Stoke City: magnet for star players
By Graham Hill
Tony Pulis may not understand a thing about horse racing - but he has defied the odds by keeping Stoke City in the Premier League for five successive seasons. When the Potters won promotion from the Championship in 2008, they faced a battle to establish themselves among the elite. Attendances had been modest and Pulis had built a side designed to battle their way up.
But already the signs were there that Pulis wanted to build a Britannia Stadium empire. Slowly but surely, Pulis began to attract a classier brand of player to Stoke. At the same time, the club’s work ethic was getting the most out of the players who provided the bedrock of Stoke’s progress. Pulis had his critics of course. Football’s philosophers suggested there was no place for Stoke’s physical style in the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, has been among Pulis’s staunchest detractors. But Pulis is having the last laugh. He has taken Stoke to an FA Cup Final and into the Europa League. And this season he has even been able to attract the likes of Michael Owen to Stoke where he has joined Peter Crouch. Charlie Adam and Steven N’Zonzi are another two signings that Pulis would not have been able to make in previous seasons.
Quality players now want to come to Stoke.
But if they do not toe the line, Pulis will not hesitate to move them. He says that reputations count for nothing - and that is one of the reasons why Stoke are still on the up. Pulis admits that no one gets the red carpet treatment at Stoke City - and that includes Owen and Crouch. And everyone is in the firing line when the Potters boss decides to dish out a few home truths in the dressing room.
Pulis said: “Michael Owen doesn’t get treated any differently by me. That’s the big thing. If you do that, then there’s always the chance a bit of jealousy will creep in. They all get told. I might be out order saying some things. But if I think it’s right, I’ll say it. Michael knows that now - and Crouchy certainly knows it; he’s been here a bit longer. It’s just the way I am, people will come here and play for me and they won’t be surprised at the fact that I treat everyone in the same manner. No one here can get carried away with their own importance.”
Pulis revealed he consulted Steve Bruce who signed a string of stars for Birmingham when he was the manager at St Andrew’s - only to see the move backfire.
Pulis added: “I spoke to Steve about it. We brought in better players in who didn’t work as hard as the others. But we moved those players on, turned them over. Then we brought in better players again, but ones who work as hard. The secret is that our team ethic as a group has to be maintained. Players coming in have to buy into that, if they don’t we move them out. Everybody understands that everyone is equal when we go out on to the pitch. But it’s difficult for some players to understand how hard we do work.”
Pulis admitted he is wary of throwing Owen into the starting line up until he is convinced the former England striker is fit again. The Potters manager is treating horse racing fan Owen like he would any thoroughbred. And he consulted Owen’s former manager on the issue.
Pulis said: “I spoke to Gerard Houllier and he asked how we treated Michael. I told him we’d take our time. What we need Michael to be is to be fit enough and strong enough to go step into the breach. That’s important. It will be done with what we see with our eyes and not what Michael says."
Pulis says his record of signing big name players has grown year on year. He added: “We found it very difficult to sign players the first season I was here. The way we got around it was to ‘abuse’ the loan system. Then I signed players like Lee Hendrie, Partrik Berger and Sailf Diao. I worked the system and the level moved up. Our performance went through the roof. Now it’s gone up again with Adam, Owen and N’Zonzi coming in.”