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For Mark Hughes there are clear skies ahead, but for how long?
When Tony Pulis arrived at Stoke City in 2006 he straight away identified where the team’s strongpoint was.
Seven years later, and Stoke are now infamous for playing what is widely considered as some of the most rudimentary and unimpressive football the top-flight has seen since, oh, I don’t know, Wimbledon. But the point that everyone seems to miss when they start laying into Tony Pulis, is that his tactics, while they were hardly revolutionary, actually worked.
The club was able to maintain itself as a mid-table team while spending relatively little money on players who simply weren’t that great, usually with one or two marquee signings to score the goals. This was Pulis’ strength as a manager; persuading his charges that while they may not have the step-overs and flicks that the opposition might, they could still put up a good fight, aided by some hefty challenges.
It was a policy that has served Stoke well for a while, but, unfortunately, Pulis’ ambition got the better of him, and he was sacked this summer, seemingly for spending more money than the board would have liked. Oh, how they will regret that decision.
By appointing Mark Hughes, they have practically signed their own death warrant.
The only thing that enabled Stoke to stay up was Pulis’ ability to harness his team’s limited attributes—an inevitable result of the board not wanting to splash out—and draw performances from them that very few other managers could have. Even the master of motivation, Sir Alex Ferguson, would have struggled, as his teams were based on quick counter-attacking and accomplished passing and movement. Pulis recorded victories against some of the most talented squads in the world using the “punt and run” method.
Hughes, on the other hand, has been given plenty of funds to assemble teams of very good players yet was unable to get them playing together. His time with Manchester City and QPR are two glaring examples, while at Fulham he repeatedly shot himself in the foot and continued to do so after he left.
No one can say that Hughes is a bad manager; his time with Wales earned him plaudits, while he guided Blackburn Rovers to sixth and seventh place finishes and took them to three semifinals. It’s just that at Stoke, with the squad he has inherited and the jarring of his ethos with that of the board, it simply will not work.