A war of words has broken out recently between Stoke City and Tony Pulis. Has the former Potters boss gone from Hero to Zero?
A number of days before Stoke went to the Hawthorns to play Pulis’s West Bromwich Albion side, information was leaked regarding the failed drugs test of Stokes new signing, Saido Berahino, during his time at the Black Country club.
A number of senior players at the club seemingly pointed the finger of blame in their former managers direction for the leak, which had remained under wraps for a number of months previously.
After the match, the dispute reached its peak. It is alleged that Pulis left a voicemail message on the answering machine of his former captain at Stoke, Ryan Shawcross, branding him a “loser”. A claim which Pulis has strongly denied.
Pulis’s legacy in tatters?
Pulis was widely regarded as a hero in Stoke City’s long history. He saved the club from relegation into League one, and then against all odds, lead them to the Premier league, an FA cup final and European football. But is his legacy now in tatters?
When Stoke City Chairman Peter Coates returned to take over the reigns in 2006, repurchasing the club from the Icelandic consortium to which he had sold it 5 years previously, his first job was to reappoint Tony Pulis as Manager, a year on from being axed by the previous regime. Pulis wasn’t a popular choice amongst many Stoke fans, and it was a decision which Coates, himself not the most popular of figures at the time, couldn’t afford to get wrong.
After pushing for a play-off place in his first year back, the second season looked to be doomed before it had even began. Stoke lost a number of experienced players throughout the previous year. Added to this was an inactivity in the transfer market regarding players coming in the other direction. Richard Cresswell and a young, unknown loanee from Manchester United, Ryan Shawcross, the only signings being made. Stoke were the bookies favourites for the drop before a ball was kicked.
Despite this and against all the odds, Stoke went on to claim second spot in the Championship that year and gain promotion to the Premier League. It was an extraordinary achievement by Pulis, but despite this he would still divide opinion amongst supporters.
I recall there being calls for his head after a home defeat to Crystal Palace late on in that promotion season, with Stoke sitting in second place. Of course, this was absurd. But even though he didn’t just keep the club in the Premier League, but established the team as regular fixture in the top half of the table, rumblings of this nature would continue until his eventual departure in 2013
The frustrations of a section of supporters would grow with the way certain things were under Tony Pulis at Stoke. The performances away from the Britannia stadium were lacklustre. Stoke recorded just 15 wins on the road, from the 95 League games played over a five-year period.
Dipping into the transfer market to purchase exciting attacking players, such as Stoke did with the signings of Tuncay Sanli from Middlesborough and later Micheal Owen, whetted the appetite of the fans, only to see them sit on the bench and never get a real run in the team.
The approach to the Europa League campaign in 2012 also left question marks. Battling through two double-legged qualifying stages against Hajduk Split and FC Thun to make it into the group stages. Here Stoke would travel huge distances for away fixtures in Israel, Turkey and the Ukraine, to secure a path into the knock-out stages. Again, this was a remarkable achievement by Pulis and his team, and left many with great lifelong memories.
However, some supporters were left disappointed. Stoke were in with a good chance of progressing into the last 16 going into the away leg of a tie against Valencia. However Pulis fielded a seemingly weakened team. Nine first team regulars were left back in England, while only four substitutes were named out of the seven allowed. Stokes European campaign was over.
By the end of his time, the section of fans voicing their disapproval at the quality of football on display at The Britannia Stadium had grown, and the decision to let him go was the correct one.
Despite all of this, there can be no doubt that Pulis’ time at Stoke was a huge success, with far more high points than lows. Keeping the team in the Championship on the final day of the season, after being rooted to the bottom of the table on his return. The Promotion to the Premier League. The outstanding 5-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers in the 2011 FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, and all of the work done behind the scenes, helping the club to develop state of the art training facilities and a youth set up, that should leave the club in good stead for many years to come.
Aside from matters on the field, after spending 10 years in the City, Pulis has a genuine fondness for Stoke-on-Trent and the people therein. Speaking about his time at Stoke, to the Daily Mail in 2014, he said:
They were great times. We had a team that was really together. And in the city the belief started to grow. It’s a great city. The people are very passionate about their area. I enjoyed that. The atmosphere at the Britannia was electric.
He was also heavily involved in raising money for the Donna Louise Trust (A local Childrens Hospice) and proudly carried the Olympic Torch on its passage through the City in 2012.
Ultimately, the faith shown by Peter Coates, in his now close friend, was vindicated as both men found redemption.
So back to today, and the way things have become. There is clearly no love lost between Pulis and his successor at Stoke, Mark Hughes. The Welshmen have had a series of run-ins in the past, which is fine. I personally believe that a lot of football today is too friendly, and there’s nothing wrong with having a bit of needle in game. It is a competition after all.
Having said that, I don’t think that the somewhat childish “He said this, he said that” dispute which has unfolded over these last weeks portrays any of the parties involved in a particularly good light. The whole episode leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
This incident may go some way to tarnishing Pulis’ legacy with the club where he achieved great things, and with the people of the Potteries. But in the heat of the moment passions are high. Tony Pulis is the manager of West Brom and he, of course, has to say and do what he believes is right for his team. Just as Stoke City and their supporters will always rightly put their current team and its players first. I hope that when the dust has settled and down the line, when TP finally hangs up his baseball cap, that his time with Stoke City is looked back on fondly, and with the respect it deserves.
Only time will tell.