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Is careerist Gary Rowett ready to settle at Stoke City?”

Alot has been written and said about Gary Rowett over the last few years. Despite a lack of concrete achievement, his managerial career has received plenty of attention. Widely commented on at the time, Birmingham City’s decision to sack him in December 2016 has been ridiculed ever since. But there’s another side to the story, and his character, that is often overlooked.

That dismissal was the one major bump in the road on Rowett’s journey, which has had a steady upward trajectory over the last six years. Even then he emerged with his reputation enhanced if anything, as the disastrous appointment of Gianfranco Zola saw the Blues plummet down the table. Seventh when he was sacked, they only survived relegation on the final day.

Rowett’s progress continued with his appointment as Stoke City manager earlier this month. Having lost out to Fulham in the play-off semi-finals, he decided to leave Derby County for a club that first expressed their interest in him back in January, following the departure of Mark Hughes. It’s a situation that Rowett has become accustomed to, and always looks to turn to his advantage.

He’s adept at subverting the traditional power dynamic between clubs and managers – making the most of occasions where he’s in demand to negotiate better terms, or else move on before things turn sour. Stoke’s approach was parlayed into a new three-year contract to convince him to stay. Second when it was signed, and on a long unbeaten run, Derby slumped dramatically in the final few months of the season, winning just four of their last 16 games to finish sixth.

That isn’t to say Rowett is a bad manager. Far from it. At Burton Albion and Birmingham City he constructed hardworking, counter-attacking teams on limited budgets that were able to compete with those who had far greater resources. He instilled confidence and belief in his players and spoke persuasively about what he was trying to achieve.

He’s always mentioned the importance of a manager cutting his cloth accordingly. Although financial restrictions were being imposed at Derby County, he had far more money to play with and inherited a much stronger group of players than in either of his previous two jobs. But for all the talk of attacking more and taking the game to opponents, Rowett’s template remained much the same.

A great organiser, skilled at getting underdogs to perform above themselves, he’s still to prove that he can show a heavyweight how to impose itself. That will be a big part of the challenge at Stoke, where an immediate return to the Premier League is expected. Rowett has delivered consistent mid-table finishes and a couple of play-off appearances as a manager, but no promotions so far; that needs to change in the coming season.

Many Derby County supporters have criticised Rowett’s behaviour in jumping ship so soon after losing to Fulham over two legs, but it seems unfair to demand loyalty from a manager when most clubs aren’t prepared to show it in return. Derby are a perfect example, as they now look to appoint their sixth permanent manager in the last three years.

Their chairman, Mel Morris, has a well-founded reputation for ruthlessness. There’s no suggestion that Rowett’s position was in danger but he can hardly be blamed for seeking out a better, and more high profile gig when the opportunity arose. Many are just unused to seeing such a transparently ambitious manager in action. It’s escaped wider attention to some degree, but Rowett has plenty of form in this area, and perceptions of him are beginning to change as a result.

Last week, former Crystal Palace chairman Simon Jordan, a man never short of an opinion on any subject, had a lot to say about the issue during an appearance on TalkSport. “Ultimately, I think it’s symptomatic of how Rowett plies his trade. I think there’s a lot of myth about his departure from Birmingham – that he was badly treated by Birmingham,” he said.

“He was given a new contract by Birmingham, which he turned his nose up at, and the Chinese owners didn’t like it and gave him the bullet. He has the right to do what he wants but he’s a perpetual eye-batter. He looks at other clubs. Every time an opportunity comes, he bats his eyelids at it.”

For better or worse, a pattern is undoubtedly emerging: Rowett has always had something of a hard-nosed careerist streak to his character. In an industry where managers are so readily and unceremoniously dispatched by clubs, often within a year or two of their appointment, he’s been keen to turn the tables. This latest move to Stoke City is merely a continuation of the same trend.

Building impressively at Burton Albion in his first managerial job, he was poached by Birmingham City. After two years of steady progress in difficult circumstances at St. Andrew’s, he was attracting interest from Fulham and Queen’s Park Rangers amongst others. This was used to negotiate a new and more lucrative contract before the Blues cut him loose, seemingly concerned that he would eventually walk out on them for a better offer.

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After a brief spell of unemployment, Rowett returned to the dugout at Derby County, another of his former clubs. Riding high at the turn of the year, Stoke came calling for the first time. He was tempted to move on but persuaded to remain by the offer of a new contract. It was a case of history repeating itself. After Derby faded badly, he eventually left when a compensation package was agreed between the two clubs.

As one of the Championship’s most promising and self-assured managers, with plenty of experience of the division, Rowett represents a logical appointment for Stoke. There are understandable reservations about how his reactive style of play will sit with supporters of one of the promotion favourites, but they’re hardly unaccustomed to pragmatic football in the Potteries.

Of greater concern might be how he would respond to interest from an even bigger club. It’s his prerogative, and there’s certainly something refreshing about a manager seizing the initiative rather than being dictated to by his employers, but there are only so many bridges you can burn. English football is a small world in many ways, and word soon gets round. Rowett has to be careful to avoid his single-mindedness, which has so far been a strength, becoming the cause of his downfall.

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