Stoke City are going backwards, but whose fault is it?

Mark Hughes’ men slipped to their fourth away defeat of the Premier League season at Selhurst Park earlier today. This leaves Stoke fans looking a little nervously over their shoulder in 15th position, which could turn into 16th if Everton win tomorrow (granted that’s a big ‘if’ given the showing against Atalanta in midweek).

It’s been a disappointing start to the season for the Potters that follows an underwhelming 2016/17 season in which Stoke failed to finish in the top half for the first time with Mark Hughes in charge.

This is Stoke City’s 10th consecutive season in the top flight, an achievement that shouldn’t be underestimated. However, the numbers suggest Stoke are heading in the wrong direction and, unless things improve, pressure will continue to build on Mark Hughes. But is it fair to place the blame solely on Sparky’s shoulders?

Financial Backing

The Stoke chairman, Peter Coates, and his family have been the driving force behind Stoke City’s success since they returned to the club in 2006. Tony Pulis received consistent, but measured financial support during his five years in the Premier League with Stoke.

The graphic below compares Stoke’s previous league finishes (and this season’s current position) with the net investment in terms of players bought and sold.


Hughes achieved three consecutive 9th place finishes in his first three seasons, a particularly impressive achievement given that he spent very little money in his first two years.

Although Stoke’s net spend last summer was virtually zero mainly due to the sale of key-man Marko Arnautovic. The money spent in the summer was on defenders as Kevin Wimmer and Bruno Martins Indi were brought in permanently and Kurt Zouma on a season loan (with a hefty loan fee).

Mixed Transfer Dealings

Since his arrival at Stoke, Hughes has been trying to move towards a more possession focused style of play. The signing of Xherdan Shaqiri for £15M was a signal of the club’s apparent ambition.

Although Shaqiri seems to have been good value (even with his injuries), not all of Hughes’ purchases have been a success. Stoke’s record signing, Giannelli Imbula, signed for £22M last January and flopped at the Potteries eventually disappearing completely from the first team scene.

Is it possible that the failure of Imbula last season is linked to the apparent lack of investment over the summer? Perhaps the Coates family have lost faith in Hughes’ ability to scout a player?

Either way Stoke’s current league position is a reflection of the lack of investment in the squad over the summer. Promoted clubs Huddersfield, Newcastle and Brighton’s net spend significantly exceeded that of the Potters during the transfer window.

It will be interesting to see what level of backing Mark Hughes is given in January. If their current league position doesn’t improve Peter Coates’ hand may well be forced into his pocket. But will Hughes still be around to spend the money? Or maybe another Welshman could be lining up a return to Stoke-on-Trent. I hear one recently became available…

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