I Predict a Rowett
If you’re reading this, it means Gary Rowett has been announced as Stoke City manager. Five months down the line from Stoke’s first reported interest, we have finally got our man. So what on earth can we expect from the former Burton Albion, Birmingham City, and (now) Derby County manager?
For a good deal of managers the word ‘philosophy’ means a specific way they believe football should be played, but this doesn’t apply to our new gaffer. Rowett, on the pitch, can first and foremost be described as pragmatist, and whilst that word has drawn more and more negative connotations in the past few years, arguably his greatest strength. He accepts the limitations of his sides and adapts accordingly. Nothing displays this better than the collapse Birmingham had after they replaced Rowett with Zola. Zola attempted to transition from Rowett’s counter-attacking style to a more fluid one and results immediately took a plunge.
Stoke, however, present an interesting scenario for Rowett, in that it is the side where he will likely not require such pragmatism. The parachute payments and sales of Butland, Shaqiri and Allen will likely give Rowett a war chest, something none of his previous employers have done. But that’s enough for transfers ,we’ll come back to them later.
Off the pitch, Rowett seems to be about one thing: enjoyment. In an interview with Ian Holloway, Rowett described his first day at Birmingham. During their suit fittings coach Mark Sale didn’t quite fit into his suit, leaving quite a comical sight. Rowett and his staff deliberately chose to leave Sale out of the first meeting with side, only for him to enter later putting the Birmingham squad into hysterics. Rowett discussed how this led to a nerve free first session and had the players enjoying their football again, which appears key to Rowett’s approach.
As for the fans, Rowett is keen for expectations to be raised and stay there. In the same interview Rowett took issue with the suggestion that expectation may have to be managed in light of his excellent first season, saying “why should I manage the fans expectations? The whole reason of being a fan is you turn up excited, I don’t want to take that excitement away from them”. Rowett accepted that this comes with a risk of failure, but this is a pressure he is very accepting of.
Tactics and Shape
The whole purpose of Rowett’s urge to install enjoyment around the club is to create a tight group willing to put the work in for each other. Rowett unashamedly fan-girls Jurgen Klopp’s ethos of whoever runs more wins the game, this combined with Rowett’s pragmatism underpins his tactical style.
Rowett has unfairly, and frankly bizarrely, been described as a long-ball merchant by bitter Derby fans and Stoke ones unsure of his appointment. Rowett’s tactical plan at his past 3 clubs has been based on a tight compact defence, with quick transitions into attack. Although there can be no guarantee that will be the chosen style at Stoke; Derby’s fixtures against weaker opposition display that a more high pressing style could be likely at Stoke.
As for shape, Rowett’s priority of flexibility renders any normative discussions about formations irrelevant. Rowett views his side’s shape as entirely dependent on opposition and match scenario. He dedicates preseason to drilling the corresponding reactions to different scenarios into his players, so that it becomes second nature to them. To allow for this flexibility, Rowett often includes players who are capable of playing multiple positions. For example, David Davis at Birmingham was often utilised on the right of midfield but could be shifted inside to make a midfield three.
To completely contradict myself, lets quickly look at the formations that Rowett has preferred. At Burton it was a relatively straight forward 442, but during his time in the Championship he has preferred the same style of 4231. Rowett at both Birmingham and Derby has utilised a pacey attacking three behind a more robust target man, with a playmaker and a ball winner in the deeper two. He also turned to a 343 system for Derby towards the end of the season, which secured their place in the playoffs. But as previously discussed, Rowett’s priorities of pragmatism and flexibility mean there are no guarantees we see this system used at Stoke.
So, to summarise Rowett wants his team to be willing to work hard for each other. His defensive style seems to adapt to the opposition, pushing high against weaker and dropping against stronger, but attack is always the same. Rowett wants a quick transition allowing his pacey attacking midfield three to exploit the spaces left by the opposition.
Yes great, but would he have signed Kevin Wimmer?
In short no, I’ll let Rowett explain his approach to transfer spending: “I built as though it was almost my own money, and I would spend it in a way that meant that I had to appreciate where the club was in its financial outlook and what the expectations were.” *deep collective sigh of relief*
At the risk of repeating myself once more: Stoke are going to be a unique challenge for Rowett. At all three of his previous employers the purse strings have been well and truly pulled tight, but it is unlikely that this will be the case with the Potters. Hopefully Rowett’s attitude towards spending sees a shift back to the policy Stoke adopted in the first three years of Hughes tenure. Sensible affordable deals, where players resell value was taken into account and money was not wasted on ageing members.
So where will be the key areas to target? As previously discussed Rowett places great importance on his attacking midfield three, whose mobility is key to pressing and countering. Stoke don’t have anyone who really fits this bill, so investment is likely to be there especially with three of our current first choice back 4 committing themselves to our first season in the championship.
Speaking of age, what about the kids?
“I’ve always tried to invest time into the academy, I’ve always tried to invest into building a first team that’s competitive, but also a pathway for all of the younger players.”
Rowett has faced some stick, again from bitter Derby fans, for failing to incorporate youth players into his Rams side. His policy seems to be if they’re good enough they’re old enough. At Birmingham young Demarai Gray and youthful loanee Jon Toral we’re key players in Rowett’s pivitol attacking midfield three.
So why no youth at Derby? Rowett in an interview discussed the large first team squad of 26 players, pointing out he could line up two sides of 11 made entirely of experienced first team players. He indicated that he would much prefer to work with a small squad with 6/7 experienced players on the fringes of the first XI, allowing youth players to come up into the first team.
Stoke have arguably signed the most promising young British manager in the game, and have poached him from a potential promotion rival. It is the first step in a long path to re-establishing the club as a Premier League regular, and it is hoped that this flexing of muscles is a sign of things to come. And finally, watch out for salt on the A50.
Written by Tom Thrower
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