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.
The season is nearly over and with that comes the accusation that mid-table sides, such as Stoke, are ‘already on the beach’. And as fans all we want is the players to show that they are fighting against this, and it is normally the leaders on the pitch whose duty it is to motivate the side and remind them that there are still points to play for.
It is expected that this leadership will come from the domestic older players in the side, who have plied their trade at the club for many years and understand what the fans demand. Yet the past few months have seen the exact opposite in Stoke’s side. It has been the young, relatively recent, imports who have been the source of motivation to go out and seek as many points as possible.
Just over a year ago, Stoke City were the best they ever have been in the Premier League: playing swashbuckling football which caught the attention of the world’s media, disposing some of England’s greatest football teams with ease and, following the 2-1 win over Watford last April, Stoke were just one point behind Manchester United who were in sixth place. We were talked about as genuine contenders for European qualification and we seemed almost unstoppable. Mark Hughes was being lauded with getting the best out of a promising side and was even being linked with big jobs away from Stoke. Fast forward twelve months and the Potters’ fortunes have been turned on their head: we are one of the lowest goalscorers, play some of the most tepid football and have been on the wrong end of humiliating scorelines on a regular basis. What on earth has happened?!
I wrote a blog just over a month ago defending Stoke City and that we’ve been on the end of some truly rotten luck. Losing Jack Butland to injury led to an incredibly tough period where we didn’t have a Premier League standard goalkeeper. Other injuries such as Ibi Afellay, Xherdan Shaqiri, Geoff Cameron and Glen Johnson depleted the squad to it’s bare bones and halted any soaring form that the team picked up. Having to run through undulating periods of tough fixtures means that it’s easy for the team’s morale to dip. Despite this, I also said that this does not mean that Stoke should not hide behind these excuses and that they need to recover from the slump should they want to reach the heights that they have been known to achieve.
My name is Henri Keuter. I’m 16 years old, and I live in a tiny village called Urk. Right now I’m living a great life. Visiting the Britannia at least once a year. But you’re probably wondering; Why Stoke? Most of the people in the Netherlands actually support a Dutch club like AJAX,PSV or even Feyenoord… This is my story of how i became a Potter.
How I became a football fan
I was born on the 14th of march 2001. My dad is a huge football supporter. Visiting his favourite club PSV almost every week. Sometimes he managed to get an extra ticket for the next game and then he would take me with him. If he couldn’t take me with him i would watch other games on TV. Mostly English clubs like arsenal in the invincibles season. I loved English football more then the Eredivisie. But I never really had a favourite team.
A couple of weekends ago I had the absolute pleasure of going to Germany, where I visited some German clubs and watched some Bundesliga football. I was there to see Schalke beat Ausburg 3-0 at the Veltins Arena, I saw Bayer Leverkusen draw 1-1 with Werder Bremen at the BayArena and I also took a tour of Borussia Dortmund’s magnificent 81,000+ seater stadium: Signal Iduna Park. It’s an experience I will treasure for the remainder of my days and I would recommend to absolutely anybody who has even the remotest of interest in football to take the trip. I don’t want to sound pretentious or attempt to portray myself as an expert in foreign football, I’m far from it, But, during my short experience, I think the typical English matchday experience could benefit from taking inspiration from our German counterparts.
I’ve always been told how “foreign football is so much cheaper” compared to what English fans pay to see their teams; however when booking the tickets for the two matches I went to, I paid around £35 for each ticket (both games I was central along the touchline, right at the back) which falls around the average cost for a ticket in England. However it turns out that, at its cheapest, you can attend most German football matches for just over a tenner; quite remarkable when the typical cheapest ticket in England hovers around £30. If you’re lucky enough to book your tickets early, willing to watch from a slightly less favourable position and be within a safe standing zone (which I will get onto later), a day out to the football needn’t be as expensive as you’d think. Furthermore, German season tickets are remarkably cheap; for example: you can be part of Dortmund’s world famous “Yellow Wall” for as cheap as €130.50. For a club of their magnitude: that’s incredible value. Most clubs follow suit, such as Schalke who were offering season tickets from as cheap as €200. The club make up for this in other ways, such as charging €90 euros for a jersey; but when you think of the money that bolsters the top leagues these days, especially the Premier League, you have to wonder why other clubs aren’t following suit and rewarding the loyal.
