Every season in the Premier League we wave off teams as they descend in to the Championship and we welcome three new sides who have battled to win promotion to world football’s top table. It is never a surprise to see a promoted side head straight back down and you have to applaud those that can stick it out and stay up. Sometimes the sides that manage to survive only last another season, the real test is if you can become a regular member of the Premier League.
Roll back the years to the last day of the 2007-2008 season and the second oldest football club in existence were able to secure automatic promotion to the Premier League with a second place finish in The Championship, which marked a long journey for this historic club in their quest for top-flight football. Battling between the old Division One and Two with a shiny new stadium that was moved in to in the 1997/98 season, this team were destined for big things sooner or later. Following a succession of managers, an Icelandic takeover and the club being bought back by previous chairman Peter Coates, Stoke City finally returned to the big time under Tony Pulis.
Stoke progress will be realised tonight as they host previous Champions League side Besiktas at the Britannia Stadium, a match that is a mark of the progress that Stoke have made and a reflection of the good work of Pulis and Coates. Stoke take a lot of flak for their style of play, in some quarters it is labelled ‘anti-football’, but you have to take your hat off and pay homage to the job Pulis has done with a club that has consistently under achieved over the last two decades.
Tony Pulis is a manager that wears his heart on his sleeve, an English old school manager with traits reminiscent of other Premier League managers Neil Warnock and Harry Redknapp, honest and forthright in their views, managers that don’t tolerate crap from players. They have learnt the industry the hard way and in an age when players enjoy more wealth and a better lifestyle than ever before, they take no prisoners and make sure their players stay in check as they rule with strict discipline. (Imagine if Tevez refused to play for Tony Pulis, World War 3 anyone?).
Pulis is a clever man and the way he has gone about his business at Stoke, in his second stint as manager, is a feat that many other managers have paid the price for after failing. To build asquad capable of sustaining Premier League status following promotion is extremely difficult and people may knock Stoke’s style of play, but make no bones about it, if it wasn’t for this they probably wouldn’t be in the Premier League.
When you actually think about it, the way Pulis has gone about making Stoke a team that has confidently survived in the Premier League for 5 seasons is quite remarkable. Any team that is promoted is faced with the same problems; you can have all the money in the world, such as the QPR’s and Leicester’s, but money doesn’t guarantee success. Promoted teams don’t have the finances or the reputation to attract a whole team of Premier League players; you need to retain the best and replace the rest and this is certainly what Pulis has done.
For me this season marked the first time that Stoke City could truly call themselves a established Premier League club. In seasons gone by the quality wasn’t there, they were simply just difficult to beat on a physical level and could nick the odd goal via the ‘Delap-adator’. Now we can look at a squad filled with a lot more quality, but this just hasn’t happened over night. Pulis has been on a journey of bringing in players who can ‘do a job’ and slowly upgrading them each season to a player of better standard, the way other Premier League clubs have done before.
If you look at Stoke’s side, especially in the centre back area, they are strong with established Premier League players and internationals like Robert Huth, Matty Upson, Jonathan Woodgate and Ryan Shawcross. There are not many other Premier League teams that can boast that kind of ability and the best bit is they are all hungry with a point to prove. They have added players with Champions League experience like Peter Crouch and Wilson Palacios, players that prove how far this club has come and it is a testament to the work chairman Peter Coates has done on the business side of the club.
It is not undeserved either; going to Stoke is not nice for a team and the Britannia is a fortress filled with passionate fans that create one of the best atmospheres in the Premier League. They are an old school club, but in new school surroundings with a fan base that has evolved along with the club. They are a team capable of getting results against the best sides like we saw when they met Manchester United last weekend, grinding out a 1-1 draw. People may have a good old ‘Ian Woan’ about Stoke City Football Club, but as they step out in front of a packed house tonight at the Britannia, they can hold their heads high that they have proven the doubters wrong and are a Premier League force to be reckoned with.