Driving standards, Coates family and DNA – Jon Walters sets out his Stoke City manifesto

Jon Walters is embracing the trust placed in him to demand and drive the high standards he expects at Stoke City.

Walters has returned to the club that gave him his real big break as a player in the Premier League to take on the biggest job of his post-playing career, appointed as sporting director tasked with overseeing Stoke’s rise back as a club. He more than repaid the faith shown in him as a forward and he hopes to do the same now behind the scenes.

He came through a virtual six-week audition for this job, serving as interim technical director after Ricky Martin’s exit late in February, and his energy, commitment and sharp mind have convinced chairman John Coates that he is the right man for the long-term.

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“It’s a huge honour,” he said.” I’m a custodian of the football club in a way and I don’t take it lightly. I know what this football club means to everyone in the area. I know what it means to me. It’s a huge privilege to be trusted in this role. I know it’s not an easy thing for an owner to do for someone such as myself to be trusted to do this job.

“For the six weeks I’ve been here I’ve treated it like I’ve been in the job. You have to. John has seen enough to be able to trust me. There’s a lot of trust on my shoulders and bring it on because the bigger the challenge, the more I’ll take it on.

“There’s an opportunity here to really grow the club. It’s not a club that wants for anything but the standards have got to be at the very, very top. I expect a lot from myself, I really drive myself, and I expect a lot from everyone around me. I will hold everyone to account at the standards I expect at Stoke City – but do it in the right way.

“It’s not my way or the highway and I’m one of those leaders who say this is the way you’re doing it and I’m telling you now this is how you’re doing it. It’s a team. At the training ground first of all we’re a team, no matter who you are. That extends to the stadium. We’re all in it together and it’s about being as one pointing in the right direction. That’s getting to safety this season, pointing up the league and just building step by step.”

Stoke reached an FA Cup final and finished in the top half of the Premier League three years in a row when Walters was hammering around the front line.

But they haven’t found a way to get the ship going back far enough in the right direction since he left in the summer of 2017. Relegation in 2018 has been followed by five successive bottom half finishes and the focus at the end of this one is simply to guarantee survival. There are five matches left and there is still work to do to stave off the threat of relegation.

There is clearly a lot of work to do to pull Stoke back up to where it was not all that long ago but that doesn’t mean a complete overhaul across departments.

Walters has confidence in his colleagues and wants to harness the humility, ambition and innovation he sees as the key characteristics of the city and the club – and he has a determination to be ‘best in class’ at whatever the club is doing.

He said: “When I tell people I actually get excited about it. When I try to articulate what this club actually has in place and what an opportunity it is for anybody to be a part of this club, whether you’re sporting director, head coach, physio or an academy member of staff, the opportunities here are phenomenal. It’s a well-run machine behind the scenes. Absolutely everything is in place to really push on.

“I’m not one to always say it but the owners will back the club with everything they’ve got and that’s not just money, it’s time and expertise, it’s having a relationship with John as well. It’s quite hard to explain just what is here. It’s a phenomenal place.

“We’re talking about building a new first team building at the training ground. We’re in the Championship and we’re not pushing at the top end of the Championship but we’re talking about a new first team facility, giving more to the academy and women’s team, doing more work on the pitches, you know the work that’s going on at the stadium, reclaiming the away end and building everything ready to be best in class and be right up there in the Premier League.

“The opportunity is there now to grow the team, grow the squad and really push on. To do that it’s about people. It always comes down to people. It’s about the people you have around you in the building.

“Then stripping it back again it’s about the DNA of Stoke City, the DNA of this city in itself not just the club, and building the club based on that: a relentless attitude, hard work, a drive.

“You know me, I’m constant. I’m always working, always thinking what’s next, how can we innovate? And I’ll own what we do. There will be time during this process that I make mistakes, there will be, that’s part and parcel of football but I’ll hold my hands up when that happens. I want humble people in the building, humble people that have a drive and energy to take this club to the next level.

“I see what Simon King is doing here behind the scenes, what every department here is doing behind the scenes. People are getting on board and really excited about what this club can be.”

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