All change at Stoke, all change at Sunderland – and both for the better

Gareth gazes at two sets of red and white stripes and see sense
Gareth gazes at two sets of red and white stripes and sees sense

Gareth Barker has been thinking about Mark Hughes’s appointment as replacement for the sacked Tony Pulis at Stoke City and this led him to reflect again on Sunderland’s dramatic change from Martin O’Neill to Paolo Di Canio. In his parallel Sunderland universe, Gareth sees another 1-1 draw. Both clubs, he argues, got it right …

Change is a good thing. Or do we fear it? Well, this week saw the appointment of Mark Hughes at manager of Stoke City.

Having done some research (cleverly searching “Stoke” on Twitter), I can say it seems a fair few Potters out there are far from chuffed with their managerial acquisition. There also seems to be a swathe of non Stoke supporting football fans who seem to think the appointment is ludicrous, bordering on hilarious depending on how cruel you are.

It got me thinking about our situation and the change we finally made this season when we went completely off piste with Paolo Di Canio. This was greeted with derision in the football world for a number of reasons. I think it was also particularly poignant that a man like Mark Hughes was the type of manager most people expected to rock up at the Stadium of Light.

We spoke about Stoke with Mark Holmes of TeamTalk on our podcast just a few weeks ago (you can find it here: and we sort of reached the conclusion that we wouldn’t be surprised if Tony Pulis were shown the door in the summer.

I guess there are two perspectives on this. You can say Pulis has done a fantastic job there in making them top flight regulars. This is fair comment. You could also say (cliché alert) he’d taken them as far as he could. Also fair. In my opinion things had just gone a bit flat at Stoke and it was time for a change.

Coming back to Sunderland’s situation, I think the need for change was staring a lot of us in the face. It was difficult to accept it had to be made, mainly because this required the removal of Martin O’Neill. Just goes to show dream appointments don’t always work out. We brought in Di Canio. He and the owner, Ellis Short, are currently in the process of turning everything upside down. It had to be done. The question here is could it have been done sooner? I believe so.

We had always gone for the same type of manager and players, yet we had no real footballing identity or philosophy. Our philosophy was built on some sort of mythical ideology based around putting in 100 per cent and giving your all for the shirt. It seems crazy to do this, considering those things are the bare minimum requirement in most walks of life, never mind professional football.

Then, you take a side like Stoke. Again, Pulis has done a really excellent job in establishing them. They seemed to have gone full circle.

Everybody disliked them when they first reached the Premier because of their style of play. Then, they just became dull and inoffensive. People got bored of slagging of Stoke for a bit. And then this season, they fell back to ground and everyone seemed to dislike them again. Bizarrely their “effective” style had become less than effective, the atmosphere at the Britannia was flat, they were just meandering towards the relegation zone. You could say based on that assessment, Stoke and Sunderland had more in common than red and white stripes and Dean Whitehead.

The two clubs must have tied as the worst to watch in the league. I think any neutral would have been glad to see the back of us.

Pulis had led Stoke down a path so lengthy that getting back up it is also going to be a relatively lengthy process. Their identity is their footballing philosophy and that may have been the problem when they had to replace Pulis. Mark Hughes was the only logical option. He’s somebody who can come in and work with the players they have and gradually change things over time. He’s somebody who can begin to ignite a transition. Not in his charisma and passion, but certainly on the football pitch. I think he’ll stabilise Stoke and start to bring them gradually back up that path .

If they’d appointed a Pochettino or Di Canio, would the fans be happier? Probably. I think the last thing Stoke needed was management by hand grenade, though. They’re so specific in style of play that anything other than a Hughes-type manager might have been disastrous in the short term. Hughes may get them to the stage where they look at bringing in a different type of manager and move forward from there.

When you look back at the appointment of O’Neill, that’s probably what we didn’t need even though most of us were delighted when he came in, including myself.

We were stuck in the dark ages. It seems that we’re very quickly attempting to move out of them. With the impending arrival of Roberto De Fanti as director of Football and Valentino Angeloni as technical director (posh for chief scout) it looks like we’re finally making a change in the club and on the pitch.

Angeloni is an expert in the development of young talent and made his name doing this at Udinese. With our academy facilities this has to be a perfect fit …

The director of football gives a level of consistency and strong link from the pitch to the board which is very important in modern football. If the manager changes, then you can retain the footballing identity at the club.

Both clubs required change. It’s up for debate whether these are the right changes respectively, but I believe both are correct. To me it seems Stoke’s is the right change at the right time and the right person. Ours could have come a lot sooner.

1973 May 5See all Salut! Sunderland’s articles recalling May 5 1973 and the run that took SAFC to FA Cup glory:

Join the Salut! Sunderland Facebook group – click anywhere along this line

And follow us on Twitter: @salutsunderland … click along this line

14 thoughts on “All change at Stoke, all change at Sunderland – and both for the better”

  1. Stoke is a classic “tiger by the tail” situation. To progress they need to let go – but if they let go they just may lose everything. They need to look for a middle way. Is Hughes the right person drain away the Pulis bathwater without throwing out the baby?

    Our situation is different. Stoke are better established than we are. We NEED to change or we WILL go down.

    Di Canio has everything to gain and little to lose. Any Di Canio success will be visible and tangible. Any Hughes success may not be visible for a couple of seasons. A Huhes failure will be as visible as a Di Canio success.

