Stoke’s Three Youth Hopes
Over the years, Stoke have struggled to deliver on youth prospects, with the most notable graduates being the Tony Pulis favourites Carl Dickinson and Andy Wilkinson. The lack of homegrown players was partly due to vying with clubs in an extremely busy catchment area for the brightest talents and partly due to operating out of a Portakabin donated by Aston Villa to the old Michelin training ground. The biggest hindrance however was the aforementioned Mr Pulis, who’s fascination with 30 year old Sunderland centre backs and insistence that the academy was an unnecessary use of resources and should be closed down held back the production of future generations of Stoke players.
However, the complete redevelopment of the Clayton Wood training facilities to a truly elite standard and a larger emphasis being placed on self-sufficiency by the owners responsible for online gambling powerhouse bet365 have given fresh hope to youngsters hoping to make it in the famous red and white stripes.
The son of a former Club Brugge legend and Belgian international goalkeeper, Thibaud Verlinden is yet another off the Belgian conveyor belt of footballing talent. He bears some resemblance to current national team captain Eden Hazard with his low centre of gravity and ability to move quickly with the ball, as well as being short but possessing great strength and power.
Gary Rowett has previously said he does not favour any particular system and prefers to be tactically flexible, making Verlinden an interesting option for the squad with the ability to play his more natural role of a left inside forward, an orthodox winger or as a number ten, operating just behind a striker with holding players behind.
Another coming from fine footballing heritage, the son of former Everton and Arsenal striker Kevin Campbell is relatively one dimensional compared to the other two prospects, although he specialises in the most important aspect of football. A natural goalscorer adept with his head and both feet, he has scored all kinds of goals since his move from Manchester City in 2016. As a striker the likelihood is that he will attract more attention and therefore possesses the greatest potential to Stoke.
The switch to self sufficiency in recent times means that the academy simply has to start generating profits for the club and there is no better way to do that than producing attackers. Following the likes of Ajax and Dinamo Zagreb in creating players who seem ‘fashionable’ to potential suitors is the best way to try and extract profits from youth prospects and Tyrese Campbell may be just the one for that.
Even at 18 he can handle the physicality of professional football and is a more intelligent footballer than many of the attacking options already at the club so should definitely be given a fair chance this season.
The most underrated player of the three but also the most versatile and valuable in a 46 game season. First invited to Stoke as a 14 year old, Lasse Sorensen was eventually signed as a 16 year old in 2015 and has largely gone under the radar since, before finally getting his break in the last game of last season away at Swansea.
His pinpoint free kick for Peter Crouch’s goal was eerily similar to a delivery from fellow Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen, his ability to keep the ball and create another clear cut chance displayed his brilliant technique. His abilities on the ball coupled with positional intelligence and a fantastic engine make him able to operate as a number 4, 6, 8 or 10 and can contribute to all phases of play, a unique quality which many central midfielders lack.
Positional fluidity is especially important in breaking down teams playing with a deep block as Sorensen can run free between the lines. Even though he has been talked about as a future superstar far less frequently than Verlinden and Campbell, Lasse Sorensen could well be the man to finally pay dividends for the Stoke academy.
Written by George Eltringham
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