• Manager heads for exit after meeting chairman Peter Coates
• Rafael Benítez heads betting to replace Pulis
Stoke City have started their search for a new manager after Tony Pulis's second spell in charge at the Britannia Stadium came to a sour end when he was sacked on Tuesday afternoon. Pulis met with Peter Coates at the Stoke owner's offices and was told that the Premier League club want to move in a new direction.
Later in the day Stoke issued a short statement claiming that they had reached a mutual agreement with the manager that he would leave his post with immediate effect. However, it is understood that Pulis, who had a 12-month rolling contract, was pushed.
Pulis's future has been a matter of debate for some time. Coates's decision to appoint Mark Cartwright in the newly created role of technical director in December – a clear sign that the chairman felt player recruitment needed to be managed more carefully – went down badly with Pulis and there were doubts as to whether the 55-year-old would buy into the restructuring going on at the club, who are moving towards a more continental model.
Those changes in the set-up will strongly influence Stoke's choice of manager. Rafael Benítez is the early favourite with the bookmakers although there are doubts as to whether the Spaniard would buy into a long-term project where the chances of winning trophies are slim.
Roberto Di Matteo, another former Chelsea manager out of work, is likely to be under consideration, as well as Steve Bould, an erstwhile Stoke player now working as Arsène Wenger's assistant at Arsenal. Phil Neville has been linked with a coaching position, and Gus Poyet's name is also in the frame. Pulis's position had started to come under increased scrutiny following a poor run of results at the turn of the year, which saw Stoke flirt with relegation after winning only one of 14 league matches.
They eventually pulled clear and finished in 13th place but some supporters had lost faith with the direct style of play and lack of goals, which were a common thread during the club's time in the Premier League under Pulis.
Coates was aware that there was an "anti-Pulis element" from the moment that he brought the Welshman back to the club in 2006, but he refused to be swayed by fan opinion and his faith was rewarded.
Stoke won promotion by finishing second in the Championship in 2008 and went on to retain their Premier League status in five successive seasons, finishing no lower than 14th. They also reached the FA Cup final in 2011, losing 1-0 to Manchester City, which secured a place in the Europa League, where they progressed to the knockout stage.
Along the way Pulis was backed heavily in the transfer market. Stoke's net spend over the past five years was close to £80m, which puts them behind only Manchester City and Chelsea during that period.
Although Pulis, who first managed Stoke from 2002-05, regularly made a point of praising Coates for his financial support, the chairman questioned the merits of some of the deals, in particular the £10m club record fee that Stoke paid Tottenham Hotspur in 2011 to sign Peter Crouch on a four-year contract along with his Spurs team-mate Wilson Palacios for £6m. Coates was concerned that Crouch, aged 30 at the time, would have no sell-on value and he later admitted that it was a transfer he reluctantly approved.
Things were also unravelling behind the scenes. Pulis's power base was diluted by the decision to appoint Cartwright while the manager's relationship with Tony Scholes, the chief executive, deteriorated over time. The fact that Stoke finished the season with only 42 points – their lowest Premier League total – and won only four out of 23 league matches since 1 December appears to have reinforced the belief among the board that it was a time for change.
Matthew Etherington, the Stoke winger, said: "I think the manager did a great job at the club. I know the fans were grumbling and saying they wanted a change and it looks like they have been granted their wish. I also think people have to be careful what they wish for.
"Look at Charlton with [Alan] Curbishley and look where they are now. Hopefully we won't go that way and we will get someone in that will take us forward and have us pushing for the top 10."