There are reportedly five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
You can bet that Stoke City supporters have experienced all five of those emotions in the last week as the club’s search for a new manager resulted in the surprise appointment of Paul Lambert.
It was announced on Monday afternoon that the 48-year-old would be Mark Hughes’ successor, ten days after the Welshman’s four-and-a-half year reign in the Potteries came to an end. However, it was a move that came out of the blue and has left the club’s fanbase shell-shocked.
The decision to dismiss Hughes was undoubtedly the correct one. After three consecutive top-ten finishes in the Premier League the team had been in terminal decline for the following eighteen months and the resounding defeat against Coventry City in the FA Cup was the final nail in the coffin. Hughes’ departure briefly re-enthused the supporters who were excited to see a new figure take the reins who would hopefully provide some fresh impetus and a new direction.
And that is where things began to go wrong.
The Stoke hierarchy first sounded out Gary Rowett, who swiftly ran a metaphorical mile and immediately signed a new contract with Derby County. Quique Sanchez Flores was next on the list and the Espanyol manager reportedly agreed to relocate to the Potteries – that was until he slept, released that he was leaving Barcelona for the Midlands and pulled a hand-break U-turn.
Thing were not quite going to plan, but at least the club could turn to the experienced, old head of Martin O’Neill, who surely would fancy one last crack at a top-flight job? In fact, the Republic of Ireland boss said no as well!
Which brings us to Paul Lambert.
The 48-year-old was effectively fourth-choice on Stoke’s managerial wish list and had been out of work since departing Wolverhampton Wanderers in the summer.
To say that his managerial resume is somewhat underwhelming would be a significant understatement and the biggest question was how he was so far up the list of candidates for a Premier League managerial position in the first place.
So what was the reaction of Stoke City supporters? Grief. All five stages of grief.
First comes denial:
“Until the club release an official statement I will not believe it!”
Then anger, whilst channelling our inner John McEnroe:
“Look at this club statement – YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!”
“Come back Mark Hughes, all is forgiven!”
“We are doomed! Someone find me the map to Burton Albion – we are going to need it …”
And finally acceptance.
The truth is that for the first time in almost a decade Stoke’s position as a Premier League club is under realistic threat and although the appointment of Lambert is unlikely to have left many supporters enthused or excited now is the time for unity.
Everyone involved with the club needs to baton down the hatches, circle the wagons and pull up the drawbridge – there needs to be a togetherness that transcends who occupies the managerial hot seat.
Whilst Lambert may not have been everyone’s first choice – he may not have been anyone’s choice actually – there is a general acceptance among supporters that we need to give him and the players our full backing support. There are fifteen games remaining to save the season and there is still a favourable chance that the the Potters can play, scrap or crawl their way out of trouble.
Stoke now face a run of five fixtures that will shape the very future of the club. There are home matches against Huddersfield Town, Watford and Brighton and Hove Albion as well as trips to Bournemouth and Leicester. Lambert has little choice but to hit the ground running and to start picking up points immediately.
However, the supporters may have the most crucial role to play in the forthcoming weeks and months. At one time the Bet365 Stadium was one of the most intimidating venues for top-flight teams to ply their trade. The crowd were raucous, passionate and tribal – those same qualities, which have recently disappeared in a haze of complacency, need to rediscovered by those in the stands.
I fully share the frustrations of supporters and many of their qualms and concerns have merit. Was Mark Hughes given too much time before receiving his P45? Has the board invested enough money in the transfer market? Who is to blame for the current predicament? These are all questions that will need to be answered, but at the end of the season rather than now.
Right now, Stoke supporters are onto that final stage of grief – acceptance. It is time to accept our new manager, pull together and provide Paul Lambert with all of the support that we can muster.
You can be certain that he will need all of the help that he can get.