So the Pulis era at the Britannia Stadium is set to end for a second time. And dare I say it, this time it’s a bit more glorious than the last.
His first stint began when he was charged with keeping Stoke in the Championship, after their promotion from the old Division Two. A feat which he achieved on the last game of the season. And it would seem that his second spell will finish with him having completed a similar mission, albeit in the top tier, and for a fifth consecutive season.
Tony was brought to the Potteries with his card marked as being a bit of survival expert, having managed to steer a number of clubs away from relegation. And he will leave with this record intact.
Either side of the periods of survival, he managed to build a team capable of securing promotion to the Premier League. And whilst it wasn’t pretty, it sure as hell delighted the fans as they flooded the pitch after that final day draw against Leicester.
But as time has wore on, the fans have become more demanding. No longer content with the spectacle of United and Arsenal once a season, they want to see a more fluid and attractive style of play. Which many think is impossible under Pulis’s stewardship.
And they have every right to think so. Since Pulis’s first season in 2002 there has only been one season of attractive football, and that was brought about by the forgotten Dutchman, Johan Boskamp.
TP’s return from Plymouth brought back the long ball approach that is now synonymous with Stoke. And although for a long period of time nobody cared, what Swansea and Wigan (forgetting about this years relegation) have shown, is that success can be had by the smaller clubs who are willing to play attractive football, and that they can achieve stability in the top flight this way.
And I think this has appealed to the Stoke fans, who have seen smaller clubs come to fortress Britannia and begin to have more and more success by playing football and forgetting about the physical battle that they would normally try to match.
This season has seen the fans become more resistant to Pulis’s methods. The poor run of form at the start of year saw his future come into question more and more. And while a good run of results towards the end of the season helped them to finish 13th, the writing has been on the wall for some time.
With plans being announced for an expansion of the Britannia Stadium, a decline in ticket sales, blamed largely on the style of play, is hardly a good sign. Particularly when Chairman Peter Coates had announced his intentions of making Stoke a sustainable, self-funding club.
Another area that blots Pulis’s copybook is his ability to bring through players from the academy. In the current team only Andy Wilkinson and Ryan Shotton have been brought through, and you could argue that Wilkinson’s breakthrough came during the Boskamp season.
During the time that Pulis has been in charge, a number of notable academy graduates have left the club and gone on to do rather well for themselves.
Karl Henry was deemed not good enough, despite being an England U21 international, and left for Wolves, where he became a key player during their Premier League years.
Kris Commons, is an integral part of both the Celtic and Scotland teams, yet he was allowed to leave the Potteries on the cheap when he went to Nottingham Forest.
Martin Paterson, who scored goals at all levels during his time at Stoke was never given the opportunity and joined Burnley, where he impressed in the Premier League and won international honours for Northern Ireland.
And Ben Foster, who was set to be loaned back to lowly Stafford Rangers, before Sir Alex spotted him on loan at Wrexham and took him to Old Trafford, and has since become an England international.
While these may only be a handful of players, it represents a wider picture to the young players in the area who are being scouted by dozens of top Premier League clubs. I have experience of being in Stoke’s academy, and you always knew that you were more likely to get the opportunity to become a footballer at any club other than Stoke.
And this matters to the youngsters and their parents when choosing which club to sign for. Pulis’s views on the academy were pretty evident, when he stated that the money invested on improving the academy’s infrastructure would be better served if it was invested in his first team squad.
Only down the A500, Crewe have shown how sustainable a club can be in surviving off their own produce, and if Stoke can begin to replicate Crewe on even the smallest scale then they will help themselves on Mr Coates’s mission.
Despite these two issues we must not forget the tremendous job that TP has done at Stoke. And if you had told any Stoke fan that within ten years they would be an established Premier League side they would have laughed at you.
Pulis, and his cap will be sorely missed, even if his back-to-basics philosophy won’t be. I wonder if any of this would have happened had George Burley said yes.