mine with Pulis is the way he treated the fans against Valencia in the Europa League this season. Sending a reserve side, and only 15 players, out to Valencia when Stoke still had a decent chance of qualifying was disgraceful. Disgraceful to English football, but more importantly it was disgraceful and reeked of utter contempt for the 5,000 or so Stoke fans that loyally made their way to Spain. They deserved better.
Not only does Pulis need to improve his managerial ability on the pitch but he also needs to improve his transfer record. His Premier League transfer record reads more like a criminal record with the amount of expensive flops on there. In Peter Coates, Pulis has a chairman that will back him in the transfer market. He needs to take advantage of this. If Pulis can overcome his fetish for beastly 6 foot plus football players and actually add a bit of flair and panache whilst also retaining his primitive virtues; the commitment, the desire, the hunger etc, then Stoke and their fans will really be a force to be reckoned with.
By no means am I saying that Pulis is a bad manager. I do think that his methods are outdated. I recognise that this is a paradoxical thing of me to say as his methods, at the moment, are still proving successful. But in a world where people want to be entertained and where passing, elegant, seductive football is the new craving among football fans, how long will it be before Stoke fans become unhappy with Pulis? Next season will be Stokes 5th consecutive season and will have established themselves as Premier League regulars. They have the financial clout, the facilities and the fans to become a real Premier League force and Pulis needs to utilise this. Expand or die is an adage that rings true for Stoke. Pulis though has offered nothing to suggest that he is capable of expansion and I expect in time that his Stoke will die but who knows, it might be for the greater good of Stoke City and its’ fans?