The Rookie Review – Part 2

How have our new recruits been in their debut season?

Glen Johnson (Right Back)

Arrival Date: 12/07/15 | Former Club: Liverpool (England) | Fee: Free

Another Premier League veteran followed Given to Stoke on a free transfer after Johnson was released from Liverpool. He departed Merseyside with his reputation slightly faded, he had lost his place in the England team and had been behind a few young players, including Jon Flanagan, in the pecking order. However, Stoke needed new blood at right back due to the departure of club hero Andy Wilkinson and a player with vast Premier League and international experience was too much to turn down.  Fans were apprehensive as to how Johnson would play in the side, but Glen was a breath of fresh air in a position that wasn’t exactly blessed with any kind of pace or attacking flair over the past few seasons. Not only were his defensive contributions useful, his link-up play with the right winger was wonderful, epitomised with his run and cross he sent in for Marko Arnautovic’s goal against Chelsea after being sent through by Shaqiri. It’s unfortunate that Johnson got injured and missed the majority of the second half of the campaign as it was his presence that contributed massively to Stoke’s great spell during the middle of the season. Providing Johnson returns to full fitness ready for pre-season following his injury, it could be a very good season for him and for Stoke City.

Expectation Level: 6/10 | Performance Level: 7/10

Ibrahim Afellay (Central Midfielder)

Arrival Date: 27/07/15 | Former Club: Barcelona (Spain) | Fee: Free

The Britannia Stadium cemented its status as Barcelona’s second home when Afellay linked up with his former teammates Muniesa and Bojan once again. The Dutchman became unsettled at Barcelona, being loaned out to various European clubs in order to keep his career alive after being muscled out by some of Barcelona’s stars. But his time in Catalonia came to an end when the club didn’t renew his contract. Barca’s loss was certainly Stoke’s gain as they had another player with plenty of experience and a Champions League medal, helping further to change Stoke’s image in the world of football. His Premier League start didn’t go wonderfully, including one incident where he was sent off early on against West Brom and featuring mainly on the wings. Back from his suspension however, Afellay gradually moved into the centre of midfield and became one of the first names on the team sheet for Hughes. His flair in the middle of the park was something that was missing in the team before the arrival of Imbula and provided that integral role of transferring defence into attack. He also filled in further up the field when Bojan was elected to play in the false 9 role and was part of the raging Stoke side that tore open the league over Christmas time. However, the injury curse that haunted the season struck for Ibi who will now not feature again for Stoke until late 2016. It was a massive blow at the time and the squad depth he provides will be missed next season too, with Mark Hughes confirming he is having to adjust his transfer plans to accommodate for the loss of one of Stoke’s players of the season.

Expectation Level: 6/10 | Performance Level: 8/10

Xherdan Shaqiri (Right Winger)

Arrival Date: 11/08/15 | Former Club: Inter Milan (Italy) | Fee: £12m

Stoke proved the world wrong when they signed Shaqiri for a then club record £12m. Having failed to have tempted him to England during the previous January, the Swiss international finally made his move and became one of the most iconic signings ever for Stoke City. His glittering reputation and his sky-high potential excited fans of Stoke, of the Premier League and of football itself. Such a staggering expectation can add unnecessary pressure on a player and can have a massive effect on how his performances will be viewed as at the end of the season. Shaqiri was hampered by constant niggling injuries throughout the season and admitted himself that he took time to adapt to his new league, physically and mentally. However, Shaqiri often showcased the reasons why he was so highly rated at Bayern Munich: humiliating opposing fullbacks, carving open defences and chipping in with some sublime flair along the way. He has displayed just how intelligent he is as a footballer and has created more chances for his team and has as many assists as any other Stoke player this season, also scoring a handful of spectacular goals. However, fans know just how good Shaqiri can be and in some games has been quiet (by his standards); his injures, his severance of the bond he had with Glen Johnson and a lack of pre-season have also lessened the Swiss’ reputation this season and he and Stoke know there is room for improvement yet. He might not have quite hit the height that some were expecting his season, but he has definitely been a fantastic addition to Stoke City.

Expectation Level: 8/10 | Performance Level: 7/10

Giannelli Imbula (Central Midfielder)

Arrival Date: 01/02/16 | Former Club: FC Porto (Portugal) | Fee: £18.3m

A month long chase for Imbula resulted in his deadline day signature and blowing away Shaqiri’s freshly set transfer record and a big weight on the new man’s shoulders. At just 23 years of age when he arrived, Imbula already has a reputation in European football as a fantastic prospect and was regarded as a massive coup for Stoke City. Stoke were crying out for something new in the midfield and Imbula appeared to be able to provide it: his wide range of passing and his eagerness to drive the ball up the pitch himself answered Stoke’s call for a box-to-box midfielder. His start to English football was fantastic, showcasing to the country his unique qualities and catching many opposing teams by surprise.  His performances contributed to a run for his new club that had it’s fans and its staff dreaming of earning European football for next season. However, his form dipped along with the rest of the team during the latter stages of the season; occasionally dribbling his way into trouble and sometimes accused of not performing his defensive duties. His two goals against Bournemouth and West Ham denoted his two best games for Stoke so far and has advertised his potential for all to see. The question is, with a pre season behind him, better understanding of the language and culture that surrounds him and more time to bond with his teammates; can Imbula fulfill his unquestionably special potential and continue his journey to becoming a midfield superstar? Time will tell. But for now, Imbula can be happy with his contribution this season and should be looking forward to the next one, as we all should be.

Expectation Level: 8/10 | Performance Level: 7/10

Written by Ben Rowley

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