As a Premier League snob, I miss the old days when Forest, Leeds, Southampton, Coventry, Derby—and I could go on—were in the Premier League. Despite my Utopian image of the Prem, there is one team that have cemented their place in this league for me. That team is Stoke City.
Stoke have fast become my "second team," and I try and watch as many of their games on television, or the Internet, as possible.
A lot of people would say that Stoke’s style of play is boring and ancient, but I think otherwise. The way Stoke play is the way I have always pictured English football to be: strong, aggressive and neat. And Stoke also have a flair going forward, which makes them a very entertaining side to watch.
When most people talk about beautiful football, they mention Arsenal doing 149 passes around the centre circle before Theo Walcott runs blindly down the wing and loses possession. But I would much rather see a perfectly timed crunching challenge, or a perfectly weighted through ball with a clinical finish, both of which Stoke show regularly.
The way football is going, I wouldn't be surprised if in a few years any sliding tackle, whether it’s clean or not, will be considered a foul. The thought of this depresses me, and could put me off the game entirely. I like to see good defence as much as good attacking play, but if players are falling to the ground after a tap or trying to get players sent off like in the Spanish and Italian leagues, then I can see the Premier League losing what it has always been about.
That’s why I like Stoke.
Pulis is a great manager, and when Stoke hold so called “superior teams” to draws, or steal three points, the opposing manager slates his tactics deeming them "too aggressive" or "negative."
Stoke are obviously not the most gifted skill-wise, so Pulis does what he can so his team can get results, which is what a manager’s job is supposed to be. Also, the signings they have made have always impressed me (except maybe Peter Crouch), and looking at their squad it looks strong in every area of the pitch.
I just wish other teams would take a leaf out of Stoke’s book and play the game as I believe it should be played in this country. It’s not as if Stoke haven’t had success since rejoining the top flight. They have reached an FA Cup final and have had a mini European adventure.
I think if Stoke had big money like the clubs in the top four and could bring in world class talent, and if Pulis and his players carried on in the way they have been, they would be a big force in Europe.
For now, though, Stoke are showing the country how the game should be played, and I hope they continue to do so before this game gets too soft.