“Optimism. Noun: hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something”
Ten years in the Premier League have come and gone for Stoke City. It wasn’t a shock departure either, instead it was a slow deterioration which began when Mark Hughes’ Stoke side were knocked out of the League Cup semi-final by Liverpool, and subsequently the FA Cup by Hull City. A deterioration which culminated with the appointment of Paul Lambert as Stoke sought to appoint a manager mid-season for the first time since Alan Durban, who led the team for 5 games following the decision to relieve Chris Kamara.
Ten years and the work which was put into solidifying Stoke as not only a Premier League side, but one capable of consistently finishing in the Top 10 has been turned into nothing. As a club we now find ourselves in the Second Division for the first time since our successful promotion campaign in 2008, and yet here I sit more optimistic about what the future holds than during either summer over the past two years.
At first I thought that I was going a little bit mad. After years of referring to myself as the “pessimistic Stokie”, why now after the club that I love had been relegated from the best league in the world was I suddenly starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel? Why had I suddenly discovered the silver line in the cloud?
In truth there are many directions that our club could take over the coming years. We could follow previous “football giants” like Sunderland and Leeds, and find ourselves languishing in the Championship, unable to escape or even worse falling down further into the football league. We could make all the wrong decisions from here on out and do ourselves absolutely no favours in any bid for promotion. Heck, we could even get promoted and still cause long term detriment to the club if the right steps aren’t taken. Yet here I am, optimistic that everything is going to be alright.
It’s strange what a few weeks can do. When relegation was confirmed I was terrified of what the Championship had to offer. It has a track record for swallowing clubs up and never letting go, and with the incorrect decisions which had been made at Stoke over the past two years, I was fully prepared for the worst. Then things started to change. Rumours began to circulate that Peter Coates was stepping aside in all but brand image, that John Coates would now be making the big decisions going forward. Supporting this local papers and national alike reported that it was John who made the call to go in for Gary Rowett, a young manager who ticks all the right boxes and has the potential to unify all but the most hard to please fans. Rather than hopping back on to the merry-go-round of has-been managers such as David Moyes and Big Sam, we instead took a risk which could prove to be invaluable to the long term success of the club. If Peter Coates’ choice of Paul Lambert proved what kind of owner he was, the one who plays it safe and hopes for the best, then John’s choice of Rowett has proved just the opposite and it’s exactly what we need.
Yes our club still has the problem of our squad to sort out. By the time the next season begins we will be looking at a largely different starting XI and the dangers of that can’t be underestimated. But if we continue to keep making the right steps then who’s to say we can’t have a good transfer window? Being linked with players such as Dwight Gayle, who has proven to be an amazing Championship level striker; and Robert Huth who would be a great defender to have on the bench are both signs that we’re approaching this transfer window in a completely different manner to the few which have come before it.
Could all of this optimism be washed away come the start of the season? Sure. Could we go on a run of 7 games without a win the way we did under Hughes? Sure. But, for now at least, I’m optimistic of what’s to come. Is it paradoxical that it took the club to reach its lowest point in 11 years for me to find true optimism for our future? Maybe. But I’m going to enjoy whilst it’s here because quite frankly this league is ours for the taking and I’m sure as hell going to enjoy the ride.