Prior to the 2017/18 Premier League campaign they all said “Stoke City would be alright”… A club too good to go down but not good enough to trouble the top six. One that sits comfortably in the middle of the table each year and one that has ‘comfortable’ Premier League status…. That is of course… Until now.
It’s no fault of Manager Paul Lambert, the sorrowful face of sorrowful clubs is how I think of the ex-Borussia Dortmund Champions League winner when it comes to his Managing statistics. One that once spanked Norwich City into giving him the job… But since his success with the Canaries has flattered to deceive thanks to some impossible tasks.
Is it particularly the fault of Mark Hughes? The man that led Stoke to three ninth place finishes before a thirteenth spot last season started the decline. This January he was sacked having just lost to Fourth tier Coventry City in the FA Cup and with his Potters side 17th in the Premier League. The irony is he could probably save his new club Southampton from the drop?
The players Jack Butland & Charlie Adam in particular have come out in questioning their own as the relegation taste is still bitter, fresh enduring further tension with a last Premier League game to play of the season. The last for some time potentially? The truth is Stoke haven’t been savvy enough in the markets in recent years…
Out went their Austrian playmaker Arnautovic last summer, good pros like Glen Whelan, Jon Walters and Phil Bardsley joined the mini exodus… In came Kevin Wimmer for a surprisingly large fee with Jese & Kurt Zouma nice loan additions you would think, but not wholly inspiring. Certainly no replacements for their main man who left to ‘mid table rivals’ West Ham (eventually going on to score the goals to ensure they would avoid the drop).
But the truth is that whilst the top six of the EPL has got bigger, better, and bulkier with depth of quality in playing and coaching staff thanks to their global attraction. The rest of the league is some way behind, playing catch up in a quest for ‘seventh best’ which anyone of fourteen could probably achieve. The gap from the Premier League ‘pack’ to the Championship top ten is probably as narrow as it ever has been and that maybe down to the complacency that some of these clubs are now enduring having nothing aspiring to achieve but ‘status’.
Stoke, like many others were in it for the money. Football has become a secondary project when it comes to the cash that can be earned in the game but the fundamentals have been over looked as they presumed that their own Premier League status was a safe haven.
“Our side is ok, add a couple of loanees, pay £20m for someone new and offer them a premier league wage, let a couple go, get some cash in to balance the books and we’ll continue next season as you were” is this really the thoughts of Chairman Peter Coates?
What Stoke should of done on losing their star asset Arnautovic was act quick for a like-for-like replacement. What they should have done was act last summer for a permanent goalscorer to replace Jon Walters (knowing that Peter Crouch was not getting any younger either, knowing Saido Berahino would probably not get any better). What they should have done was add steel and legs to their ageing midfield. Because they did none of this, and because they just kept ‘potting’ along… Stoke City now have a much bigger dilemma than replacing a few ageing players during this summer’s transfer window.
Stoke now need a Manager to get them back in to the Premier League. Whether Paul Lambert can do that is a question that might not get found out? What Stoke need is a clear out of the expensive dead wood and ageing squad, to lower the outgoings and reduce the huge wage bill with one or two of their star assets having to be sold especially as they deserve better than Championship football. Jack Butland, Xherdan Shaqiri to name a couple. It will be a big reshuffle for Stoke City this summer which could be expensive, drastic, and it could lead to a very difficult campaign in the second tier of English football (how the likes of Sunderland found out this year) and that is perhaps a lesson to any Premier League clubs (Burnley, Leicester, Bournemouth, Watford take note) with similar aspirations and status than what Stoke might have had twelve months ago to go out and do proper business this summer?