How poor decisions relegated Stoke City
After nine consecutive seasons in the Premier League, Stoke City was relegated on Saturday. The Potters' fate was sealed with a 2-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace.
Relegation was deserved. Stoke never showed the fire or urgency needed to remain a top-flight side.
Stoke's problems have been noticeable for quite a while. Decisions from the hierarchy gradually but surely brought the club to its knees. Winning games had become a gruelling task, but off-field issues were the bigger concern. The team’s performance on the pitch was in many ways a reflection of the incompetence behind the scenes.
Despite sacking Mark Hughes, Stoke's results failed to improve. Paul Lambert gave it his all but got little in return. The club's problems run far deeper than the manager.
Even at that, was trading in Hughes for Lambert the wisest decision to turn around fortunes?
Hughes previously managed Wales, Manchester City, Fulham, Blackburn Rovers and Queens Park Rangers. Apart from relative success, he did not prove his credentials as a top-class coach. In a way, then, Stoke got what they paid for. It took four-and-a-half years, but the Welshman's demise was inevitable.
From 2013-16, three ninth-place finishes in a row was a decent return for Stoke. In Hughes' fourth season in charge, however, they dropped to 13th. This campaign, he took the Potters into a relegation battle.
Although there is no guarantee Stoke would have survived if changes had been made earlier, the board simply failed to act. Hughes should have been replaced before the damage became irreparable.
Stoke's aim in the Premier League remained unknown. Was the hierarchy satisfied with maintaining top-flight status, or was there ambition to challenge for trophies and European qualification?
Not knowing led to confusion. As well as appointing the wrong managers, signing reliable players became a major issue.
Stoke raised some eyebrows by purchasing well-known stars such as Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan. Gianelli Imbula was soon brought in for a club record €24 million. Jese Rodriguez and Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma then arrived on loan last summer. Yet, only two of the five signings featured regularly.
Apart from goalkeeper Jack Butland and midfielder Joe Allen, Stoke's squad is filled with either average players or those past their prime. Erik Peters, Darren Fletcher, Stephen Ireland, Charlie Adam, Peter Crouch and even captain Ryan Shawcross should have all been let go before now.
Managing players has been another sore point. Only a top coach can get the best from his charges. Saido Berahino may be difficult to handle, but he had much to offer. It was the manager's responsibility to help him reach his potential. The same applies to Jese and Ibrahim Affelay.
Stoke have three players out on loan. Imbula is at Toulouse, Marc Muniesa, Girona and Bojan was shipped to Deportivo Alaves. All three should have been established in the Potters' starting eleven.
Hughes' man-management was bad. Lambert continued in the same vein. On arriving, the Scot was expected to do everything possible to beat the drop. Nothing changed, though.
Having admitted his side were weak in attack, Lambert should have known the answer was Jese. When Stoke needed him the most, however, the Spaniard was away on leave.
Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha stated that this season was like war. Lambert didn't treat it as one. He failed to utilize his weapons. Stoke paid the ultimate price.