When Pulis returned to the club in 2006, having been sacked the previous summer, he set the template for Stoke as we now know it by signing the likes of Danny Higginbotham and Ricardo Fuller on permanent deals, with Rory Delap and Lee Hendrie arriving on loan as Stoke finished eighth in the Championship. The following season saw the arrival of Ryan Shawcross, Glenn Whelan, Danny Pugh and Leon Cort, funded by the sale of Higginbotham to Sunderland – Stoke finished second sealing automatic promotion. In their debut Premier League season, Pulis brought in Seyi Olofinjana, Abdoulaye Faye, Amdy Faye and Ibrahima Sonko, while Higginbotham also returned, joining record signing Dave Kitson. The January arrivals of James Beattie and Matthew Etherington rejuvenated a flagging season and resulted in Stoke retaining their Premier League status.
Ahead of the 2009/10 season, Pulis signed Dean Whitehead, Robert Huth, Tuncay, Diego Arismendi, Danny Collins and Asmir Begovic for in excess of £20m. Stoke began to establish themselves in mid-table, also enjoying a run to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. Kenwyne Jones, Jon Walters, Eidur Gudjohnsen and Jermaine Pennant were the key signings last summer. Again claiming a mid-table league position, Stoke reached their first FA Cup Final, crushing Bolton 5-0 in the semi-final before losing 1-0 to Manchester City in the final, with a Europa League qualifying berth as the consolation. In overcoming Hajduk Split and FC Thun, Stoke have earned a place in the group stages alongside some stiff competition in the form of Dynamo Kiev, Besiktas and Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Ahead of a historic campaign, Stoke have been able to entice an altogether different calibre of player. Peter Crouch has 42 caps and 22 goals for his country, Matthew Upson represented England at the last World Cup, Jonathan Woodgate has played for Real Madrid and Wilson Palacios has both Champions League and World Cup experience. Adding Cameron Jerome to the mix, Pulis has spent north of £20m on five players that will not only elevate Stoke in terms of quality but should also prove to be a good fit stylistically.
Stoke’s evolution to a more attractive style of football in recent years has been somewhat exaggerated, they still play a strong, aggressive brand of football, instead the quality of player has improved and the standard of football has followed suit. This looks set to continue as Stoke look to compete on four fronts for the first time. With a 12th placed finish on 45 points in 2009, 11th place with 47 points the following year and 13th place with 46 points last time out, Stoke have been nothing if not consistent in recent years. With the continued backing of chairman Peter Coates and vociferous home support, Stoke fans will be hoping for at least more of the same, with a European adventure as a welcome bonus.