Stoke City are in a dilemma. If the situation is looked at vaguely, the club has done consistently under manager Mark Hughes and will probably finish the season in the top half of the table with 50 odd points in the bank. But a closer look tells a different story. Though Hughes has done a commendable job since taking over the reigns from Tony Pulis in 2013 with the Potters achieving record points tally in the Premier League under his stewardship, there have been some stinging questions that have been left unanswered.
Is the club going forward under him? Has he run out of ideas? The answer is probably yes. Hughes’ sides have always been slow starters in the league. Stoke lost four out of their first five games this season. They have made a commendable comeback since then as Hughes was the bookies’ favourite to get sacked in September.
Stoke City are on the verge of becoming the ultimate tale of mid-table stagnation with Hughes in charge. Ted Knutson of Statsbomb once called Hughes as ‘almost the epitome of an average Premier League manager’ which just might be the case holding the club back. Many would argue that a change often results in a transition phase which may not be kind to the club but that’s a risk that must be taken for the betterment of the club.
It has not been the case that Hughes has had to be satisfied with limited funds in recent years. The Coates family has provided enough money to build a squad as per the manager’s demands. Under Hughes, Stoke have had the most creative players the club has ever seen with the names like Xherdan Shaqiri, Bojan, Gianelli Imbula and Ibrahim Afellay joining the club under him.
This squad has the potential to do better but somehow the club, the fans, the manager and the players have been too familiar with the comfort of being safe in the ninth place which has killed the ambitions surrounding Stoke City. Familiarity often breeds unambitious attitude which sadly might be the case of Mark Hughes at Stoke City.
The 2014/15 season saw Stoke City destroy the likes of Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Liverpool but on the other hand, they started the next season without a win in their first six league games. Stoke conceded the most goals in 2016 which is a far-cry to the one that was once considered as one of the hardest to breach in the first division under Tony Pulis.
With players like Bojan, Mame Diouf, Philipp Wollscheid et al in the squad, Hughes should have built the team around them this season but strangely some of them have been left on the bench for the majority of the time and others have been loaned out for the likes of Jonathan Walters and Peter Crouch to take over as the focal point of a team wanting to finish in the top half of the Premier League.
Hughes has done a respectable job with the Potters and deserves credit from the supporters who have been patient with him this season but unfortunately, the time has arrived for a reshuffle which might finally unearth the potential of this exciting side.
Replacements to target
The Potters have a tradition of appointing experienced English managers who can take the club forward and offer an easy transition. Sean Dyche can be a good appointment by the Coates family as he has proved his worth by keeping Burnley in the Premier League while working on limited funds and also has a brilliant home record with the Clarets. He has often been rumoured to be in the race for a bigger job next season with Stoke offering an exciting project for “the Ginger Mourinho” to work on.
Other names that can be targeted by the club hierarchy are of Swansea City’s Paul Clement who has been decent since taking over a sinking ship in Wales and Gary Monk of Leeds United who also has done tremendously well for the Championship side.