Losing the Grind: Pulis Out at Stoke
By Alex Fairchild
English football is known for its grit, guts, and glory.
The grit fell victim to populism on Monday.
Barcelona have played glossy football for the past several years, setting a gold standard for the way the game should be played. The bandwagon jumpers hopped on as Messi & Co. used intricate triangles and lovely pinball-play on the 18 yard box, leading to the excommunication of classic soccer.
When the game's laws were determined 150 years ago, football always concerned getting forward. Whether that was through dribbling or becoming a human plow, it did not matter. The object was to get the ball down the pitch as fast as possible going one way - forward. There were no back-passes or square balls, just dribbling and the occasional boot forward.
Sadly, that style of play has been all but outlawed by society and the footballing public.
Teams without possession are said to not be having a good game, while those who retain the ball are said to deserve a win. While statistics show that higher possession gives a team a better chance at three points, it is not everything. Had the Premier League's table been determined by possession, Arsenal would have lifted the trophy and Liverpool would be back in Europe's glamor contest with a third place finish.
According to data from whoscored.com, Wigan would not only have survived the drop, but also would have secured a prestigious top half spot. Meanwhile, Stoke City who finish 17th in this category, would have been in this hypothetical relegation scrap.
Few would argue that Arsenal should have won the league and that Wigan should not have been relegated.
So yes, passing the ball earns you points with the media, the owners, and supporters, but only to a certain extent. When it starts to cost the side matches, like it did for Wigan who focused too much on offense, thus leaving gaping holes at the back unattended, things must change.
The Potters never had such a problem, though. They have secured their status as an EPL mainstay. Sure, they are the dirtiest team in the Premier League, accumulating 78 yellows and 4 reds this past term, but it has secured their survival. Reading, who had the lowest amount of yellow in the league are going down.
Stoke have the earned the label of being a dirty club. Their players are often noted for their tough play rightly so. Perhaps the club's ownership have taken note that this was the team's worst year on record. Stoke City averaged more fouls per game than any other outfit, as opposed to years past when they could be found outside of the top five and sometimes lower than tenth. However, the now unemployed Tony Pulis' worst year on record in the referees' book ended on a better note possession-wise, as the team finished above last for the first time in three years (the year before that per-game possession stats are unavailable).
To further review Stoke's performances, they score plenty from set pieces, which has been heavily noted in former years. Pulis has proved especially consistent in this category, scoring on sets no less than 14 times in the last four terms.
It seems the trade off between meeting viewer expectations and defying them was ignored by Peter Coates, the Stoke suit who sat down with Pulis yesterday.
Therefore, Stoke City's motive for sending Pulis packing remains unclear. While reports claim the two parties parted ways in a mutual fashion they are hard to believe. Unless the Everton job is lined up for the Stoke-ex, it is impossible to imagine why Pulis would agree to leave Stoke-on-Trent.
In this latest managerial episode, the trend of thanklessness and disloyalty emerge once again, as Stoke showed no gratitude to the man who has brought European football to the Britannia. Their success brought one of Spain's most storied sides, Valencia, to England. The grind they put on every week through their economic style of play drew hypotheticals from the tongues of many. Could Barcelona handle the Potters on a rainy weekday evening? Would Messi have ankles after 90 minutes against a defense with Ryan Shawcross at the helm?
It is possible that those arguments have legitimacy, as the Catalan struggled with Celtic twice in the Champions League. However, we will never know the answer to the above inquiries.
For a club like Stoke, it is a stretch for them to challenge the Manchester oligopolists, Chelsea, and Arsenal, as they are a simple club with a tiny budget. Their now former manager, Tony Pulis, exceeded expectations and without him steering the ship, the club's future is surely shaky.
If a move toward football that is easier on the eye is in the works, it is hard to see Stoke's back line along with Charlie Adam in the middle tiki-takaing their way to Champions League places. For this to take shape, a complete overhaul would be in order, and that would certainly take far too much time and exhaust resources bereft of the club.
With Stoke's future pending after their beloved manager was showed the door, another certain season of survival has now lost its lock, just as the English game is being forced to lose its grit.