John Coates admits ‘great personal regret’ as he addresses Stoke City struggles

Stoke City chairman John Coates, head coach Steven Schumacher and technical director Ricky Martin take questions from supporters about the club’s recent past, present and future

John Coates sounded like a man who had thought about the question a lot when he was asked, early in an hour-long audience with supporters, just why Stoke City have struggled in the Championship for so long with a succession of managers who have done elsewhere but not here.

It was only in 2015 there was a debate about where Stoke’s side ranked in terms of the club’s all-time greats but the fall down has been long and miserable. There have been five successive bottom half finishes in the Championship since relegation in 2018 and right now they are heading into a crucial double header as they bid to secure their status even at this level. Coates, sitting next to head coach Steven Schumacher – the seventh manager appointed to try to arrest the slide, was pained as he went through it all.

“We’ve performed well below my expectation, our expectation,” he said. “That’s been a thing of great personal regret for me. I feel it very much and I feel it very badly. I desperately want to change that. I would like to say that the support we’ve had through this period has been excellent and the patience that has been shown during that tough period – I’m very grateful for that.

“In terms of why with the managers, when you look at a manager or a head coach in a particular environment at another club and they’ve done well, you never quite know until you take that person and put them in that different environment as to how they are actually going to perform. There can be a number of things different in environments; expectations, size, the way maybe people expect you to play – but the fact is that we have had a number of managers who haven’t quite been successful.

“There have been some reasons beyond their control for that. When we came down to the Championship, that was the year they changed the profit and sustainability rules to make a breach of those a severe points deduction. You can just see now the alarm doing likewise is setting off in the Premier League.

“When we were in the Premier League we were putting a lot of money into the club every year to try to punch beyond our weight, punch beyond our economic resources as a club. That was highly successful for us. When the change was made and we were down in the Championship, we had to change that business model and somehow get ourselves compliant with the rules.

“That was tough and it’s had an effect but I still expect us to be better and I still expect more. It’s incumbent upon me to look at every aspect of the club whether it be off the pitch, recruitment or academy and we’ve just got to make sure we are doing everything better. With that, we give Steven the tools to be successful and break that cycle.”

The key question, then, is whether Schumacher can do it. And, indeed, the head coach himself was asked if he can be the one to finally snap the club out of its ‘doom loop’.

“First and foremost I can’t allow myself to think like that,” he said. “I can’t have that kind of terminology, probably for two reasons. It’s something that’s gone on in the past, I can’t affect that, influence that or change what’s gone on previously. All I can control is where we’re trying to go, try to be positive and play the football and get the results we need and we all want.

“Secondly, I feel like me coming to this club was obviously a big challenge. It’s a huge club and a huge opportunity. I was excited by the challenge and I wouldn’t have accepted the job or accepted the challenge if I didn’t think it was possible to do something about it.

“You’ve mentioned that there have been managers who came and you say have failed to have the success that our fans want and deserve. If I can be the one who changes that cycle, I can be the one who achieves what many good managers haven’t been able to do. I’m that positive and I wouldn’t have done it, wouldn’t have come here, if I didn’t think it was possible.”

Q&A in bitesize

What will be done differently in the transfer market this summer to give us a better chance of a more successful season?

Ricky Martin: “First of all, there won’t be 18 signings. That’s number one. That’s really important we understand that 18 came in last summer. Out of the 18 I was looking at the squad because we’ve got a recruitment review next week about the January window and I was looking at summer data. Eight of the 18 weren’t here for the first game of the season. That’s crazy. Head coaches always say they don’t like the transfer window being open when the season starts but it’s something they have to deal with and the moving parts. It’s really frustrating for coaches and teams.

“Going forward, we’ve got six to eight outfield players more than we had at the start of the last pre-season. We’ll have a bigger squad that come back on July 1, back to pre-season, and that help us. We will do some signings, we will do some transactions coming in, but it won’t be as many and me and Steven will be discussing what kind of players we want, what positions we need and how quickly we can get them in because he wants to work with them for the whole of pre-season. The quicker we can get them in the better. That’s my biggest take away from the summer window.”

Do you think our squad can score enough goals to stay in the league this season?

Steven Schumacher: “Yes, definitely. I would be more concerned about that situation if we weren’t creating chances. I know I’ve said it a few times after games already that we haven’t been clinical enough with the chances we’ve got but I’d be more concerned if we weren’t creating.

“I’ve said again that there’s real quality in this squad and team, the way the lads pass and receive the ball, the standard is really high. When I compare that to where we’ve just come from, I believe it’s a better quality. It’s ok being able to pass the ball and play nice football and get into good areas but you have to take your chances. We have to trust the players we’ve got at the moment and hope they can put those chances away, build confidence and get momentum in their play.

“I believe we will have enough firepower but I think in all areas of the team we need to improve. I think there have been good signs, we’ve seen some nice play, but we can get better in all departments, not just the goal scoring one.”

There was a report that 80 per cent of players were available for transfer in January. Was it correct?

Ricky Martin: “No. No it wasn’t true, it was absolute rubbish. I will say that on social media, if I’m a supporter and I see rumours going around I would be frustrated. There were a lot of rumours out there that are unfortunately not accurate and it can gather momentum. We can’t respond to all of that. That was reported back to me and it was laughed at internally because it’s just not true. We were not putting players up for sale or asking for 80 per cent of our squad to be transferred.”

What is success between now and the end of the season?

Steven Schumacher: “Success in the immediate is to get away from the relegation zone. It’s not good enough where we are currently in the league. Before the three previous results we were looking up the table and after the Rotherham game we were not far from being a top half team. We’ve had three bad results go against us and we are where we are. There’s no hiding that. We need to get away from the relegation zone and towards safety.

“We can all see the league is really tight. Put two wins together and the picture changes. The first priority is to do that.”

And to finish with the chairman: what are the reasons to be optimistic for the future of Stoke City Football Club?

John Coates: “Steven Schumacher and, at some stage, goals and assists are going to start coming for Junho Bae.”

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