Stoke City waited so long to sack Mark Hughes, while their relegation rivals acted earlier, that it’s hard to see who they can appoint.
The sort of manager that Stoke might have turned to, with a track record for keeping teams up, or being able to achieve consistency, are exactly those who have already been appointed elsewhere.
Sam Allardyce is at Everton, Alan Pardew is at West Brom and Claude Puel is at Leicester, while David Moyes and Roy Hodgson took over at West Ham and Crystal Palace respectively.
Palace, Everton, Leicester and West Ham all made their decisions early. Their managers were not cutting it and they sacked them. All have improved under new bosses and have leapt up the table.
Leicester are 8th on 30 points after 22 matches and Everton 9th on 27. While neither might suppose that they are entirely safe yet, they will be mightily relieved they took the plunge when they did.
Palace and West Ham still have work to do, each on 22 points, just two points above the drop zone, but both seem considerably more capable than the sides trailing behind them.
West Brom and Swansea are below Stoke but even they both replaced their managers before Stoke did. They could find their salvation first.
Some of the remaining managers that recently seemed plausible for Stoke are already off the market too. Aitor Karanka joined Nottingham Forest and Gary Rowett has signed a new contract at Derby County. Even old Stoke boss Tony Pulis is already at Middlesbrough.
There should be strong candidates keen to take over at Stoke. Regarded as well run, they achieved three successive 9th-placed finishes under Hughes. Many in football should see them as a good club. But how attractive are Stoke City?
The club retains a reputation for thuggish behaviour, on the pitch and in the stands. Their fans even still act disgustingly towards Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey, who had the temerity to have a leg broken by their captain.
Stoke don’t have an attractive squad either. They have one quality outfield player left, in Xherdan Shaqiri, after losing Marko Arnautovic in the summer, who they didn’t replace.
Can Stoke add quality in the current transfer window? Can they keep Shaqiri? What if he gets injured after the window closes? How would Stoke cope and survive?
The current market for Stoke managerial candidates is not the stuff of dreams. Slaven Bilic is left as the favourite? He was sacked by West Ham, so why should he be Stoke’s saviour?
Martin O’Neill? Why would he leave the Republic of Ireland for a weak squad and a relegation battle? Rafa Benitez? Life at Newcastle can’t be so bad that he’d swap it for Stoke. Ronald Koeman and Garry Monk? Both were sacked recently by their clubs, Everton and Middlesbrough.
The infamous managerial merry-go-round often sees the same old sacked managers reappointed elsewhere while fresh coaching blood, through recently retired stars like Ryan Giggs or Steven Gerrard, is just not risked. A concern for Stoke must be that plausible big-name managers are already taken, leaving unconvincing alternatives.
Stoke have missed the boat on obvious relegation-safety managers. They’ve arrived at the sales once everyone else has picked off the best bargains. Now they are trawling through the dregs.
Hence, Stoke are now at risk of having left it too late to find a suitable candidate who genuinely wants the job, let alone someone with the ability to turn their squad and fortunes around.
Stoke’s appointment will be crucial and it might take three teams worse than them to stay up, rather than a clear upturn in fortunes.