Robbie Earle: Tony Pulis might need seven new players to reinvigorate ailing Stoke City
TONY Pulis is the fourth longest-serving manager in English football, and that's both a strength and a weakness. The strength is that Tony is in the top four for continuous service at one club because, like the other three, Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and David Moyes, he is a damn good manager.
The weakness is when one man has been at a football club for so long, it's hard for him to have the same impact on players and supporters.
After a while, the players have heard all your motivational speeches. Where once they would have been jumping out of their skins when the manager started throwing tea cups, years later they just shrug and fetch the dustpan and brush.
The manager has to keep surprising people, something Sir Alex has done brilliantly over the years with big decisions such as letting Roy Keane, David Beckham, Paul Ince and Jaap Stam go, to the smaller calls such as starting with Wayne Rooney on the bench against Real Madrid the other night.
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I wonder whether Tony, below, is at the point where he feels some big decisions are needed to spark Stoke City back into life again.
That might seem a rather melodramatic way of describing a team who are 11th in the Premier League.
But a section of supporters are beginning to turn against him and, where once Tony would be getting plenty of credit for keeping Stoke in mid-table, that's now taken for granted as fans demand more entertainment.
I'm not criticising supporters who pay their money and are entitled to air their views about the standard of football, but I bet many would be happy for Stoke to play the way they did on their way to the FA Cup final of two years ago.
A major player overhaul this summer might be the way for Tony to achieve that.
Familiarity can breed complacency, which is always a danger when a manager has been in a job for a long time.
The second reason is that Stoke's style simply wears players out.
I know that from my time at Wimbledon where we played a similar long-ball game to Tony's Stoke.
It brought us great success, but is very demanding physically.
Liverpool's players won't have felt worn out after winning 4-0 at Wigan last weekend because they kept the ball and so didn't have to stretch themselves too much.
With the Stoke and Wimbledon style, it doesn't matter whether you win 4-0 or lose 4-0, you are still shattered because you have to do the same amount of chasing.
After a while that takes its toll, and I wonder whether that has happened to some of the Stoke players.
Looking at the Stoke side, there are no problems with the goalkeeper and centre-halves, but City could need six or seven new players to strengthen the full-back areas, out wide, in central midfield and possibly up front too.
That's a big decision for the chairman to have to make, although Stoke would have to ship players out too, and so would at least raise some funds that way.
The second issue for the manager is whether he attempts a change of style and a more passing game, or commits to the direct football which has earned Stoke success in the past.
Most years at Wimbledon we had a "mid-season crisis" which sparked a huge debate within the club about changing the way we played. Usually we would talk about it for three days and then decide to carry on as normal.
It is a big decision for Stoke because it's not easy to change styles, just as it is difficult to find a creative player who can fit easily into a direct team.
A player such as Charlie Adam, for example, would be used to playing the ball to the full-back then getting it back again to build the play through midfield to the forwards.
If, instead, the full-back is smashing the ball 60 yards up to a striker, then Adam might just be tempted to roll his eyes at the prospect of chasing after it.
That's not a criticism of Adam, just an illustration of the problems a creative midfielder can find in a long-ball team.
I hope Tony wins over the critics because he has done a superb job at Stoke and should be considered a City hero.
That, however, doesn't stop the best managers getting it in the neck; just look at the way Arsene Wenger is coming under fire at Arsenal.
Arsene and Tony are polar opposites in terms of the way they play the game, but if they ever sat down over a bottle of wine they might just find they have a few problems in common.
I'd love to be a fly on the wall for that one.