Adapt or die: Pulis must change tactics for Stoke to survive
Adapt or die: it is the first law of the jungle. A stark, simple message as relevant in sport as it is in business. Tony Pulis does not have to be a student of Charles Darwin, the English naturalist who framed the theory in his book On The Origin Of Species, to understand the threat to the future of Stoke.
Pulis has done the hard yards. He has established Stoke as a credible Premier League club, against the odds and against a backdrop of widespread disdain for his chosen method of survival. It is not pretty, but it works – up to a point.
In an age of tiki-taka, Stoke are increasingly vulnerable to thud-and-blunder generalisations. To be blunt, they like it that way. City are a proper football club with traditional values. Fans take pride in the underdog mentality fostered by Pulis. They are downright uncomfortable with praise from outsiders.
They’ll love this, then.
If Pulis doesn’t change, Stoke may go the way of all dinosaurs. He needs a new approach, just as much as he requires new personnel. He can’t avoid the uncomfortable truth that he spent more than £20m last season, yet finished 14th – one place lower than in 2010-11.
We all know the style: an underrated goalkeeper plays behind a back four consisting of central defenders. The midfield four supplies width and a work ethic that puts other teams to shame. Up top, Pulis loves a big man or two. It’s predictable and, in an era of rigorous match analysis, increasingly easy to neutralise.
Stoke are a well-run club, so any new signings will have to be shrewd and relatively cheap. Pulis is shopping at Tesco, rather than Waitrose, but will pop into Lidl for a bargain if the need arises. He’s looking to recruit from Major League Soccer, to polish flawed diamonds from Europe and the lower leagues.
The protracted transfer of Jamie Ness, a free signing from Rangers, is indicative of his place in the marketplace. For Stoke to evolve – as they must – Pulis requires a more creative midfield partner for Wilson Palacios, who will be expected to improve with an arduous pre-season training programme under his belt.
The pace of change in modern football is accelerating. That’s a threat, but also an opportunity. To quote Darwin: “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”
Are you listening, Tony?
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