Tony Pulis insisted yesterday that the chasm in resources and expectations meant victory for his Stoke City side over Manchester City at Wembley on Saturday would represent the biggest FA Cup final upset since Wimbledon shocked Liverpool in 1988.
The Stoke manager argued that the gulf between the Potteries club, who are backed by chairman Peter Coates' locally based online betting firm, and City, funded by Abu Dhabi billionaire Sheikh Mansour, meant there was no question who were the underdogs.
"If you compare the size of the clubs and what they've spent, it's as big a void as you'll get," said Pulis, who hopes to become the first Welsh manager ever to lift the trophy. "They've spent £380m. Look at their wage bill, the infrastructure and the players they've got. We're in a Cinderella situation in some respects, but as always we'll give it our best."
Pulis clutched the original Decca single of Tom Jones' "Delilah" as he spoke, presented by a radio reporter after his assistant, Dave Kemp, had joked about wanting a vinyl copy of Stoke's anthem. The club's only major national trophy, the League Cup, was won in 1972 when the 45rpm single was king, and their model for progress also has an old-fashioned ring, even though the club are guaranteed Europa League football next season by virtue of City qualifying for the Champions League on Tuesday.
"We've built the club in a controlled way over the past five years," said Pulis. "It has been small steps. We've not gone stupid with wages. We've built a community football club, an idea our supporters have really grasped and driven forward. The people who watch us are the chosen 28,000. There's another 250,000 who'd love to go to the games."
Sheikh Mansour is not a regular visitor to matches at Eastlands, whereas the 73-year-old Coates is steeped in the city of his birth and the club he has followed since childhood. "It's two ends of the spectrum," said Pulis. "Peter wouldn't do what they've done, even if he had the money. I think he'd want to do it the way he's done it."
While his opposite number, Roberto Mancini, has been beset by constant speculation about his job prospects, Pulis's rapport with Coates ensured the stability that has enabled Stoke to prosper among the elite. "I've never worked for anyone I respected as much as Peter. We talk twice a day but he lets me get on with things. I don't think people recognise the foresight, the willingness to back me and give me the opportunity to build the club.
"I was convinced there was one way of staying up in the first year [2008-09], and that was by ignoring everyone else and concentrating on what I believed would help us. Peter was fine with that, and then gradually building the quality around the place."
It was a very different Manchester City, managed by Joe Royle and struggling to escape English football's third tier, that Pulis encountered as Gillingham manager in a 1999 promotion play-off final. Leading 2-0 in the 89th minute, his team were dragged into extra time by an incredible late revival before losing on penalties.
"I didn't watch the game afterwards, on TV or video. I just wanted to wash it away. That was a massive disappointment for me because we'd played so well. I took over at Gillingham when they had just come out of administration and we beat Halifax on the last day to stay in the League. Four years later we're at Wembley playing City, a proper Premier League club. I've never watched it, ever."
He decided he would not return to Wembley unless he was leading out a team. Stoke's 5-0 rout of Bolton was a sweet way to purge a bad memory, and the future holds much to relish. "Stoke in a Cup final, perhaps finishing in the top 10 and reaching the Europa League; who'd have dreamed it a few years ago? It's a bit special. Being in Europe won't do us any harm. The higher profile you are, the easier it is [to make signings]."
Nevertheless, he expects the gap between Stoke and City to widen this summer. "It wouldn't surprise me if they go out and buy big again. If they do, I think they'll get in that top group with Manchester United and Chelsea." Would City's hunger for silverware be diminished now they are in the Champions League? "They haven't won anything for 35 years, so they'll be desperate. And Roberto will be thinking, 'This is my chance to pick something up.'"
Armed with a 28,000-strong chorus of "Delilah" and possibly reinforced by injury victims Matt Etherington and Robert Huth, who will have fitness tests on the morning of the match, Stoke and Pulis are thinking along similar lines.
Tony Pulis believes Stoke will be the biggest underdogs in an FA Cup final on Saturday since Wimbledon took on – and defeated – Liverpool in 1988. But how much does his claim ring true?
Man City/Stoke City
£125m Turnover £54m
£320m Spending since Sept 2008 £43m
Robinho £32.5m (2008) Record signing Kenwyne Jones £8m (2010)
Winners four times FA Cup best Semi-finals twice
Nine times (Won Cup-Winners' Cup 1970) Europe Twice
45,950 Average attendance 26,819
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