Back to the Future: Part 2
I know it’s a lot to ask of you, but I want you to join me again on the journey into the alternate universe where Mr. Tony Pulis is still commander in chief at the Britannia Stadium.
Crisis talks began the summer of 2014. The board informed Pulis that a change of style was important to them and the club needed to score more goals from open play, and to achieve this they would be taking control of transfer policy. This saw two legends of the game given big money moves to the Premier League. Spanish assassin David Villa left Atletico Madrid joining the Potters, describing the move as an ‘irresistible prospect’. Fans were delighted by this move, but this did not come close to the mayhem and pandemonium of Stoke’s deadline day dash for Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho. This was a signal of intent from the board who intended Tony to change the clubs style to a more attractive one, which could be sold worldwide.
The two players were introduced into the squad immediately and their impact was instantaneous. Ronaldinho came in for Ryan Shotton, as the Potters moved to a 442, although poor Erik Pieters was left stranded on the left wing, with Walters and Villa hoping to form a lethal striking partnership. Sunderland were blown away in a fantastic 4-2 win on the 8th August, Villa scoring one and Ronaldinho bagging a brace. The goals continued with a 2-1 victory at West Ham, and the squad remained unbeaten until a 5-2 loss at home to Arsenal.
The media suddenly began to notice that Stoke were, in fact, a football club in the Midlands, who by surprise had been in the Premier League for the previous 6 seasons. The quick fast counteracting style, met with the Brazilian flair of Ronaldinho Gaucho and clinical finishing of Villa, gained huge support worldwide. The victories continued and after a particularly enthralling 3-0 victory over Newcastle the 4th victory in the row for Pulis’ men, left the man with the FA cup head, Gary Lineker, promising he would present the show in his pants if Stoke won the league.
Gambling companies were dismayed come Christmas Day as the Potters sat top of the table with 38 points. Many lucky punters had managed to successful place bets on Stoke to be sat on top of the pile, with some getting such gigantic odds such as 1000-1. This promoted the board to show their full support for Pulis, offering him a 5 year deal with him earning 3.8 million a year. Unfortunately boxing day saw a 1-0 loss to Liverpool, yet spirits were not dampened for long as the Potters managed to claim back to back clean sheets for the first time in the season, with Tony declaring this the ‘greatest achievement’ of his season in the clubs season review DVD.
Yet as most things, the honeymoon did not last for long for the Potters. Unfortunately a Harley Street doctor leaked information that both of the two new Stoke signings, who had a combined total of 21 goals and 11 assists, were doping. A swift investigation was sought by the FA with both Villa and Ronaldinho being suspended until a verdict was reached. Many predicted this would be the end for Stoke, yet a 1-0 win away at fellow title contenders Tottenham, cast doubt over this. Unfortunately both players were found guilty of doping and given life time bans by FIFA, this ruling came on the day following the closure of the transfer window and was a hit to the Stoke squad.
As the magic total of 40 points had already been exceeded Pulis announced intentions to ensure that the squad became more solid as there was no longer a possibility of success from open play without Villa and Ronaldinho. A switch was made to a 5-4-1 formation, with the poor, unfortunate, misused Erik Pieters being used as the lone striker. A baron spell ensued with the club failing to win one match between February and May, drawing only 3 games and scoring a combined total of 7 goals. Crowd levels plummeted with only 10,958 in attendance for the final game of the season, where the fans stationed in the Boothen end held giant arrows pointed in the direction of the goal. Again Pulis brought the rhetoric of the importance of survival, and the board stood by him in light of the circumstances that disrupted the season.
Wow, what an adventure! It had it all: Ronaldinho, drugs and the all-important 40 point mark. How close we were to something significant, join us next time to see whether or not the club can regroup and push on from the dire end to the season.
Written by Tom Thrower
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