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Tony Pulis Departs: Stoke City Fans, Be Careful What You Wish For

Critics of Tony Pulis are seemingly found at every corner in the British press. Yet his accomplishments with Stoke City have gone underappreciated. He came back to Stoke in 2006 after boardroom intrigue had forced him out of the job previously. That first season back as the manager of the Championship side, Pulis took a team that many felt before the season could have been relegated and just missed the promotion playoffs.

The following year Pulis guided Stoke to automatic promotion and immediately set to solidify Premier League status. The season would be the club’s first in the top flight since the formation of the Premier League. The 2008-09 season saw Stoke gain 45 points and finish 12th in the table, never being seriously threatened with relegation. Critics of Pulis complained about the style of play but often conceded that the manager had to play a certain way to maximize results. Rory Delap’s long throws became a thing of fascination that season but would in the future prove fodder for the numerous critics Pulis was accumulating.

The 2009-10 season saw Stoke buy several established Premier League performers and finish 11th, again not being threatened by relegation. However, the injury to Aaron Ramsey in February 2010 put Pulis’ tactics into question in the London press. The inquest that followed has not let up in reality since. Stoke’s style, while far from easy on the eye, was keeping the club far away from seriously being threatened by relegation.

In the 2010-11 season, Stoke became more progressive in its play after the signing of Jermaine Pennant. Combined with Matthew Etherington, the two quick and classy wingers gave Stoke a new dimension.  The Potters reached the FA Cup Final after smashing Bolton, a side that played “the right way” under Owen Coyle in the Wembley semifinal. Yet Stoke was still unable to shake its reputation. But the reality was the Stoke finished ABOVE Arsenal in the discipline table that season and committed four fewer red card offenses than the Gunners.

The 2011-12 season saw Stoke compete in Europe and quality for the knock-out stages of the Europa League, an immense accomplishment for a club of its size. The need to compete on multiple fronts hurt the team and the Potters resorted to the same negative tactics that had become infamous in the club’s first two Premier League seasons.

This season, Stoke ran out of ideas and made some unwise transfer moves but again survived despite a temporary scare towards the end of April. However, the sense was that the Stoke City supporters were fed up with Pulis’s too conservative tactics, poor substitutions and evasive answers in press conferences.

West Brom (under Tony Mowbray), Burnley and Blackpool all came up to the Premier League in Stoke’s first three seasons up and went right back down despite critics lauding the open and free-flowing football the sides provided. Yet Stoke, attacked by critics consistently for negativity, has not been seriously relegation threatened in Pulis’ tenure. The club serves as a model for responsible spending, savvy tactics to stay in the division and rejecting the advice of critics in the media (and among supporters) and doing what is best to remain in the top flight. It is a model newly promoted sides would be wise to follow.

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  1. WWPB

    May 22, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    From when Stoke City were in the Championship, Tony Pulis has:

    * Promoted them into the Premier League.
    * Got them into the FA Cup Final.
    * Got them to Wembley Stadium twice.
    * Got them in the Europa League.

    He has also helped Stoke City to survive in the Premier League for 5 years since promotion. Getting a new manager will not make Stoke City play better football, as the aim is to survive in the Premier League, and not to win it.

    If you believe Pulis should have stayed, join the club: (

    [Or, use the hashtag: #WeWantPulisBack].

  2. US Stoke Fan

    May 21, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    I think Pulis deserves a statue outside the Brittania. His job was to take a team that was on the lower half of talented teams in the Championship and get them to the EPL. Once there his mission was to keep them there regardless of style. While Stoke has spent money there needs to be some perspective about how bad that initial team was that got to the EPL. If Transfer had a roster value for that initial stoke team the entire squad would have been worth 20-25 million pounds. That’s nowhere near the level that should be expected to stay in the league(60+). Currently the squad is valued at about 95 million Euros.

    That being said, Tony has always preferred veteran players and the club has put a lot of money into the academy and training ground in recent years. The Butland signing, and even the Shea signing signal that the club wants to go younger and start building a core. Pulis wasn’t the guy for that process.

  3. David

    May 21, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Accoding to PaddyPower Rafa Benitez is early favorite to land the Stoke job. Quite a coup and intent by Stoke if true.

  4. San Franciscan

    May 21, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    But Pulis did not get sacked, it was a mutual agreement.

  5. Mike Bratt

    May 21, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    No way should stoke consider mark hughes

  6. Bishopville Red

    May 21, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    As you point out, Stoke were never as bad or rough and tumble as the media (re: Arsene Wenger) claimed. Tony Pulis was’t flawless, but did a much better job than most could have in the same situation.

    I hope Stoke’s board made this decision for the right reasons instead of making it because they succumbed to the asinine taunts of “not real football” that is popular among footy snobs – if Arsenal or Barcelona win, it’s a triumph for beauty; if they lose, the other team must not have “played football”,

    We’ll find out soon enough; if they fill the position quickly, it’s because they’ve lined up a new guy and see a direction for growth. If the vacancy lingers, they’ve simply done this to get rid of what they had, and (as is typical of BoDs) don’t know what or why they’re doing.


  7. IanCransonsKnees

    May 21, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Perhaps the most reasonable piece I’ve read about Stoke since we’ve been in the top flight. It sums up our journey succinctly and my only downer on it is that the decision hasn’t been made to appease the fans. There has been debate about Pulis’ methods, but there always was under bother periods of his tenure. However there has never been any chanting or calling for his head. Believe me if that had happened you’d know about it, we aren’t shy about coming forward. We got beat 0-7 by Birmingham once, invaded the pitch and the directors box! Pulis, if he is disliked, has got off very lightly by comparison.

    Other than that an excellent summary.

  8. Yespage

    May 21, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Stoke have done well overall, but since January, they were in poor shape. If it wasn’t for their approximately 54 ties in the first half of the season, they would have been relegated.

    Stoke City were a few ties -> wins from being the top ten. Heck, at one point Europa League qualification was at least technically within reach, if they could just start winning, instead of tying games.

    Stoke City were one of the best defensive teams in Europe. But then their lack of ability to score turned into a complete inability to score. And add to that, some tough own-goals in a few games, Stoke started sliding down and nothing was working. They just didn’t seem to have anything to work with.

    Their signings have helped bolster what was becoming an old team, but overall, there doesn’t even seem to be a long ball plan for the team.

    I don’t know if sacking Pulis is a wise decision. He got them this far. But something has to change, for the good, on the pitch.

  9. Guy

    May 21, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    Many Stoke fans wanted Tony to stay. I was not one of them.

    Is there risk in change? Sure, but there was also risk in continuing down the road we were on. This was our 3rd consecutive year of finishing with fewer points than the year before. Sticking with Tony was no guarantee of staying up.

    Next season will certainly have us on the edge of our seats, but at least we won’t be grinding our teeth for 90 minutes. 😉

  10. David

    May 21, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    Gus Poyet would be ideal for Stoke. He will change the style of play instantly and the club will still be a mid-table club. In time, if he has money to spend Stoke could be looking at Europa League as a target. I have a feeling though that Stoke will go for a British manager.

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