  2. Hughes will probably turn Stoke into the Blackburn of the Midlands. He had a bad year at QPR and everyone thinks he’s a bad manager all of a sudden. Even Redknapp couldn’t halt the slide at Loftus Road.

    Having said all that I was surprised that Stoke had jettisoned Pulis after the club managed five successive finishes outside the bottom 6 in the top flight for the first time in their history. I get Gareth’s point about how bad the football was but think that the problems Pulis faced this last season and maybe the one before to some extent was the fact that he was trying to change the way they played by signing proper footballers in the shape of Crouch and Palacios for example but they seemed to be getting in the way of the old habits and wouldn’t/couldn’t adapt to the “Stoke style.”

    I do have a begrudging respect for what Tony Pulis achieved but the football is bloody horrible and even a European venture and an FA Cup Final have not silenced the critics amongst the Potters fans. Look at where they are now and where they were when he took over and it’s hard not to think that he has been hard done by. I am very surprised that they appointed Hughes though. They may have swapped their harp for a guitar with this one whereas there couldn’t be more difference between O’Neill and Paolo Di Cannylad.

    • It will be interesting to see what Hughes can do. Stoke were built with a purpose in mind. They are to Premiere League football what the battering ram was to castle sieges.
      Now, can Mr Hughes turn them into a nimble, skilled flank of archers, or a fast, elite cavalry? I suspect he might be unable to make a silk cloth out of a sow’s ear.

  3. Anything but a huge guttering of the scouting system and trying to create an identity where managers can be seamlessly replaced would have inevitably resulted in relegation. As it always does. You can’t just sign two or three players for huge money and add them to a rotten core.

    For once, I don’t think the club owners can do any more than they’re doing. This scout has been the top dog in Europe. And we’ve nabbed him.

  4. While I know that we need new signings and changes, there is a danger of buying too many average players with no Prem experience and throwing them together and expecting them to gel, boom, like that.

    I like the fact we’re going for Krasic as he looks a good replacement for Mcclean. Diakite (just watched a video of him) looks strong, but a little clumsy (my 1st impression).
    We need two full backs, and I hope one is Rose and we need to sell Graham to the Championship and get a decent replacement for him. We also need a dynamic midfielder, someone who can link up play. El Hadj Ba looks Ok, if not a little young and lightweight.

    I hope PDC does well. My main concern for him is that he might lose the dressing room as time goes on.

    As for Hughes, I am pleased we never went for him. He’s had success before but also a decent transfer budget. Stoke he won’t have that money, so for me the jury is still out on hm.

    • He didn’t spend particularly big at Fulham or Blackburn where was great. He’s perfect for Stoke. They’ll be we’ll safe for the foreseeable.

  5. Di Canio clearly has a brief to change things at the club after years of same old, same old. Managers like Bruce, O,Neill, McCarthy and Reid did/do things in the same way. Keane started off differently, but fell back on the model he knew from Old Trafford.
    As a club we could well gain an awful lot from this. Another clone would have probably wasted Short’s money on more like Gardner, Graham and Kilgallon and that could well have lead to another change of ownership. The players linked with us look to have experience and, hopefully, a genuine hunger to play in a league that combines quality with oodles of money if even moderately successful.
    All revolutions have casualties and some take longer than others to analyse. In the late 60’s the Chinese Premier, Chou-en-lai was asked about the impact of the French Revolution and replied that it was too early to make a sensible judgement. We may feel the same about di Canio.

  6. There’s change and there’s change. I’ll qualify that , we’ve changed from established managers to an unproven maverick .Only Keane is our previous maverick and he did well ( up to a point) but spent a fortune.Di Canio I feel won’t have that luxury hence the complete restructure of the club. Of the established list only Reidy could be considered a success in modern times .Though of course it ended in free fall and Howard Wilkinson,aaargh. It’s a testament to the established lists underperformance and dreadful football since that we are more than prepared to accept Di Canio and give him a chance,in fact it seems like a relief already and fingers crossed at long last we progress, but……… Well this is Sunderland !

  7. I agree that the jury is still out on Di Canio. I was trying to emphasise the good points of the wider changes at Sunderland, which I believe should have been made a lot sooner.

  8. The jury is still out on PDC. As mentioned on an earlier thread the last 4 PDC games had more red cards than points. Will Hughes stay if a more ‘glam’ club come calling? Who knows? Martinez at Everton is another interesting one. Moyes at Mufc…and the newly promoted clubs have their fair share of interesting managers……should make for an interesting season. Will we make to October with all Premier League managers still in situ?

  9. I think that Mark Hughes will do well at Stoke. He is a good manager with a good track record in the Premier League. He fits their profile well. Unfortunately, fans of all clubs want a combination of success, wonderful football and financial security. Stoke fans are earthy anlike their city, a bit chippy. They had seen that Tony Pulis was going stale and that change was needed. Maybe they wanted a Guardirola or a Heynckes – not at the most prosaic of Premier League clubs.
    Like us, they are a perfect fit for the middle of the table; long history interspersed with moments of abject failure, loyal if grumbling supporters and a reputation for wasting money on players who seem to promise far more than they achieve.
    And red and white stripes.

Comments are closed.

Next Post