Mark Hughes – In or Out?

This is the most amount of pressure Mark Hughes has had to deal with as Stoke City manager. A disastrous league start – rock bottom with one point in five games, three goals scored and fourteen conceded – coupled with being knocked out of the EFL Cup has led to fans calling for his head, players having questions to answer and, for the first time in over three years, Peter Coates has had to publicly deny that he will sack his manager. It’s a very sensitive time for supporters as fans have widely varying views on how long the manager should be given before action should be taken. To mix in some method into this madness, we’ve grabbed two of the regular bloggers to have their say on the manager’s situation. We’ve got Tom Thrower, whose primarily Hughes Out; and Ben Rowley, whose Hughes In (at least for now). Both have given five reasons as to back their case, here they are:

Tom – Hughes Out

1) Winning – The loss last night against Hull was the perfect example of Mark Hughes’ longest standing problem, we don’t win matches we dominate. Over time teams who come and sit deep against Stoke often get a victory and certainly don’t lose, racking my brain only Norwich lost last season playing this way (albeit with 10 men). Last season it was West Brom, Watford, Crystal Palace; the season before Villa, Leicester, Burnley and Palace again all of those were sides we lost at home to. Since the passing football came in this has been Hughes biggest problem. The whole ‘didn’t deserve to lose argument’ is a void one, we lost, end of, it’s not good enough.

2) The Stats – Stokes worst league start ever, no seriously ever, the worst in 136 years. The first time the Potters have lost 4 league games in a row since the beginning of 2012, and just to add to that 3 of those have included conceding 4 goals. Also the first time we have exited the League Cup prior to the 4th round under Hughes tenure, with it last happening in 2012 when Swindon defeated Tony Pulis’ side in the 2nd round. It is yet another slow start to the season, but unlike the others this one is extremely concerning. There has not been one promising performance, it took over 450 minutes for Stoke to score from open play. Last season’s poor form is irrelevant, it is now at a stage where this season’s form alone is enough to warrant Hughes being shown the exit door.

3) Progression and Ambition –  …or the lack of. Obviously 3 9th place finishes isn’t something to be sniffed at, but there has to have been a plan drawn up that saw Stoke pushing past this position. That is why the total transfer spending record has been broken 3 transfer windows in a row, money is being spent to advance rather than sustain the clubs position. Hughes has already admitted that we may not be able to achieve the targets set at the start of the season, surely this is an admission of failure? Combine this with an early cup exit and it looks impossible for Hughes to better his 9th place and semi-final of last season, so surely it is time for change.

4) What’s Next? Hypothetical situation we win against West Brom and Sunderland whilst losing to Man United and Hull (in the league), not too far-fetched a scenario. Where would that leave this discussion? We would be a month further down the line and the situation would be most likely even worse. Even should we recapture form it is already looking near impossible to push past ninth place, and although a 4th ninth place finish would certainly not be bad, it would not be advancement. Do we really want to become the Arsenal of mid table Premier League football?

5) The Alternatives – ‘I see lots of people saying Hughes out, but no one saying who should replace him’: this is an interpretation of tweet we’ve all seen doing the rounds. Want a list of people who might come in: Mancini, AVB, Bielsa, Marcelino, to name a few. The suggestion that the board would look to an old fashioned English manager with the side that we have recruited is verging on insulting their intelligence. Our side is one of the most exciting in the league, and all of those managers need a project to prove their ability at the very top level, a perfect mix, an example of why we can recruit big names such as these. These managers will not be unemployed for long and should we let the situation get any worse then we will be a much less attractive.

Ben – Hughes In

1) He’s Been Unlucky – there’s no hiding behind the fact that Stoke haven’t been playing well so far this season, but very often teams don’t have to play well to win football matches: sometimes you just need that little bit of luck to get you over the line. The harsh penalty against Man City cued a change in momentum out of favour of Stoke. The even harsher penalty against Everton denied the team a crucial point. Being sent off against Spurs was hardly called for given that other managers strut on the field as they please and the game turned on its head since that moment. Conceding two set piece goals in the first ten minutes against Palace gave us a mountain to climb. And finally, let’s face it, a couple of glaring misses plus some outstanding goalkeeping denied Stoke’s progression in the league cup. The luck has to surely change and with that, plus some key players slowly returning back from injury into the fold, so should the results.

2) Player Attraction – no, I’m not about the beard he grew over the Summer. I’m talking about Hughes’ reputation and persuasive techniques to bring quality players into the football club. Players such as Bojan, Shaqiri and Allen have all said that Hughes has played a massive part in their decision to come to the Potteries, given his qualities as both a player and manager. It’s hard to say whether these players would have turned down Stoke given that they had a different manager; but he’s certainly not doing any harm in terms of bringing in new recruits and, in today’s market, that’s fundamentally important.

3) His & Our Past – Stoke have always suffered a slow start to the Premier League under Hughes and yet the team manages to turn things around and have finished well in the top half throughout Sparky’s tenure. Obviously, the fact that this is a recurring problem is worrying, but surely to gauge whether Hughes has completely let this season slip after five league games is pretty haisty. Hughes’ Stoke have always had long peaks and dips in form and who knows whether the latest win streak is right around the corner? Granted, there’s a limit on how long a sensible waiting period is but surely it’s worth just attempting to try and salvage ourselves a win in the next couple of games, rebuild lost confidence, and show what our team is really made of.

4) Stability – Stoke City are very, very fortunate to be in the position where they are able to keep themselves steady in a footballing world that’s filled with chops and changes. We have a fantastic group of owners who are willing to fund amazing ventures for the betterment of the club, the club’s financial situation is looking brighter by the year and is one of the most remarkable in English football and, with that, comes with one of the current longest serving managers in the Premier League. Admittedly, three seasons isn’t a particularly extended term when you look to Arsene Wengers 20th year at Arsenal but when clubs are appointing three managers a season nowadays it does no good for the team. Clubs can sometimes get lucky by bringing a new manager in but what good has that done for clubs like Sunderland, Newcastle and Leeds? Stoke have been able to finish consistently well in the best and most ruthless league in the world, part of that comes down to having a familiar figure at the helm.

5) The Alternatives – it’s all well and good wanting some exotic foreign manager to take over the football club, instantly change things for the better and win the Premier League, Champions League and Checkatrade trophy in their first season in charge. Who says that these high quality managers want to be in charge of Stoke? If the club gets rejected by high quality candidates, are we left with the likes of Roy Hodgson as realistic targets? And suppose a world class manager does move to Stoke, it doesn’t guarantee success, certainly instantly. I’m not silly enough to suggest that Peter Coates hasn’t considered this and would plunge the club in such uncertainty by a heat-of-the-moment snap decision… but, as a wise man once said, “be careful what you wish for”.

So that’s it, there’s both sides of the story, what’s your opinion? Do you side with Tom and his desire for a new hunger, structure and ambition stemming from a new role model? Or do you favour more of Ben’s opinion of sticking with the manager who has produced for his club in the past and are convinced that he will again? Or are you somewhere in between?

Luckily, for any of us, we’re not football club owners.

Written by Tom Thrower and Ben Rowley

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