Being a football manager isn’t easy at the best of times.
Not a week goes by without reports that at least one Premier League manager is nearing the sack. Mick McCarthy recently lost his job after five-and-a-half years at Wolves, and the attention is firmly on struggling Chelsea boss, Andre Villas Boas.
But even those whose job is safe are not immune from causing frustration to their own club’s fans, as Tony Pulis proved last night.
Following a narrow defeat to Valencia in their Europa League knockout tie, the Stoke City manager opted to not to even take players such as Peter Crouch, Ryan Shawcross, Matthew Etherington and Matthew Upson to Spain for the second leg, instead fielding a starting line up that included just four of the 14 players who had taken part in the first leg fixture.
That in itself is not unheard of, and as frustrating as it can be as a match-going fan to pay out for tickets and travel only to see a weakened version of your team on the pitch, it’s simply become part of the modern game.
The particularly annoying aspect of the Valencia-Stoke game however, is that Tony Pulis had urged Stoke fans to save up whatever money they could in order to be at the away game.
Speaking to Radio Stoke in December he said: “Everybody’s feeling the squeeze at the moment. Christmas is coming, but after that they’ve got eight or nine weeks to save up. Let’s take as many as we can and show them what a proper English club is like when their supporters travel.”
Pulis may or may not be aware that Valencia probably already know plenty about English fans. Man United, always well represented on their European travels, and Chelsea have been to Mestalla more than once, as have Arsenal. Liverpool have played there too, in a 2002 Champions League group game against Rafa Benitez’s La Liga champions.
The latter was a game that I myself attended, one of more than a dozen trips to the continent to watch Liverpool in Europe. Amongst those games were some famous results, and a couple which were thoroughly disappointing. I’ve been to second leg games away from home when Liverpool have progressed, and also travelled back home following the disappointment of European elimination.
But never was there an occasion when either Gerard Houllier or Rafa Benitez took a team to Europe without perfectly fit first team players being involved. Had that happened, I’m sure I’d have felt as if the fans had been a bit let down.
The task facing Stoke last night was to win by a single goal. With a weakened side they came away from the Mestalla on the back of a loss by the same margin.
In another of last night’s fixtures, Ajax were faced with a trip to Old Trafford needing to overturn a two goal deficit – at least as difficult a challenge as that faced by Stoke. Man United were beaten 2-1 on the night and despite narrowly failing to progress overall, Ajax were able to leave with their heads held high.
However Tony Pulis justifies his team selection, he gave Stoke very little chance of matching the achievements of Ajax, and claiming an away win.
Whether or not the likes of Peter Crouch or other senior absentees would have changed that will never be known, but having been so vocal in urging fans to travel to the game, Tony Pulis had a duty to his supporters to find out.