Stoke City finally did the kindest thing last week and sacked Nathan Jones, with the club second-bottom of the Championship, the recent mini revival turning out to be a false dawn.
They are now left with the task of making their third permanent appointment since the start of last season, which suggests that a) they have quite a task on their hands and that b) the problems at the club run far deeper than just the manager.
So who’s next? On the Totally Football League Show this week, Sam Parkin and Adrian Clarke reached some reluctant conclusions.
“They need a strong manager, one with experience,” said Adrian Clarke. “You can’t go for another young guy, you need someone who has looked after different scenarios in their careers, someone who will go in there and use all their experience, and someone strict really, who will knock their heads together.
“All we can see is what’s going on, on the pitch: they don’t really look like they’re working that hard for each other, the spirit is low – it’s a real mess.
“All departments have functioned badly, and I’ve got a good stat on Stoke which symptomatic of what’s gone on there: not a single Stoke midfielder has created a goal this season. Lee Gregory, a forward, has got two assists, and every other assist has come from a defender. That’s just one part of the problem that Stoke have to solve.”
Sam Parkin continued the theme.
“They were pitiful the other night against West Brom. They hardly laid a glove on them. It looks like a squad bereft of confidence, and they just need someone to come in as soon as possible. But it’s going to be so tricky because we’ve seen it with three managers now.
“I’ve always been against the Sam Allardyces and the Tony Pulises getting another gig, but…they’ve tried everything else in the last few years. We’ve spoken about the mentality of this group, whether there are a few prima donnas there, they could probably do worse than getting Pulis back in to get a tune out of this squad.”
Changing the manager might not solve the problems, though. Reports have indicated that there are some problems in the dressing room, and that player power might be as much of an issue as whoever is in the dugout.
Both Adrian and Sam experienced similar things in their playing days, so what’s the best way for a manager to snuff out something like that?
“[A new] manager has got to come in and be aggressive,” said Sam. “If there are bad eggs in the dressing room, they normally act very quickly. I’ve been in dressing rooms where you sense you’re on the slippery slide to relegation, and there’s no coming back from it if there is a large group of players – sometimes that influence can be too strong.”
Adrian continued: “I’ve been in dressing rooms where some of the senior players have had the ear of the hierarchy, the board and the chairman, and I just hated it. You know they’ve got their own vested interests, and they can get managers sacked: they can just leak information just say “it’s not happening, the dressing room’s not having him”. Before you know it that guy is gone, and who’s to say they can’t do it to the next one, and the next one. It really does take a strong manager.
“I’ve also played under caretakers who are also weak, and the players could easily take over, so it’s important that Stoke don’t let that drift on. They need to make a swift appointment, and install someone who from day one will impose their own rules.”
Even though things look pretty dire at the moment, Sam thinks all is not entirely lost.
“I think there’s still enough time, and still enough good players at Stoke for them to at least consolidate in the Championship this year, get their house in order, and try and get back in the Premier League in the next couple of years.
“This appointment is enormous but I don’t see all being lost yet.”
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