Garry Monk is the perfect fit for Stoke Cityby Alex Keble / 09 January 2018, 08:55Tweet
Few football managers have endured as much bad luck at the beginning of their career as Garry Monk, who has begun three exciting long-term projects only to find each unfairly cut short.
That, of course, is modern football, but nevertheless it was a huge shock that such an impressive, intelligent, and successful young British manager was sacked by Swansea City, forced into resignation at Leeds United, and then sacked again in December by Middlesbrough. If Stoke City have the sense to look beyond the basics, they will see Monk is the ideal candidate to replace Mark Hughes.
Monk has all the makings of an exceptional manager and a track record to prove it. His modernisation project at Swansea, which included sweeping changes to the training ground complex and a restoration of the “Swansea way”, was truly outstanding for someone without any coaching experience.
The Swans were strongly tipped for relegation in his inaugural year only to come eighth, their highest ever Premier League finish. Home and away wins against both Arsenal and Manchester United spoke to his tactical acumen and hard work on the training ground as Swansea somehow improved despite losing Wilfried Bony over the summer.
He was dismissed in December the following season with the club on 14 points from 15 games, and despite an initial boost of results towards the end of that season under Francis Guidolin the club has tumbled downhill ever since.
A solitary campaign at Leeds United followed in which Monk once again defied all expectations by taking the club to a 7th-place finish, their highest since promotion seven years previous (albeit having lost an 8-point lead in 6th thanks to a run of six points from their final eight games). He resigned from the club after the new owner failed to give Monk or his staff assurances over their long-term future.
Monk’s most recent foray into management was with Middlesbrough, where the 38-year-old was tasked with transforming the Teesside club into instant title-winners while dramatically shifting the club away from Aitor Karanka’s ultra-defensive tactics.
Struggling with such a monumental task but clearly making progress, he was sacked shortly after a 2-1 win against Sheffield Wednesday had left them just three points off 6th. Since two simple wins against Bolton and Sunderland (and defeat to struggling Aston Villa) following his departure have put the club to within four points of 2nd it is highly likely that Monk’s side, which was finally showing signs of coming together, would have challenged for an automatic promotion spot in the months ahead.
All of which highlights why Monk is the perfect fit for Stoke. Hughes did an excellent job before things inevitably fell apart in the fourth year (rarely do managerial cycles last longer in an era when footballer egos require an exciting new visionary to get them going) and so it would be a huge mistake to look to a cautious defensive coach in their next appointment. Hughes’s careful transitioning of the club from Pulis-ball to something more aesthetically pleasing did not come easy. It must not be abandoned.
Monk’s history of modernising clubs, including a Premier League outfit of similar stature to Stoke, means he can be trusted with taking Hughes’s initial idea and developing it further. Monk will look to play pragmatic possession football, utilising the talents of Xherdan Shaqiri and Joe Allen, and has the motivational skills needed to get the best out of Stoke’s less enthusiastic players. Wilfried Bony and Jese Rodriguez, for example, would be whipped into shape – or quickly shipped out.
The current favourites for the post, Martin O’Neill and Slaven Bilic, would represent huge steps backwards. Stoke must show bravery in their fight against relegation, refusing to yield to the understandable temptation to plump for a “safe pair of hands”. Hire a coach like Monk and you get long-term stability in the Premier League; hire an O’Neill type and risk treading water year after year. The choice is obvious.