Tony Pulis is a manager that can often polarise opinion, but one thing that is admirable about Stoke’s manager is his move to slowly transfer his team’s style of play so that they’re able to compete with the higher echelons of the league.
Stoke have reached a critical juncture in their club’s history, after two solid seasons in the country’s top flight with league finishes of 10th and 11th respectively, in order for the club to avoid a degree of stagnation. Pulis is clearly looking to expand on the side’s brutal and direct style and add a little more fluidity and craft to their play.
I can’t say I agree with Mr Wenger’s repeated attacks on the club, although seeing the club discussing bringing in the lawyers would seem a tad too far, but they are most definitely a tough, organised and difficult side to face. Most of the league’s elite hardly relish a fixture against Stoke and the fact that they still remain so hard to beat is a testament to the manager, for promoted sides so often have a soft underbelly to their play, whether it be technical or mental.
Moves to bring in Eidur Gudjohnson, Kenwyne Jones and Jermaine Pennant are undoubtedly a statement of intent. Jones arrived for a fee in the region of £8m, and while his inconsistency and loss of focus at times bothered Sunderland fans, he was definitely an asset and the few Wearsider’s would have liked to have seen him depart. Jones offers an ‘out’ ball, whether it be down the channels or through flick ons.
The injury to Mamady Sidibe may have prompted a move for Jones, yet while the two players can be labelled as vaguely similar in style, there is a clear gulf in terms of ability with the nod going to the former Sunderland man. On the face of things it looks to be an astute purchase.
Jermaine Pennant’s return to these fair shores was as inevitable as the moment he chose to move to Spain with Real Zaragoza. The winger has pace, and when there isn’t a Peter Crouch to aim for in the box like there was in his stint with Liverpool, an excellently whipped cross on him. If Pennant and Jones can hit it off, they could form a dangerous duo of sorts.
He looks to be a replacement for Liam Lawrence, who moved to Portsmouth along with Dave Kitson in a deal which saw Marc Wilson move in the opposite direction to the Britannia stadium, and while Lawrence would still be a valuable asset as the player has excellent technique, in terms of troubling the full back at least, it looks to be a move upwards in quality, for Pennant was arguably his former club Liverpool’s best player in the 2007 Champions League final defeat to AC Milan.
Gudjohnson is a name that’ll be familiar to every fan in England, and he comes with an excellent pedigree. At first, it looked as if his signing was a season-long loan from his parent club AS Monaco, but reports since have verified that he has been signed permanently. He may not score as many goals as his ability indicates, but his quite frankly superb in a deep-lying forward role when fit and on form.
Spurs manager Harry Redknapp was said to be keen to retain Gudjohnson’s services this summer after a loan spell last season, but with little action to prove the conjecture he now finds himself in the rather less glamorous destination of Stoke. The sort of football he’ll be asked to play alongside will not faze him either after a successful stint at Bolton prior to his move to Chelsea.
It would appear on the face of things that Pulis is trying to add a little style to proceedings and that he’s tired of the club competing around mid-table every year. This ambition is rare in a club like Stoke and it must be commended. These are exciting times for Stoke, and with a solid base upon which to build upon and a decent backline and grafting midfielders to call on, it would seem to be a step in the right direction.
One word of caution though, is that the future of creative talent Tuncay should not be considered a warning to any player that shows a modicum of creativity at the club. Tuncay looked too good for Middlesbrough when he was at the club, and a move to Stoke looked to be a move sideways rather than upwards, so it remains deeply puzzling to me personally that the player finds himself on the fringes of the first team.
He was pursued with purpose by Pulis last summer amidst rumours of a potential move to Liverpool, and while a move for a player of Tuncay’s ilk only served to be a precursor for this summer’s activity, Tuncay certainly deserves better and while he may not have shined as yet at Stoke, he’s yet to be given the chance he fully deserves.
But this summer’s transfer window has definitely seen a shift in transfer policy for Stoke, and while the league is year on year clogged up with team’s that are just simply happy at times to make up the numbers, to see Stoke at least attempt to take their game to the next level is an extremely pleasing move to see.
Written By James McManus