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Stoke City can’t afford to ‘change direction’ too quickly with their next manager – Rafa Benitez would be perfect

As with every managerial sacking, a market immediately opens up for his replacement. If Pulis has indeed been sacked in order to replace him with a manger who will play a better version of football Stoke have to be very careful with who they appoint. Blackburn wanted better football so sacked Allardyce and picked Steve Kean. Bolton appointed Owen Coyle to play prettier football. Both of those went down. Previously, Charlton parted with Curbishley to get in someone to take them ‘to the next level’, that man, Iain Dowie (yep), took them toward the drop. Wolves sacked McCarthy for the same reason, they’re in League One. QPR sacked Neil Warnock, they went down. All of these were because they tried to move to a different style of football too quickly, before they had the personnel, and just as importantly, the mindset at the club to do so. With this in mind, Stoke need to appoint a manger capable of getting playing better stuff but diving in with Di Matteo/Poyet/Martinez is risky. Here’s a look at the Pros and Cons of the main contenders using the odds at SkyBet.


Rafa Benitez (2/1 favourite)
‘Rafa Benitez?!’ I hear you say. Well, it actually makes a lot of sense. As in, a lot. When Benitez was at Valencia and Liverpool he found success not by playing free flowing football, but by building on a rock solid foundation with an array of sparkling attacking talent. He knows how to get great success out of relatively one dimensional players (Baraja, Kuyt, Sissoko) and also has an eye for an attacker (Torres, Lopez, Vicente). He finds a way to mould this solidity with attacking threat and get results. He is a big name and would require a significant transfer budget and free reign to change the way the club play and are perceived.
Pros Could use the solid Stoke defence already in place and is capable of using direct tactics whilst he eases in higher quality attackers. Proven winner.
Cons Not a ‘provincial club’ manager historically. Will he fancy the task in hand?
Could he fit at Stoke? Yes. He has experience with their type of player and the tactical know how to slowly progress the team to a more aesthetically pleasing approach. If they get him, it would show they mean business.


Roberto Di Matteo (4/1)
Di Matteo is automatically linked because he has pedigree as a Champions League and FA Cup winner and would also look to bring a more possession based style to the club. At Chelsea he showed that he could use players that were given to him rather than hand chosen and put together a competitive side. The problem is, he is not a good candidate for this job. He will want to immediately overhaul everything and try to get Stoke playing ‘properly’ straight away if he is essentially appointed with the purpose of doing so. He is inexperienced and was sacked by West Brom last time he was at a similar sized club. Can he persuade Ryan Shawcross not to smash it long and coach him to pass it?
Pros Proven winner with a defensive tactical approach which would be a continuation of current plans.
Cons Very inexperienced with technically inferior players, might want to change things too quickly and undo underlying good qualities in an attempt to justify his appointment.
Could he fit at Stoke? No. This could be an absolute disaster. If Stoke want to ‘change direction’ he will feel under pressure to do that quickly.


Gus Poyet (10/1)
Poyet is out of a job at Brighton after objecting to someone defecating in the Crystal Palace dressing room of all things. What will he think of pigs heads in lockers and bricks going through car windows? At Brighton he was given free reign to build a team fit for the Amex and he succeeded in doing so with good financial backing and a big contact book. His Brighton team was gradually infused with technicians which would bode well for a slow make over at Stoke which is the only stable way of going.
Pros Has strong lower league experience and can spot a player. Very tactically flexible and would bring the prettier football that is possibly desired.
Cons Never managed in the Premier League and like Di Matteo may feel he has to change style too quickly. Will he fancy Stoke’s ‘good banter’ dressing room?
Could he fit at Stoke? Possibly but will he want to change too much of the culture. Would fans identify with him?


Mark Hughes (12/1)
Hughes has become a laughing stock after the QPR fiasco but his record with Blackburn and Fulham, which is more relevant to this job, was excellent. He maintained Blackburn in the top 8 for three years and had a good year at Fulham. He is able to set teams up to play directly. In fact, he got in to trouble at City because he couldn’t get them playing elegant, winning football. So he would be able to use what Stoke have and add some classier touches. A striker himself, he would no doubt have wisdom to pass on. If not for his QPR stint he would be much more fancied. He has a lot to prove and Stoke like that attitude.
Pros He will be ferociously determined to prove that QPR was an aberration and will surely have learned a lot of lessons. That he failed at QPR is actually a pro as he should now know what to avoid doing when trying to take a club to the next level.
Cons He has a tarnished reputation and his name is losing lustre. Will the players buy in to him?
Could he fit at Stoke? Yes. He has done well at this size club and is comfortable with the type of personnel they have. Has learned his lessons elsewhere.

Selected others:
Phil Neville (14/1) – Neville would be a big risk but would show Stoke how to win, just as he did at Everton, with the ingrained pursuit of greatness bred in to him at Old Trafford.
Roberto Martinez (16/1) – Would try to utterly change the style to a pure version. Wouldn’t be able to use more than 2 or 3 of the current players which is too big a turnaround in too short a time.
Steve McLaren (20/1) – Has worked with limited and technical players so could possibly blend that but surely his three consecutive failures will count against him
Martin O’Neill (25/1) – O’Neill will be frothing at the indignity of his first sacking and will want to prove himself. Sacked at Sunderland in part because of wasted money on English based players and dire football. Maybe not different enough for what Stoke want.
Harry Redknapp (33/1) – Don’t rule this out. He’s still a big name and will fancy getting back in to the top flight.

