Tony Pulis decision to leave Stoke may come as a surprise to many but his body language this season suggests that his mind has been made up for a while to call time on his extended stay at the Britannica Stadium. Pulis leaves Stole this summer after a seven year spell in charge which has seen the club transformed from relegation threatened League One side to an established Premiership force. For this, Pulis must receive a lot of the credit, despite being sacked by the club in 2005, and then reinstated a year later after current owner Peter Coates took control of the club.
With Coates backing and his money in support of his grander vision for the club, Pulis and Stoke blossomed. After winning promotion to the Premiership in 2008 with a second place finish in the Championship, Pulis knew his team would have to adapt to survive in England’s top division. He focused on the home fixtures and decided to tighten and narrow his teams play at the Britannica, making it a “fortress” for opposition teams to visit. The plan worked brilliantly as Stoke defied the bookies prediction of an automatic return to the Championship by picking up key wins against Aston Villa, Arsenal, Tottenham, Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion. Stoke finished the season in 12th place in what would be the first steps in establishing the team within the league. Over the next few years Pulis managed to maintain the status quo and has consistently finished each of the past five seasons with Stoke comfortable in mid table. Added into this a European adventure in the form of the Europa league in 2011, courtesy of a FA Cup final appearance the previous season, has led many to hail Pulis as a gifted manager and one destined for greater things.
But the honest truth is that Pulis has taken Stoke as far as he could and after running out of ideas, he has decided with Coates that now is the best time to part ways. Pulis was never the tactical genius nor the innovator but instead played to the strengths of the teams he built which worked for a time until the opposition adapted. In their first season in the Premiership, Pulis and Stoke found a new weapon to use, something that defenders had no idea how to defend against. Pulis discovered in training that Rory Delap had an incredible throw in technique and could launch the ball at speed into the penalty box. At this pace and with a crowd of bodies in the box, defenders and goalkeepers alike were perplexed at what to do, often resulting in a goal scoring opportunity for Stoke. He rolled out this new form of attack starting game one and it proved successful. Game after game Delap’s long throws proved too troublesome for defenders to deal with and resulted in Stoke snatching a goal here and there. But eventually opposite teams worked out how to stop it and the effectiveness added in with a dip in form for Delap resulted in Pulis having to look for a different approach.
His signings in the last four years of his tenure pointed towards one large tactic – height. Pulis decided to build the tallest and strongest team in the league that could out jump and out muscle the more skillful teams. In came signings like Peter Crouch, Matthew Upson, Kenwyne Jones, Robert Huth and Wilson Palacios to add steel to an already growing team. Pulis adapted the long ball game as a last ditched attempt to propel his side up the league and for a time his tactics worked but yet again teams adapted and Stoke were left without ideas. With only 4 wins in the last 20 games of this current season and with Stoke fans starting to grow impatient, Pulis has decided to call time on his stay with the club.
Stoke will now search for a new manager whilst owner Peter Coates starts to finalize his plans for a major restructuring at the club. It’s believed that Coates can no longer afford to fund lucrative transfer fees like the ones paid out previously for Crouch, Jones and Palacios. Instead he wants the club to reinvest in youth and develop more home grown players that will eventually replace the current crop of stars at the club. However is appointed as Pulis’s replacement must have the same mentality, with Phil Neville touted as a possible surprise option. Neville is keen to get into management following is release from Everton, but is also rumored to be attracting interest from Kenwright as a potential replacement for David Moyes so Coates may have to act swiftly is Neville is his choice. For Pulis, it will be a time for relaxation and reflection after seven intense years at Stoke. A much deserved rest is due for the Welshman who will no doubt be back in the football managerial cauldron soon.