NBA First Half Awards
With the season just over halfway done, let's look at the major awards. Feel free to disagree but it's James Hardens world right now and we're just living in it.
They say the FA Cup has lost it's magic, that it doesn't matter much as not many sides take it seriously these days. It's not true. You can't say it doesn't matter when a manager can lose his job after getting knocked out from the FA Cup. That's exactly what happened to Mark Hughes.
Stoke City announced the news – which doesn't come as a surprise - on Twitter, thanking Hughes for his work, while adding that a new manager will be appointed as soon as possible.
Hughes is the 7th sacked manager this season in the Premier League. There are now only five managers in the league that have been in charge of a club for more than three years. Brighton's Chris Hughton barely makes the list, having been appointed on 31 December 2014.
Jürgen Klopp, who's been at Liverpool since October 2015, is now among the longest tenured managers in the Premier League. Just think about that for a moment. Loyalty doesn't seem to cost a thing these days in football. Though, you could say that Stoke remained loyal to Hughes for too long.
After three consecutive 9th place finishes, Stoke took a notable step back last season, finishing 13th. The team lost six of its last ten games, which should've come as a warning sign for chairman Peter Coates. It was also one of their lowest scoring campaigns in the league with only 41 goals. Yet, Hughes was brought in four years earlier to implement a more attractive style of football, which should've produced goals on a regular basis.
The early signs were positive for Stoke, and even more so for the fans. I imagine the style of play was a breath of fresh air following the years of Tony Pulis' hoofball. During Hughes' debut season in charge in 2013/14, the team's possession numbers rose from 44.4 per cent to 48.1. There were a lot more short passes on the pitch, which lead to the passing success rate rising from below 70 to 77.3 per cent.
The success rate even got near to 80 per cent in 2015/16 (79.1). The team averaged 371 short passes per game, almost a hundred more compared to Pulis' last year in charge (274). The season before, Stoke recorded its Premier League record of 54 points. The future looked rather bright, but then it all went wrong. Failed transfers played a big part in that.
Hughes has had a lot of money at his disposal in recent transfer windows, but he's made some head-scratching signings. He seemed to have lost his mojo in Summer 2015. Xherdan Shaqiri, who's been one of the few bright spots this season, was a big signing back then and Hughes deserves credit for that, but overall it was a poor transfer window.
Stoke spent over £15 million on Shaqiri, but it was actually Gianelli Imbula who became the club's new record signing that summer. Nearly £22 million was dished out to Porto for the then 23-year-old midfielder. The Frenchman played in only 26 Premier League games before getting loaned out this summer to Toulouse.
Philipp Wollscheid and Joselu are also among players brought in back then who have since left the club. Ibrahim Afellay was a marquee signing and came on a free, but with less than 50 league games to his name and no doubt a hefty weekly paycheck, he can be counted as a major disappointment as well. A costly one at that.
2016 was the year of a couple of shocking attacking signings. Wilfried Bony was loaned from Manchester City and Saido Berahino cost £12.5 million from West Brom. The two combined for two Premier League goals last season, both coming from Bony, in one match. It was a really bizarre story with the Ivorian. Stoke paid City over £2 million for the loan deal and likely also paid his full wages, but the guy didn't even feature on the subs bench since early February. His last start came in November. Berahino, meanwhile, extended his goal drought game by game and ended up with none. It's nearly two full years since his last goal (27 February 2016).
In 2017, it was time for defensive reinforcements. Kurt Zouma is a great talent and he's a good signing on loan from Chelsea, but somebody at Tottenham convinced Hughes to spend over £17 million on Kevin Wimmer, who had made only 13 Premier League starts in two seasons. The Austrian has been underwhelming during his debut season at Stoke, to say the least.
Also, Bruno Martins-Indi's loan deal from Porto was made permanent, even though Stoke conceded 56 goals last season which is their worst ever mark in the Premier League, and there could've been better options for £7 million.
Meanwhile, Marko Arnatovic, who was involved in nearly half of the team's goals last season, scoring 11 himself and assisting on six, was sold for over £20 million and nobody was brought in to replace him. Loan signing Jese was probably seen as the guy, and he started great with a superb debut goal, but his fondness for music is close to pipping his love for football. Another piece of poor judgment by Hughes. No surprise to see him let go on the same day as Hughes.
Desperate times, during which very few signings worked out, called for desperate measures and so Hughes embraced the “good old Stoke way”. The team is averaging 298 short passes and 44.4 per cent of possession this season, sitting among the worst in the league in both categories. But unlike the uninspiring, but safe times of Pulis, the team can't defend anymore and Hughes has even gotten rid of a player daring to point out the fact that defensive work on the training pitch leaves a lot to be desired.
Hughes has now been in charge of five Premier League clubs. He's had some wonderful seasons, but with nearly 600 under his belt as a club and country manager, his win rate sits at an unimpressive 38.3 per cent. He still has won more games (223) as a manager than he's lost (212), but the next job opportunity might not come anytime soon for him. At least not in the top flight, where mistakes and misjudgments seem to be punished quicker with each year.