Robbie Earle: Pulis is reaping the reward for all his hard work
STEVEN Gerrard has never been known for his tracking back on the field, but he did some pretty fast retreating off it this week.
You see, to the Liverpool captain there is a difference between his much-loved long pass and the big bad long ball.
"We stood up to a team that are very similar to Stoke," he said after seeing his side held to a 2-2 draw in the Merseyside derby on Sunday.
"Every single time they get the ball at the goalkeeper it comes in long. The only team who tried to play football was us."
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To be fair to Gerrard, he had only fallen into a trap which has suckered more than just the odd lazy journalist from the capital since Tony Pulis first took the Stoke manager's job 10 years ago today.
And within 24 hours he issued a clarification that: "it wasn't my intention to disrespect Everton or Stoke for that matter and I certainly didn't intend any disrespect to their manager or players".
The direct tag had been hung heavy around Pulis's neck even before he arrived in the Potteries with a reputation for hard work, preparation and organisation.
And for some people it is all too easy to play up the pantomime villains act and turn up at the Brit with their match reports already written.
But what the Welshman has achieved with Stoke cannot be treated with such whimsy.
He has preached evolution, not revolution, but if you take a step back and look at where the club was in November 2002 and where it now stands there has been a complete change.
Little steps can take you a hell of a long way if they are going in the same direction.
Sure, back when I was in short shorts City were a top flight fixture with stars like Jimmy Greenhoff and Alan Hudson.
But the journey over the next 30 years was none too clever, and it needed someone with a strong personality to grab the club by the scruff of the neck and take it kicking and screaming back to the big time. A baseball cap was optional.
Pulis is one of those people who were born to be a manager, but during his long tenure he has needed to be as much a politician as a tactician, never more so than working under the Icelandic syndicate who used to rule the boardroom.
The first of his three distinct eras at Stoke started with a task just to maintain their Championship status, using discipline rather than any transfer funds.
Turning around the mess he inherited halfway through 2002/03 was no mean feat and it was probably an even harder challenge trying to keep happy some rather unique characters eager to offer an opinion from 1,000 miles over the North Sea.
His second era was all about the rush to get out of the Championship and it took only two years after his season-long sojourn at Plymouth to guide the Potters into the promised land. His third chapter has been to establish the club in the Premier League and now the team is packed with stars once again.
It is a completely different club to the one he inherited.
The old-fashioned, working class, dogged, stubborn Pulis caricature – exaggerated by long-forgotten old foes like Tony Mowbray and new foes like Arsene Wenger – probably meant he would never have been invited to take over a "top, top club", as he would put it. He had to build his own.
His fingerprints are everywhere. He is as synonymous with Stoke as Wenger with Arsenal and Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. He has not just built a first team, he has manufactured the DNA.
Pity the bloke who eventually has to step into his shoes, whenever that may be. The next 10 years will mark his fourth era and again it will be filled by steady progress.
I imagine Stoke fighting to enter the second group of teams below the Premier League's elite band of billionaire-backed beasts.
We have to admit they are never going to win the title, but along with the likes of Everton and Newcastle United the cups will offer dreams of glory.
They are already the only club in the country to have reached the FA Cup quarter-finals in each of the past three seasons and hopefully we will see silverware return to the City of Stoke.