Stoke City’s CEO Tony Scholes has been at the club since 2004 and has overseen their rise from a second-tier team to a top 10 side in the Premier League and challenging for Europe.
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ProSoccerTalk sat down with Scholes pitch-side at the Britannia Stadium on Monday ahead of Stoke City’s clash against Tottenham Hotspur.
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Scholes revealed plenty about Stoke’s recent rise, their future and expanding their fan base in the United States.
Here’s the Q&A with Scholes.
This season, how pleased have you been with the on-field product? The team seems to be making strides in style of play, lots of plaudits
If I go back over the last 10 years every year we start the season with one objective: to improve. To improve on the previous year. In terms of the first team is it terms of the position in the league, the points total etc. We did a great job in the first few years staying in the league but to improve on that you have to start looking at the top 10. Arguably you have to play in a different way to play in the top 10. What Mark has done since he came in is change the style, change the belief, change the attitude.
As a result of that it has changed the way we are seen by the media, supporters and also importantly players through Europe. The likes of Bojan coming. Go back five years Bojan wouldn’t have come to Stoke City, given the way we played. He just wouldn’t have come. But he met with Mark, liked the way he talked. Bojan has a line saying ‘I knew Stoke wouldn’t be playing long ball, otherwise why would Mark be talking to me?’ By bringing in the likes of him it makes it easier for the likes of Shaqiri, Arnautovic to understand where they would fit in. Once you have one or two of these players are recognizable then it makes it easier even more of them.
What is the long-term vision of the club? Top six every season? Champions League?
We have got to finish this season strongly and hopefully we get another top 10 place. Hopefully we get beyond that and improve on what we’ve got the last two years. But then we start again. Prior to next season we will look at the squad and that is a 12 month affair anyway. We are always looking at opportunities that need to be made and improving the whole squad and the strongest first XI. You look to improve on what we’ve done this year and only if you only improve a little bit every year, you are going to get to where you want to get to.
Are you looking to bring more players from the U.S. and Major League Soccer like you have in the past?
We are in a global league. The majority of ownership groups who are in the Premier League are global and so are the managers and players and supporters. Where we are also global is our recruitment network and where we are trying to attract players from. As a club over the last four years, we have Geoff Cameron who will be playing for us tonight and Geoff has been fantastic for us. An absolute superb player for us and for the U.S. national team. We have had Maurice Edu and Brek Shea. We’ve had a few U.S. internationals here and it is a territory we will continue look in.
Have you seen a big growth in the number of fans in the USA?
Absolutely. As a club and as a team, when we beat Chelsea 1-0 here last November there were over a one million people watching in the States. You guys tell me… I suspect that wouldn’t have happened three or four years ago. There has been growth for us but for the whole of the Premier League. We have done a lot of work over the the last few years, we’ve toured in the U.S. a couple of times and we will look to go in the future as well. Within the next year or so we will certainly be going back. Possibly sooner rather than later.
Orlando City SC is a club you’re close to, correct?
We have a great relationship and I’ve been out to Austin and Orlando and we share best practice. Phil Rawlins is someone who we know well and Adrian Heath is someone we know well too. We have a great relationship with Orlando.
In your dealings with transfers, has it become more difficult for young American players to get work permits?
It has become tougher, not just for Americans, it is actually quite difficult to come and play in England. The visa requirements are tough and the rules have changed with the entry requirements and it is tougher than it used to be. Now the U.S. is one of the higher-ranked nations by FIFA so the percentage of games a player has to have played is smaller. Nevertheless unless they are a U.S. international, it is almost impossible. Unless they have a European passport.
We tried to get Juan Agudelo, a couple of times. Juan didn’t qualify automatically and we went to twice to a work permit appeal hearing at the home office and unfortunately failed both times. He has never been able to come and play in the Premier League. But hopefully he will establish himself as a U.S. international and get a chance to come over in the future and experience the Premier League.