Stoke City’s style of football – right or wrong?

by James Bayley

Stoke City’s direct style of play, is a welcomed throwback to when English football was a complete contrast to the tik taka, possession based technical style of football we see now in the Premier League.

Through the powerful medium of the media, Stoke’s style of play, is far from being praised, but is castigated and heavily criticised by sections of football, but above all else its very effective and also has kept the “working class” club; Stoke City, in the Premier League for four seasons now. Stoke are unique team, who typify the “old fashioned” English game, its great to see that a team like Stoke are keeping the traditional style of English football alive in the top flight which is why Stoke City as club and team, deserve more praise than criticism they received in sections of the media throughout their successful stay in the top flight of the Premier League.

As much as Pulis and his team are being criticised for their style, they surely doing something right and deserve praise for offering an original style to the game which is rarity to see. Sir Alex Fergson labelled Stoke City, as the “green giants”, before their game against United, because of their players were the tallest in Europe and the aerial threat they cause. Its just another dig at Stoke City, which Pulis says countless times, is used as a incentive by the players to work harder and upset the odds.

There appears to be a growing clamour, particularly amongst sections of the media and football for Stoke to suddenly change style, to become more progressive and evolve the football to more passing and possession style game. But I ask the question, why should, the club should change their roots, if it has served them so well for a long time now and they avoid relegation every season and finish in safe middle table? Tony Pulis, is not going to suddenly, change his style, to a variation of Spanish tiki-taka football. In football, you don’t fix something which isn’t broken in football.

These critics have however on many occasions been silenced, particularly when Stoke City reached the FA Cup final in 2011 and proved to the watching world of football they can mix their direct approach to the game with passing and offensive style. I think, this season Stoke City will prove those critics of their style wrong further; with their marquee signings; Charlie Adam, Steven Nzonzi and Michael Owen, they will evolve their style of play further and will mix up their effective direct football with more possession and offensive style of play.

As much as the media slate the style of play, Stoke are the best team in the league, at making use of their own strengths and it paid of for them with four successful seasons in the top flight and now they rightly earn a reputation which often said by pundits, that Stoke can stand their own against any of the elite top 4. Some marquee signings have arrived and been attracted by Pulis’ style and philosophy of football such as; Peter Crouch, Eidur Gudjonsson, Sanli Tuncay, Jonathan Woodgate, Charlie Adam and now Michael Owen has joined too.

Stoke have evolved this season and will further evolve as the season progresses, this is partly due to new signings; Steven Nzonzi and Charlie Adam offering the offensive and technical players they need to play more passing style. It was notable against Man City and Arsenal at the Brit that the new summer signings had added the much needed options in midfield. Have Stoke shown any signs of evolution of their footballing identity since their début season? More pertinently, should Stoke change anything about their approach to the game?

What, is so effective about Stoke City, as a club is how physical they are, they never lie down to any of the top four teams who last season couldn’t muster a win at the Britannia Stadium. This makes, Stoke, certainly a competitive, following on from the draw with Manchester City in March 2012, Pulis commented on the competitive nature of the Premier League:

No club — and this is why it will be exciting right until the end — goes anywhere, or should go anywhere, to any ground and do sometimes what Barcelona and Real Madrid do to teams in Spain. And that is just play a game and just walk through it.

Lets make no bones about it Stoke City are an effective and direct football team who play to their strengths. Stoke don’t have a Xavi, Iniesta or Fabregas who can fling passes neatly around the pitch playing the passing game until the opponent is worn out. However the effective and direct style of football gets Stoke their results. There are no worries about Stoke getting sucked into a relegation battle, they can push for top 10 finish this season if they mix the right amount of style and tactics. Praise has to go to Tony Pulis and his management team who seem to have turned Stoke City into one of the most organised and hardest teams to break down in the Premier League and without doubt he has successfully used his limited resources, compared to other clubs, to great effect.

The style imposed by Pulis has brought them this far, as many Stoke fans will tell you to make the next step in the club’s history, this evolution of the team’s style been shown in parts against Man City, Arsenal and Swansea this season so far. The foundations are in place and Stoke just  need to progress to the next step by evolving their style of play further which with the signings of Charlie Adam and Steven Nzonzi they have done and its something I expect Pulis and his management to devlop throughout  this season. Pulis himself recognises this and said in many post match interviews after the game against the bigger teams, that he brought more technical players this season such as Charlie Adam and Nzonzi because they can hold the ball for longer and offer the team the ability to calve teams open and create more chances. Stoke will evolve this season and with this will make that other step forward in the club’s history and move into the top 10 in the Premier League this season.

7 Responses

  1. John says:

    Fantastic and interesting read, one the best Stoke aticles Ive read, Im season ticket holder at Stoke for over 25 years and seen all styles down the Brit. As Stoke fans sing; “We play how we want!” We may not play fancy tip tap football like Arsenal but we do what we do effectively and kept us in the top fight for while now and doesnt look to change. We need to evolve and change to make the step foward as the article rightly states but it hits the nail on the head and gets to the point. Excellent piece from Stoke fans perspective that is.

  2. Jon says:

    good article, i don’t think stoke will evolve under pulis though, it would have taken a holloway type to transform them

  3. Chris Thomas says:

    Fantastic article, its unique in the respect that it does not criticise Stoke direct style of play, like most of the mainstream articles in the media do. I’m no Stoke fan but I have the highest respect for Tony Pulis’ hard working team, who remind me of how football used to be played in the seventies when men were men and not overpaid footballes.

    The article is interesting read which really praises Stoke’s style instead of the stereotypical critic who label Stoke as the “rugby” team. One the best articles I have read on Stoke.

  4. Richard Allen says:

    A great article, very engaging. Few months back I read a piece from the Mirror which was criticising Stoke’s direct style and saying they anti football, I’m no Stoke fan but I was angry by the mainstream media criticism of Stoke, who aren’t the most entertaining team to watch in the PL but they the most effective. This article is the first in while to praise Stoke’s direct style instead of jumping onto the anti-Stoke bandwagon. Well written.

  5. James Bayley James Bayley says:

    Thanks for your comments. I wrote the article on Stoke style of play – right or wong? because I did’nt believe there is right or wrong way to play football and was sick of the anti-Stoke bandwagon. Stoke have not been given the praise they deserve staying in the PL.

  6. Paul says:

    Reading this article, I whole-heartily agree. Who cares what style a team plays so long as they’re producing the results that they are? I live in the United States and am fortunate enough to be exposed to a lot of different sports, sports teams, and the different approaches that these teams play their respective sports. For instance in ice hockey, the New Jersey Devils are often heavily criticized for playing a very low-scoring, defensive, style of game compared to many other teams in the National Hockey League. But guess what? They produce, consistently, amazing results year in and year out. Who cares if the Devils play a boring style? Winning is all that matters, at the end of the day.

    I think it’s the same story with Stoke. If the Premier League were composed of teams all playing a form of total-football or tiki-taka, both technical styles that rely heavily upon teams having world-class players, then I that would mean that success in the League would only be reserved for an elite few clubs like Man Utd and Chelsea simply because only such teams have the financial means to afford the talent. Essentially, it would be like Barcelona and Real Madrid all over again.

    This is why I like Stoke City as a club. They know they won’t be able to compete with bigger clubs like Man City playing the same way they do. Instead, with the limited amount of talent that they have, they produced a unique approach to playing football that gives them a chance regardless of talent level.

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