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: https://safc.blog/category/podcast/) 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.
See all Salut! Sunderland’s articles recalling May 5 1973 and the run that took SAFC to FA Cup glory: https://safc.blog/category/fa-cup/may-5-1973/