Have manager sackings been as unfair as the LMA say?

Per the BBC the LMA are very upset at the number of managerial sackings in English football this year. What’s the new? There have been some high profile victims such as Nigel Adkins and Brian McDermott in the Premier League lately that have restarted the debate started by the removal of Roberto Di Matteo in November. Rather than just crying foul, here I will look at some of these high profile sackings and decide whether they were justifiable.

The fairness rating scale goes from 0 – completely unjustifiable to 10 – perfectly within reason

Roberto Di Matteo – sacked by Chelsea

bobby d

Why sacked? Despite winning Chelsea’s first ever Champions League last season Di Matteo was not Abramovich’s first choice and was only given an unconvincing deal to stay on. After some dubious squad utilisation, the club became the first defending champions to crash out of the Champions League in the following year’s group stage. They had also slipped out of contention to win the league and Abramovich made his move.
Press reaction Scandal, disgrace, meddling foreign owner. Chelsea will never win anything if they keep sacking managers etc. etc.
Fans Reaction Boo Rafa, Boo. Applauding on 16 minutes. Not cheering the team in order to focus on booing.
Fairness Rating 9/10 – I was one of the few who agreed with this decision at the time. If Mario Gomez had brought his shooting boots with him Chelsea would have finished 7th and Champions League runner up last season on Di Matteo’s watch. Wow? Out of the Champions League and out of the title race by November having spent £50m in the summer? Hmm…

Mark Hughes – sacked by QPR


Why sacked? QPR spent a load of money and were marooned at the bottom of the table putting in fightless garbage performances.
Press Reaction At last, reputation torpedoed.
Fans Reaction Yay, Harry to the rescue!
Fairness Rating 10/10 – and he was lucky to last as long as he did

Nigel Adkins – sacked by Southampton


Why sacked? Erm…you tell me. Saints were showing some promise after a mini blip that Adkins seemed to have righted.
Press Reaction Scandal, disgrace, meddling foreign owner. The fans will riot!
Fans Reaction Gutted to see Nigel leave the club, but we support the team whoever manages it.
Fairness Rating 5/10 – he did spend decent money in fairness to the board and they felt Pochettino had the technical expertise to establish the club moving forwards. But still, could that not have waited until the summer?

Brian McDermott – sacked by Reading


Why sacked? Reading cut adrift in the relegation zone after some inept recent performances.
Press Reaction Scandal, disgrace, meddling foreign owner.
Fans Reaction Sigh…that’s us down then.
Fairness Rating 0/10 – Who is going to do better? Why now? With no replacement ready unlike the above?! The fans reaction is right.

Michael Appleton – sacked by Blackburn


Why sacked? The owners chickened out after seeing their team plunge down the league like poultry in to a deep fat frier. (Sorry, how can you resist?)
Press Reaction Scandal, disgrace, meddling foreign owner.
Fan Reaction? Well, I might win the ‘Who will be the next manager of Blackburn’ pool at work this time.
Fairness Rating 10/10 – why don’t we ask Blackpool fans what they think of this? Having spent just two months at the Tangerines he had his head turned by Blackburn in what was an impossible to understand move. If such managerial luminaries as Steve Kean and Henning Berg can’t crack Blackburn, surely a man with a 20% win record can? Right? Nope.

Simon Grayson – sacked by Huddersfield


Why sacked? Having finally finished Lee Clark’s work and taken the club out of League One and toward the top of the Championship, Grayson oversaw a free fall towards the Championship relegation battle.
Press Reaction? Scandal, disgrace, meddling foreign…oh hang on.
Fan Reaction No more ugly football!
Fairness rating 3/10 – Grayson has done OK in the Championship before and the club is basically in the same position as when he left. Dubious.

Stale Solbakken – sacked by Wolves


Why sacked? Fresh out the Premier League, Wolves weren’t expecting the mid table malaise they found themselves in.
Press Reaction Well, these foreign managers don’t know the Champiohsip you see.
Fans Reaction You left Terry Connor in but sack Solbakken?
Fairness Rating 0/10 – Guess what. You sell your best players, don’t replace them, ask your manager to get the team playing football in a new league and it doesn’t see you racing away with the title. They’ve only got worse since too.

These are the upper echelons of the league ladder and the moves are about 50/50 in terms of fairness. Dig down to League One and Two and it’s a similar pattern. If the club gets worse on your watch then you will have questions to answer. Of course, no one wants to see unfair sackings and it’s not great for the game’s image. Mind you, if a good enough offer comes up there have been plenty of managers willing to jump ship.

Ian Holloway, Dougie Freedman, Michael Appleton (twice), Dean Saunders and Mark Robbins have left clubs with good playing staffs to go elsewhere. Mostly the moves have been sideways or in Freedman’s case, mind bendingly backwards.

They can’t have it both ways. Sure there have been unfair sackings but how about when they move clubs themselves. Is loyalty not a two way street?

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