Next Stoke manager: Potters a poisoned chalice as decline continues

14th September 2021

The next Stoke manager may not be early market leaders Tony Pulis (left) and Alex Neil

Following Nathan Jones’ sacking, there is no obvious front-runner to be next Stoke manager after their dismal start to the Championship season.

The Potters prop up the second tier of English football already adrift in the relegation battle.

Preston North End boss Alex Neil was courted in the immediate aftermath of Jones leaving Stoke City, but was rebuffed in strong terms.

This club was a Premier League mainstay under Tony Pulis, but he wisely avoided making a TV appearance on Sky Sports’ recent Championship coverage.

A third spell at the Potters to steady this sinking ship would like as not be divisive among fans anyway.

Neil and Pulis are at the head of bookmakers’ next Stoke manager market regardless of the ways in which they have distanced themselves from the role.

It may pay for punters and the Staffordshire side alike to look beyond them for this difficult job.

As the Potters are among lowest scorers and have one of the poorest defences in the Championship, there’s work for the new boss to do at both ends of the pitch.

With Stoke seeking a fifth different permanent manager to take the club forward in the last two years, they have all the makings of the proverbial poisoned chalice.

Outside of Neil – who would be mad to leave high-flying Preston to stop the rot in the Potteries – and Pulis risking his legacy by returning, who else could take the job on?

Neil Harris an underrated option for next Stoke manager

Colloquially known as Mr Millwall, Neil Harris has not long left the Lions’ Den after four-and-a-half years in charge.

Promoted into the Championship both as a player and manager with the South London club, there are interesting similarities.

At their best, Stoke made their home ground a fortress where Premier League teams dreaded going. Millwall cultivated a similarly fearsome reputation at their own stadium packed full of rather partisan fans.

Although he initially couldn’t save the Lions from relegation to League One, Harris got his side back in the mix for promotion. That came at the second attempt when Millwall landed the play-offs in 2017.

Such was the upward curve the club was on that the following season they just missed out on the Championship play-offs by three points.

Maintaining the Lions in such a lofty place with their modest budget and resources was always going to be difficult, though.

Harris kept Millwall up last season and resigned in October. Stoke poached one of his target men in Lee Gregory over the summer and he would surely relish linking up with the striker again – having been one himself.

That relationship between manager and centre forward is often an underrated one. Just look at Jamie Vardy, who has scored more Premier League goals than anyone else since Brendan Rodgers took over at Leicester City.

Should Harris become the next Stoke manager, we may see something similar from Greogry, who has been good value for 10 goals at Championship level in each of the last two seasons. It could prove a clever choice by the Potters.

Chris Hughton an obvious contender

When Chris Hughton first took charge of Brighton and Hove Albion in the winter of 2014-15, the Seagulls were experiencing similar struggles to Stoke. Again, it’s easy to draw parallels.

Brighton had just experimented with a young, unproven manager at this level in Sami Hyypia. While the Finn obviously enjoyed a stellar playing career with Liverpool, his coaching credentials were somewhat lesser.

In came the experienced Hughton. He not only kept Albion up that season, but built upon that by guiding them to the play-offs the following campaign.

Automatic promotion to the Premier League followed in 2016-17. Hughton then kept the Seagulls in the top flight for two years before being dismissed.

The question is one of English football’s Mr nice guys up for the challenge in the Potteries? He helped bring Jones’ own coaching career on at Albion.

As difficult as recent times have been, there is potential for the next Stoke manager to work with. Hughton has done a similar job before and gets his teams organised.

If there is one criticism of him, then it is somewhat predictable tactics at times. Hughton’s methods are proven in the Championship, though, and promotions with Newcastle United and Brighton are evidence of that.

A stabilising influence on the dressing room can only help. Former Republic of Ireland full back Hughton is dignified, respected figure within the game.

Should Pulis continue to distance himself from coming back to the Potteries, then this other elder managerial statesman is a perfectly credible alternative. Hughton brings plenty to the table, given Stoke’s situation.

Michael O’Neill a dark horse

The raft of usual suspects – Sam Allardyce, David Moyes, Martin O’Neill, Alan Pardew – are all in the market.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill is surprisingly prominent in the early betting, however, and that’s interesting.

In charge of the national team since 2011, he’s had almost eight years in the job and some major highlights.

There have been links between O’Neill and other coaching vacancies before, yet he has remained loyal to the IFA.

Taking on the Potters isn’t at first sight an obvious golden opportunity for him to return to club management. However, there is the issue of how much further can O’Neill take Northern Ireland?

Reaching the Euro 2016 finals is an obvious highlight. They also made a good fist of World Cup qualifying, but were always up against it.

Getting to another major tournament is a big ask for a nation with a diminishing talent pool at higher levels. This O’Neill has never coached in English football, but it’s the next logical career move.

After getting Northern Ireland punching above their weight, it would be fascinating to see how things would pan out if he were to become the next Stoke manager.

After the failed experiment of Jones, just how open Potters chiefs will be to taking another gamble rather than a safe pair of hands remains to be seen.

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