You could forgive Radio Stoke for the couple of seconds of dead air that followed Gary Rowett’s stormy set-to with Nigel Johnson on Saturday, but it felt like minutes went by before Lee Blakeman resumed hosting duties.
In an age of banal, almost scripted post-match interviews, Rowett’s tirade in the wake of Stoke’s 3-2 home to defeat to Blackburn, stunned those making their way back from the game. Brutally honest, the Stoke manager made sure that no punches were pulled and chucked a haymaker in the direction of Mortiz Bauer for good measure.
This plain-spoken honesty makes Rowett easy to warm to as a manager. Gravel-voiced and snarling with indignation at his squad, he echoed the thoughts of thousands of match-going fans. This was not good enough, and now was the time for action. What I think most fans appreciated about the interview, was that his emotions were genuine. Having watched and heard the decline of Hughes, who had always had a surly, arrogant demeanour but by the end seemed less and less personally invested in Stoke’s results, Rowett, by contrast, felt like a ‘Stokie’.
The main headline from the interview was the pre-meditated calling out of Moritz Bauer, who even weeks before his offending social media posts, was not in Rowett’s good graces. His new contract in the summer was held up as a prime example of Stoke’s ambition and determination to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking. However, before September is over his career at Stoke looks dead in the water – with his position now being contested between an unconvincing loanee and a teenager. Maybe with hard work, dedication and a less itchy Twitter finger, the Austrian international can break back into the Stoke side, but from Rowett’s tone and Bauer’s complete absence from the squad in recent games, it seems unlikely.
The saddest consequence of Rowett’s fury, however, may concern the club captain. Ryan Shawcross’ ability to continue in the starting XI has been questioned for some time now, and a particularly dismal showing against Blackburn may see him dropped for the considerable future. You would hope that a break from the side may help Shawcross find his feet again, but for now, it feels like the beginning of the end. This is something that no fan should revel in, as, for all his recent poor performances, Ryan Shawcross’ place will always be secure in the annals of Stoke City history. He remains my Stoke City captain.
Whilst most have applauded Rowett’s ‘say it like it is’ approach, I felt the bet365 answer to Frost/Nixon actually raised more questions than it answered. The reason managers and players are media-coached to sap all the controversy out of interviews is because words can be powerful things in football. From “special one” to “I would love it if we beat them”, the way managers conduct themselves in interviews can help set the tone for success or failure. What Rowett must ensure, is that he matches his words with deeds. Will he have the courage to drop the big names for a sustained period of time? To do otherwise would risk losing fans and players. He must also be colder than merely benching some players for the midweek Carabao Cup tie at Nottingham Forest, those dropped must feel the numbness of their seat on the bench.
There’s also the question of how he compensates for taking a scythe to the starting XI. If Bauer and Shawcross are the only ones removed from the backline, then we just about have enough players to carry on – but given the recent non-performances of Bruno Martins Indi and Erik Pieters, it will be hard to find a back four that meets Rowett’s apparently high standards.
I also wonder how Rowett is coping with fans’ criticism. Having heard boos and chants of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ so often at this early stage, his swipe at the fans’ reaction to Peter Crouch replacing Benik Afobe on Saturday felt like a punch thrown in self-defence.
“I appreciate that when you are 3-0 down you are going to get booed for changes, but sometimes we have to look at what the change is because the crowd booed us but Crouchy came on and changed the game and did a lot more than Benik when he was on.” Rowett told an unusually fiery Nigel Johnson.
…I think at the minute it’s easy to boo everything we do and I think a little bit more thought when I get booed would be better because Crouchy came on, we scored the goal, gave us all a massive lift”
A possible fair point, but it wasn’t the introduction of Crouch, but the fact the change seemed to be like-for-like when the situation required a more gung-ho approach that irked the Stoke faithful. The manager has been absorbing a good deal of flak – possibly more so than at his previous clubs, and answers like these seemed to act as a release for all his frustrations. Was his combative approach to Nigel Johnson’s questions a product of the interviewer, the poor Stoke display or the pressure of Stoke’s stumbling start to the season?
After Swansea, Rowett crowed that this was “his team now”, but to then tear into that same team within a week suggests that the Stoke boss doesn’t quite have everything figured out just yet. It indicates that he’ll have to ramp up his role as dressing room disciplinarian, and it may take dropping his club captain and completely exiling another player for this to be effective. How will the Stoke squad respond to such public criticism? If the state of the dressing room in recent years is anything to go by, we may not like the answer to that one.
I do not believe that Gary Rowett is to blame for Stoke’s current predicament. Our poor start to the season has been a consequence of a longer-term malaise plaguing ST4, but the manager won’t be able to hide behind this forever. His interview was brave, brazen and bold but it’s a card he can only play once. A similar interview after defeat at Rotherham may paint him as out of his depth, unable to manage the egos of a talented but fragile squad.
It may be that this public rinsing of “his team” could finally be the thing that fires up the dressing room, but for now, whether the fallout from this interview will set Stoke up for success or failure remains just another unanswered question.