Stoke City's alarming lack of planning in next manager search could cost them

Colin Millar by Colin Millar / 16 January 2018, 08:45

Stoke City are a club in trouble and the appointment of Paul Lambert is an indication of their current lack of direction and cohesion off the pitch.

The Scot is not without his values, but his tenures at Aston Villa, Blackburn and Wolves have damaged the reputation of a tactician who once among the highest rated in England. However, the most damning aspect of his appointment was the scattergun managerial search which preceded it.

The problems began with the dismissal of Mark Hughes; whose position had become untenable after an FA Cup exit to fourth tier Coventry City. The Potters had won only four of their last 22 matches under the Welshman – with the only victories since October coming at home to West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City, the two clubs below them in the standings.

That run included 13 defeats in which they conceded seven against Manchester City, four and then five against Chelsea, five against Tottenham and three against West Ham. They have shipped a total of 50 league goals in their opening 23 games – the worst defence in the league by a distance.

Hughes was sacked on the Saturday following the painful – and deserved – loss at the Ricoh Arena but the manner of the club’s statement illustrated a key point: “the club will now begin their search for a new manager.”

The change in the dugout at the Bet 365 Stadium had been inevitable for weeks, if not months. It seems implausible that a club should dismiss a manager and not have, at the very least, sounded out replacements. Contrast to La Liga, where Malaga, Deportivo La Coruna, Alaves and Villarreal have all appointed a new tactician within 24 hours of a dismissal.

This failure to prepare for the inevitable reflects poorly on the club’s hierarchy, who have built a reputation as being one of the more loyal and patient boardrooms in English football. Whilst this position of trust and level headedness is admirable, it must not be allowed to cloud judgement over when the timing is right to change a manager and this was clearly poorly judged by the club.

First, they made an approach for the highly-rated Derby County boss Gary Rowett; a chase which culminated in the former full-back signing a new contract at Pride Park. Rowett had made the decision that his future would be better served at the Rams – in the promotion places of the Championship – rather than at Stoke, who currently sit four places above them in the Football League pyramid.

Next up was an approach for Espanyol boss Quique Sanchez Flores, who had previously spent a year in charge of Watford in the Premier League. Despite leading the Catalan club to a relatively impressive 8th-place finish last season, the pressure has been ramped up this time around with the club languishing in the bottom half of the division with only 16 goals in 19 league games. Their weekend draw with Athletic Bilbao was dominated by chants calling for the boss to go. Yet he decided to stay at the RCDE Stadium and reject advances from the English club.

Then Stoke turned to the third name on their hastily arranged list: Martin O’Neill. The former Leicester, Aston Villa and Sunderland boss has a reputation for direct football – in direct contrast to Rowett, Sanchez Flores and Lambert (note the lack of pattern in the club’s approaches) – which has delivered mixed success with the Republic of Ireland.

O’Neill has a new contract offer on the table from the nation to lead them into the European Championships qualifiers, despite fans not being totally convinced his approach is the right one. Again, he opted out of a return to top flight football to stay with his role in Dublin.

Monday morning’s news that Lambert was the new man was generally met with bewilderment and head scratching. Sacked by Wolverhampton Wanderers following an underwhelming campaign where the club finished 15th in the Championship last season, the Scot also had an unremarkable spell at Blackburn after his sacking from Aston Villa in 2015.

The first six years of Lambert’s managerial career in England were highly promising with successful at Wycombe Wanderers, Colchester United and Norwich City. He may well keep Stoke in the top flight and even guide them to relative stability. Yet there is little to suggest the club will re-find a firm identity or that it has any long-term vision to help reverse the decline of the past 18 months.

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