In the wake of Tony Pulis’s undeserved exit from Stoke City, I have a message for their fans: “Be careful what you wish for in football.” It seems as though Pulis was shown the door, following the seven most successful years in Stoke’s history, because chairman Peter Coates and his board succumbed to the growing rumblings of discontent from sections of the support. Stoke’s directors say they want to “take the club in a different direction.” Well, I hope for their sake, that direction isn’t backwards because it will take something, someone, special to emulate what Pulis achieved. Namely, lifting the club into the top flight for the first time in 23 years, becoming the only Stoke manager to finish above the top-flight bottom six for five consecutive seasons, taking the club into Europe, contesting an FA Cup final, a cup semi-final and four quarter-finals.
Now, the feeling is that some fans believe their team should be doing all of that while playing Manchester United or Arsenal-style football and that Stoke are no more than a long-ball team. Well, it’s a fact that Newcastle played more long balls than Stoke last season and I don’t hear anybody branding them in the same vein.The fans might do well to contemplate the situation at Wigan, where Roberto Martinez produced a good footballing team – that was relegated after shipping 73 goals. It is true that Stoke have relied heavily upon corners and knock-downs for their goals and their style was becoming a bit predictable. But Pulis was trying to change things. Evidence of that was in his signing last year of midfielder Charlie Adams, from Liverpool.
Stoke simply cannot compete, financially, with the biggest clubs and I think Pulis did a marvellous job with the resources at his disposal. Pulis won my respect and admiration in 1999 when his Gillingham side was 2-0 up with four minutes to go against my Manchester City in the Second Division play-off final at Wembley. We scored twice in the 90th minute and beat them on penalties and his sportsmanship and dignity in the face of such crushing disappointment made its mark on me. So, to Tony, I say well done, while being hard done to. And, to the fans I repeat, beware what you wish for.