And why next season will either cement, or test, our faith in Stoke City’s latest purported saviour…
As a man of faith, Nathan Jones will be well aware of the power that can be wielded at the pulpit. Indeed, his press conferences since switching Parishes in January have felt similar to sermons at times. Not least, because they show unwavering belief in something that most of us have seen little or no proof of: The Resurrection of Stoke City FC.
Though it might be stretching the analogy somewhat to suggest that Stoke fans have plumbed the depths of hell over the last few seasons, it has unquestionably been a drastic fall from grace. We’ve seen many other teams throughout history lose their slender grip on Premiership status only to wallow in the purgatory of the lower leagues for what seems like an eternity (just speak to any Leeds fan for confirmation). That’s why this stage of Stoke City’s history is so crucial. With the continued parachute payments over the next few seasons and the reputation of the club still on a relative high after a decade in the top flight, now is the optimum time to plot as swift and effective route back to the promised land as possible. As for the Coates family, they have decided to put their faith (and fortune) in a man who hadn’t even managed in the Championship until this year, let alone the Premiership. But what about the rest of the Stoke City faithful?
Listening to Nathan Jones speak, it’s not hard to see why the Coates family were so easily converted. (He’s certainly a breath of fresh air from the abrasively-arrogant car-salesman like approach employed by Gary Rowett.) His belief in his own abilities and his drive, desire and hunger to be successful is infectious. However, though many (like myself) will see him as a man whose unshakeable confidence in his own abilities can only serve to offer us our best chance of success next season, there are some amongst his Stoke City flock that may feel like they’ve heard it all before, and that Nathan Jones represents more of a deluded, evangelical-type figure than any sort of divine saviour.
And, of course, they could be proven right. Nathan Jones success in League Two and League One (prematurely cut short by Stoke City themselves) wasn’t just down to him. And his success, at its peak, has been achieved two tiers lower than where Stoke fans see us competing in the near future. However, I believe that it’s heartening to see this type of decision from the board. If we are to have any sort of long-term positive future for the club, we need to be forward thinking in our appointments and have the balls to back an up and coming young Manager with the potential to emulate the success of the likes of Mauricio Pochettino and Eddie Howe (who will have also been considered ‘risky’ appointments at the start of their careers). I, for one, would much rather us take this sort of risk than rely on the age-old merry-go-round of mediocre managers who have achieved nothing more than Premier League consolidation in their long, and largely uneventful, careers. If Nathan Jones is the footballing equivalent of a Preacher waxing lyrical with blind belief and conviction, then one such alternative in the vast shape of Sam Allardyce more likely represents a Butcher of football (in more ways than one).
In fact, I (like many) would have liked to have seen the Stoke City board take this risk sooner and go for Graham Potter last summer instead of Gary Rowett. I fully understand why we didn’t and the apparent risks involved. But the fact remains that Gary Rowett is still scratching around for work – and presumably still scratching his head about where it all went wrong for him at Stoke – whilst Graham Potter is preparing for his first season in the Premier League as the new Brighton Manager. The ex-Stoke City full back (he’s even called ‘Potter’ for Christ’s sake!) having impressed so much in his first Championship season with Swansea, the club who did decide to take that risk, that they faced the entirely different type of problem altogether of trying to keep hold of him.
Yes, there are many factors involved in the success (or lack of) at any football club and it could have easily all gone just as wrong for Potter as for Rowett. But where Potter and Jones are different to Rowett is in their approach to the club environment and the wider community as a whole. Potter proved this in the way he went about his job at Östersunds FK which saw him achieve three promotions back to the Swedish top flight within the space of just five years, Swedish Cup success a year after that and eventually a Europa League tie against Arsenal in 2017. Nathan Jones implemented this philosophy too and reaped the rewards at Luton within just a few years. Gary Rowett only ever appeared to be interested in one man. And that man was Gary Rowett.
As we all know in football, hindsight is a wonderful thing. And whilst Graham Potter now takes another swift step up in his career, it appears that Stoke City may have a second chance at unearthing a potential new managerial gem with Nathan Jones. For Stoke City fans, next season is all about where we place our faith. How long can a fan base, currently drunk on power after successfully crucifying three Managerial Messiahs in as many years, keep faith with a man who promises a team that they can be proud of ten years down the line? Anyone can have a long-term vision. But in order for it to be realised there needs to be sufficient progress and improvement in the short term to buy the good grace to achieve it.
I’m sure Nathan Jones is well aware of this and that there is already a lot of work being done in the background that, you would hope, has been going on for quite a while now. It’s hard to overstate how crucial this summer is if Nathan Jones is to see his own personal vision and belief in what he can achieve ever come to fruition. And he has a number of difficult tasks ahead of him. Not only does he need to make the right sort of recruitment from his point of view for the type of team he wants to craft, he has to do it with the same recruitment staff that have let Stoke City down so badly in the past. I think most fans would agree that even Mark Cartwright himself must question how and why he is still in a job at Stoke City.
Another issue Jones faces has also been caused by Mr. Cartwright and that is shipping out millions upon millions of pounds worth of bad apples that no one in their right minds much surely want to pay a penny for. Wimmer, Imbula, N’daiye… The list goes on and on and the outlay for these players from the Coates family is eye watering. Add to this the ageing players who are shadows of their former selves (who on Earth is looking to take Diouf off of our hands?) and there are millions of pounds of losses to be cut at best just to get the squad trimmed down and players wages off of our books. The £12m walking, idiotic-enigma that is Saido Berahino has recently had his contract terminated for a drink driving change which could be just the first of many huge transfer fees that won’t be recuperated in any way before the season starts.
Just how successfully Nathan Jones and the board can offload these players and replace them with the hard working, athletic and talented individuals that they have promised us this summer will be a crucial factor in how next season plays out. Get it right, and I believe we could be pushing for a play-off place at the very least. Get it wrong and supporters’ patience will soon start wearing thin and we will start looking ever more at a long-term banishment in the lower leagues.
One thing is for sure though, whatever happens with the board, Nathan Jones and our summer recruitment, we won’t have any success unless the fans see this summer as a clean slate and get behind the team early doors. We have had such an influence at our home ground for such a long time. But the same set of fans that hauled our team through the first few seasons in the Premier League with their intimidation of opposition such as Arsenal are also capable of plunging our own team into deeper and deeper despair with their, understandable, frustration and criticism. We can have a hugely positive impact on our team and the players at the start of next season, whoever they end up being. All it requires, is a bit of faith…
Do you have faith in Nathan Jones? Leave your comments below.
Written by Kevin Windsor