Recently many fans have begun to turn on certain players, demanding they be replaced. But this fails to recognise that Stoke have transitioned as a club and the current crop of players are not as replaceable as the former individuals who made up the side.
In our most recent history the side has been made up of players who were somewhat easily replaced. Take for example Liam Lawrence, a key player in gaining Stoke’s promotion and securing our position in the league. But when he began to fall out with management and disrupt the harmony of the side he was swiftly replaced with Jermain Pennant, and Stoke were none the worse for the ordeal. Yet the current squad are of such a high quality of player that they will not be replaced with such ease.
Stoke succumbed to a third 4-0 loss to Tottenham in a row and it is proof that Mark Hughes’ consistent failings are costing Stoke. We sit an unassailable 12 points behind the always targeted 7th spot and even 8th is beginning to look out of Stoke’s reach with West Brom 8 points ahead of the Potters.
This does not make good reading for Mark Hughes who has lost a large amount of support from the fan base this season. It appears ‘Sparky’s’ plan is unravelling and it is his stubbornness that is forcing the Potters down the table, with a very realistic risk of finishing outside the top half, for the first time under his stewardship.
I must not be the only fan who feels like supporting Stoke right now feels like a loveless marriage. I have the same feeling now towards Stoke as I did under Pulis’s last season. I don’t look forward to games and at this moment I am really on the fence about renewing my season ticket.
I should probably mention that I live in Milton Keynes and it is becoming increasingly difficult to reach every home game. But this will be my 20th season ticket so feel I must. But at this moment watching Stoke has become a chore, seeing players like Bojan leaving leave you wondering what master plan Hughes has come up with, and you get even more depressed when the master plan is Charlie Adam.
It doesn’t take a footballing expert – and I am certainly not one of those – to recognise that Stoke have had better seasons in recent times. A less than gripping Premier League campaign, two rather embarrassingly premature domestic cup exits and a slightly less appealing style of football has resulted in a campaign filled with questions regarding whether the club are going backwards and whether some sort of radical action should be taken – and plenty of replies arguing against these ideas. It has, quite understandably, split the fanbase and, with views on social media becoming more significant and with the anxiety amongst fans having an effect on the general mood in the stands, it’s certainly not done any good for the club. Opinions, and the differences between others’, in football is one of the components that define “the beautiful game” and well formed arguments should always be listened to; however, some fan’s views have turned sour, nasty and frankly baseless. I’m here to try my best and argue for all sides of the debate and eliminate some of the unnecessary disparity between this, at it’s core, wonderful fan base.
One of the most predominant reasons, in my opinion, for Stoke’s slump over the last twelve months is due to an accumulation of a series of unfortunate events. It all began eleven months ago with Jack Butland’s serious injury whilst on duty for the England national side. Prior to this, a string of player-of-the-season worthy performances from the ‘keeper, amongst others, had Stoke one point behind Manchester United in sixth and pushing for European football, conceding just 37 goals in 31 Premier League games. Following that, Stoke were forced to rely on Jakob Haugaard and Shay Given, who managed to concede 32 goals between them in 12 league games – often four at a time. You can’t expect to win matches, or even play well, with that kind of record – we only won once in that period.
With the news that Stoke are willing to listen to offers for Bojan breaking late on Tuesday night there seems to be a feeling that this is the final nail in ‘Stokalona’s’ coffin. ‘Stokalona’ as a concept is hard to nail down and there’s plenty of places you can go and have the debate on what it was, but it certainly was one thing, exciting.
Excitement was the one word that could truly describe the brief Mark Hughes was given when he was hired as our manager. Crowd numbers were dwindling as the fans were no longer satisfied with grinding out a 1-0 win, we wanted to be entertained. And my God did Mark Hughes do that. We went from having scored 4 goals in a league match once in Pulis’ five years at the helm, to doing it twice in one month under Sparky.