Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

The Church of Nathan Jones

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

Stoke’s Three Youth Hopes

Over the years, Stoke have struggled to deliver on youth prospects, with the most notable graduates being the Tony Pulis favourites Carl Dickinson and Andy Wilkinson. The lack of homegrown players was partly due to vying with clubs in an extremely busy catchment area for the brightest talents and partly due to operating out of a Portakabin donated by Aston Villa to the old Michelin training ground. The biggest hindrance however was the aforementioned Mr Pulis, who’s fascination with 30 year old Sunderland centre backs and insistence that the academy was an unnecessary use of resources and should be closed down held back the production of future generations of Stoke players.

However, the complete redevelopment of the Clayton Wood training facilities to a truly elite standard and a larger emphasis being placed on self-sufficiency by the owners responsible for online gambling powerhouse bet365 have given fresh hope to youngsters hoping to make it in the famous red and white stripes.

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?

Lambert to the Slaughter

Stoke City have dismissed their second manager in less than six months as Paul Lambert left the club following its relegation to the Championship. Paul was tasked with hauling the mess of a squad, left by Mark Hughes, over the line to retain Stoke’s Premier League status. With just two wins in the fifteen games available – his first and last in charge – he failed and has now paid the price. It’s not all bad for Lambert though: he surely leaves the club with his head held high. He got another shot in the Premier League, turned the morale of an abhorrent dressing room on its head and would have saved Stoke had fate been a little on his side.

Following Mark Hughes’ removal early into the new year, Stoke chased a host of candidates to replace him. Gary Rowett decided that Derby would give him the best shot at being a Premier League manager come the start of next season (unlucky Gaz). Quique Sanches Flores decided to stick with Espanyol as Stoke refused to meet his tall demands (he’s now unemployed). Martin O’Neill was disappointed not to be first choice as Hughes’ replacement and rebuffed their approaches to stick with the Irish national team. With the pool of preferential candidates depleting and time running short, Stoke’s top brass decided to ensure they had a manager in place and took the unpopular decision of hiring Lambert.

Our off the Pitch Failure Cannot Continue

Stoke are facing arguably the biggest summer the club have ever faced, and it is beyond doubt that the decisions taken between May and August will have long reaching consequences for us. Irrelevant of whether Stoke begin the season in the Premier League or Championship it will be a time of overhaul. The departures of Allen, Butland and Shaqiri are certain despite the outcome of our next 6 games.

Despite the great disappointment that this will be to the fans Stoke will be heavily compensated. In the current market it would not be surprising for the total figure of those threes sale to be closer to 100 million than to 50. This provides Stoke with a genuine chance to rebuild, and what an opportunity that may be when looking at the current side. The club is filled with players quite content to take their pay check whilst appearing to have genuinely little concern for the future of the club.


Stoke drew 1-1 to Brighton at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday afternoon. It was a game described as the biggest since the Potters’ promotion from a Stoke point of view and tensions were running high before and throughout the match. Both sides came away with a point each but it’s not enough for Stoke to drag themselves out of the Premier League relegation zone. Time is running out for Paul Lambert and his squad to leapfrog their way out of trouble and it’s fair to say that it’s going to be an uphill battle from here.

The talking point of course will be the missed penalty. Stoke’s number eleven, Jesé, controversially won the spot kick and demonstrated that he deserved to take it. However, Charlie Adam picked up the ball almost immediately after Bobby Madley put the whistle to his lips and marched to the white spot in front of his target. Jesé put up a furious protest having to be restrained away from Adam and clearly put pressure on the latter. Whether the pressure got to him or not, Charlie missed that penalty as the clocked ticked past ninety minutes and his team’s chance to escape the drop zone flashed away as quickly as the Stoke fans’ smiles.

How to Solve a Problem Like Our Midfield?

Earlier today a message appeared in a twitter group chat, it read: “Right. Does anyone have an actual explanation for Fletcher?” The discussion moved onto how bizarre Fletcher’s decline has been, something that would normally only occur due to injury. Suggestions quickly came; ‘he’s just past it’, ‘maybe he is carrying an injury’, ‘he’s lost the ability to read the game’, but none of these seem to be a satisfactory enough answer.

Fletcher initially appeared to be a dominating midfielder (I even did a stats show on him), the likes Stoke had not seen since a Frenchman scorned us and moved to Spain.  So for him to tail off so drastically to a point where many were wanting the return of Charlie Adam, seems totally perplexing. 

Right (and Left) Back to Basics

Stoke have signed two fullbacks in the space of a week. That sentence will be the music to Potters fans’ ears considering the options that have been available for the last few months. A heavily declined England international, a striker, a Dutchman who just can’t seem to get it right and two developing teenagers have left Stoke crippled in the increasingly more important areas on a football pitch. Each of those mentioned either have or will have their part to play in Stoke City’s development and deserve our respect. However, Stoke’s defensive width is currently lacking and has been need of a revamp for a while. The arrival of new manager Paul Lambert was sandwiched between the signings of Moritz Bauer and Kostas Stafylidis. Let’s see what we’re getting.

Moritz Bauer is a 25-year-old Swiss-born Austrian right back. He arrived for £5.5m from Russian outfit Rubin Kazan and has signed a contract with Stoke which expires in 2022. Bauer’s professional career started in his native country with Grasshoppers, before earning a move to Russia in the Summer of 2016. Bauer spent 18 months with Rubin Kazan and broke into the Austrian national team during this time, he has four caps currently. Interestingly, Moritz is also a qualified pilot and flies regularly between football. He is also a polyglot and can also speak five languages including, perhaps most relevant currently, English.

An Open Letter to Mark Hughes

Dear Mark,

Almost a week has passed since that sad Saturday afternoon in which Stoke City were sitting in the relegation zone, dumped out of the FA Cup to a heavily-rotated League 2 side and lost their manager. I wanted to allow time to pass before reacting to the weekend’s events: emotions were at an all-time high and I believe it’s important to respond with a clear head and heart. I want this to be a statement of gratitude for all the work you’ve done over the last four-and-a-half years: nothing more, nothing less. You deserve that.

So this is what it has come to?

Stoke City sit 18th place in the league, 4 points away from the bottom, with the worst goal difference in the league and worst defence in all of Europe’s major leagues. I remind everyone of this because I hope the board have failed to realise any of this, and that this ignorance is the reason Hughes is still in charge.

I would find it much easier to sleep tonight if Hughes remained in charge because of gross incompetence rather than an actual decision reached by discussion and critical thought.