The Big Summer Blowout
Plenty of Stoke fans want change in the Summer and it looks like we’re going to get it, one way or another. Not only has this season asked questions of Stoke’s short term performances but, looking long term, the prospect of future seasons with the same ageing squad has caused alarm bells to ring within the club’s hierarchy about long term ambitions. Stoke sit behind only West Brom and Watford for having one of the oldest squads in the Premier League. Not only does this compromise the team in respect to athleticism and fitness, it also leaves very little breathing room for players to grow fulfil their potentials and ultimately rise in market value. It appears the club has recognised this: local media outlets have been reporting about a Summer shake-up and even the manager has recognised that there’s a lot of work to do come the end of the season. The question is: what can we expect?
Well, we can fully expect the club to aim to invest in a more youthful squad for next season. Players with a fresh hunger, potential in abundance and an eagerness to learn will be initiate the regeneration process of Stoke City. Ramadan Sobhi is an excellent example: a young man with plenty of raw, exciting talent with a bright future and, being so young, he doesn’t even have to be named in the 25 man squad that the club submits to the Premier League, leaving the manager’s options open. It’s signings such as this that the club should be trying to replicate if it’s value is to increase. Although these players may be cheaper than recruiting experienced heads, they may be harder to scout, the club may also face tough competition with other clubs for their signatures and not every one of these youngsters will work out. The mentality that some players may fail must be in place.
Esteemed news sources and even Mark Hughes himself has expressed Stoke’s intentions for the above to happen this Summer. So knowing this, surely you would expect some of the older members of the squad to be moved on in place of these new faces? This makes the recent news that Ibi Afellay, Peter Crouch and Glen Johnson have all been handed new contracts this year with the likes of Jon Walters, Ryan Shawcross and other Stoke veterans expected to follow suit. This definitely contradicts the model the club are proposing and one wonders whether it will be some of the younger members of the squad will be sacrificed in the hunt for new blood.
Those such as Bojan, Joselu and Phillipp Wollscheid may have their time away from the club extended beyond this season and those out of favour within the team may also find themselves heading for the exit, such as Marc Muniesa and Giannelli Imbula. This idea concerns many fans, the majority of these players have been signed by the current recruitment and management team and you wonder whether they should be trusted to scrap their plans and head out into the market again with a depleted returns on their initial investments.
In terms of the types of personnel that the club may bring to the Potteries this transfer window, a couple of targets have already surfaced within the media. Those such as Sandro Ramirez Bertrand Traore and Bas Dost (who has a whopping £50m release clause) have been rumoured to have tickled Stoke’s interest recently. Even though it may not be these names which become shortlisted further down the line, it’s clear that Stoke are looking at strikers. Most likely, a new hitman would provide competition for Saido Berahino or, alternatively, play alongside him in a two-striker system. Should such a signing be made, you’d expect a couple of the many strikers the club already have to leave in their place, with current forwards Joselu and Bojan both returning from their loans at the end of the season.
Defenders also look to be on the agenda: John Terry, Nathan Ake, Sergi Palencia and Luke Shaw have all been tentatively linked with the Potters. Stoke’s lack of strength in depth when it comes to defence has been exposed in recent seasons, with the 2015/16 campaign particularly stretching the squad to its limits. Any player would be expected to be signed alongside Bruno Martins Indi who is close to sealing a permanent switch away from Porto, as well as Phillipp Wollscheid who also returns from loan. Again, the club would be expected to either sell some of their current assets or adapt to the influx of defensive talent. With back-three formations becoming all the more popular in English football and given that Stoke have tested this formation numerous times this campaign, perhaps next season would bring a more permanent change in style. This would of course mean recruiting players who would adapt well to this system and shipping out players who perhaps would not.
If one thing is for certain, the squad is unbalanced in a couple of ways. Mark Hughes currently has a plethora of deep-lying midfielders to choose from but zero recognised central playmakers, with the club’s solitary one of his kind Bojan out on loan. It’s led to Stoke being forced to field a conservative engine room for a number of months and it’s resulting in a lack of quality chances through the centre of the field. The Potters currently, and will come the season’s end, have five out-and-out strikers on the books and only three wingers. Since it’s often that Stoke field more wingers than strikers, you have to question whether they have depth in the wrong areas.
This leads to all sorts of problems, such as a downturn in squad morale when certain members are pushed out of the team for extended spells, other players being forced to play because there is no alternative and square pegs being rammed into round holes should the inevitable injuries and suspensions occur. Should Stoke have serious ambitions of European football in the coming seasons, they simply do not have the squad to be able to perform consistently enough to qualify for, let alone compete in, those competitions.
The hottest question on Stoke City fans’ lips is whether Mark Hughes will be trusted to continue his Stoke City adventure past this season. It cannot be argued that Stoke have not been transformed for the better under the Welshman since his appointment and have shown signs of real intent of a magnificent breakthrough. However a decline in performances, entertainment and impact of signings made over the last year leaves some wondering whether his involvement is causing Stoke to fizzle out, become complacent and even the possibility of declining.
The manager also seems to be making promises that he is unable to keep such as promising game time for some players or a surge in performances in others. There’s also the feeling that Hughes does not recognise that Stoke have begin to have less of an impact comparatively with seasons gone by and that no drastic intervention is needed. Finally, it’s the threat that some of the club’s most valuable assets are not being used or fulfilling their potential ability, and that he is becoming more reliant on those whose time in top-level football is drawing to a close. Either way, Stoke need some form of change this Summer should their ambitions to reignite and become a force to be reckoned with once again.
Stability is one thing, stagnation is another.
Written by Ben Rowley
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