Pulis has guided Stoke City to mid-table finishes in their first two seasons in the Premier League, and this achievement has been largely unnoticed by many people. The more impressive feat was Stoke’s first season in the Premiership as to how comfortably clear of relegation they finished despite making virtually no eye-catching signings in pre-season. Players like Ricardo Fuller, Mamady Sidibe and Rory Delap who many thought were good Championship players at best, easily settled and held their own in the Premiership because Pulis got the best out of them and played to Stoke’s strengths as a team.
Although they did add James Beattie and Matthew Etherington to their ranks in January, it was mainly down to the players in their Championship squad that kept them up and Stoke ended up finishing a remarkable 12th that season. Pulis received a lot of criticism for how his team played a negative and direct style, none more so than from Arsene Wenger who branded Stoke ‘cowards’ after Arsenal lost at the Britannia Stadium.
He said about Stoke’s committed challenges: “The one who is tackling is not the brave one, for me the brave one is the one trying to play football.”
But surely if Arsenal were up to the challenge then because of their superior players they should have easily beaten Stoke? Wenger’s comments were made at the time because his side like many others who play Stoke bottle the physical game that they like to play. If a side is good enough then they can beat a team no matter what their approach is and Arsenal simply weren’t good enough on the day.
However in their FA Cup game this year, also against Arsenal, Stoke proved that there is more to their game than just direct, physical play. Whilst they did resort to their infamous ‘Delap long-throws’ and long balls they also got the ball down on the floor and played some lovely football that Arsenal just couldn’t compete with and ended up losing 3-1 to the Potters.
This season Stoke stayed well clear of relegation and finished 11th, improving on last season’s finish by one place. Should they again avoid relegation next season then you feel that Stoke have then well and truly established themselves as a Premier League side.
Tony Pulis has done a marvellous job with Stoke and deserves to be recognised for it, he has proved that he is a clever manager because he knows how to get the best out of players that are limited and play to their strengths. Every side that plays Stoke always knows that they are going to be given a game and will have to work hard for a win. Stoke’s approach should be appreciated and not lambasted and more teams should be encouraged to play like this.
It seems as though Pulis has to win a trophy or go on a cup run before somebody sits up and takes notice. With Stoke looking like they will once again consolidate their place in Premier League next season then don’t be surprised if Pulis does focus their attention on going for a trophy and there couldn’t be anyone else more deserving in the Premier League of one.