Upon being hired to manage Stoke City, Mark Hughes promised to impose measures to oust the primitive, route-one style of football instilled by predecessor Tony Pulis.
On Wednesday, the man they call ‘Sparky’ made good on that promise by releasing seven players – winger Jermaine Pennant, midfielder Dean Whitehead, striker Mamady Sidibe, defender Matthew Upson, midfielder Rory Delap, goalkeeper Carlo Nash and midfielder Matthew Lund.
The biggest of those cuts were Pennant, Whitehead, Delap and Upson.
Cutting Pennant was a no-brainer. The 30 year old, well-known for having bags of talent and truck loads of problems, never panned out at The Britannia and spent the last three months of the season on loan with Wolverhampton Wanderers. It was the seventh loan spell of his career.
Releasing Whitehead is a good example of Hughes’ intent to rid the club of its reputation as a bruiser. The 31 year old did, however, make 30 appearances this season under Pulis although only 12 of those were league starts.
If Whitehead is a good example of Hughes’ intent to polish the Potters’ brand, Delap is the crown jewell. Without going so far as to say he had no foot skills whatsoever, Delap was best known for shimmying the ball in his shirt before unleashing monstrous throw-ins that gave opposing defenses nightmares.
Let’s be clear here – it was effective, but very much defined the old English style of football that has been discarded by nearly every top flight team.
Upson’s release is of little surprise as the aging center-back could still do the job for a number of English clubs, just not one in the top flight. The 34 year old spent the past season on loan at Brighton & Hove Albion where he made 20 appearances and scored 1 goal.
For Stoke fans looking for a change, the moves by Hughes have to be a welcomed sight. And to make sure he left no route-one stone unturned, he also cleaned out Pulis’ coaching team, which included Dave Kemp, Mark O’Connor, Adrian Pennock and Gerry Francis.
Love him or hate him, you’ve got to give Hughes credit for coming in and shaking things up at The Britannia. It certainly won’t be an easy task to change Stoke’s culture and style of play while keeping the club in the Premier League but given how close the Potters came to relegation this past spring – is there any other option?