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Stoke City

Hit or miss: Reviewing Stoke City’s modern record breaking transfers

Martyn Cooke

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Stoke City

Stoke City are now into their tenth consecutive season in the Premier League since achieving promotion from the Championship under the guidance of Tony Pulis in 2008.

Remarkably, the Potters are one of only eight clubs to have retained their place in the top-flight of English football during that period along with Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, exemplifying how they are now firmly established as one of the top fifteen clubs in the country.

Stoke’s meteoric rise can be traced back to 2002 when Gudjon Thordarson helped the club to climb out of League One (then the old Division Two) and during the intervening fifteen years the Potteries outfit have smashed their transfer record on a relatively consistent basis.

It is amazing now to consider that prior to 2002 the most expensive player on the club’s books cost £600,000 – nothing more that loose change compared to the £18.3 million that they invested in Giannelli Imbula in January 2016.

Here, The Boot Room examines some of the most recent players that Stoke have broken their transfer record on and concludes whether they were success of not.

Sambegou Bangoura – £900,000 (August 2005)

The Stoke Sentinel described Sambegou ‘Sammy’ Bangoura as ‘probably the most infuriating Stoke City player of all-time’ and it is not hard to see why.

The Guinean striker was purchased by Dutch manager Johan Boskamp in 2005 as the club’s Icelandic board made one final attempt to guide the Potters into the Premier League and he made an astonishing start to his career in North Staffordshire, scoring eight goals in his first 14 games.

However, the striker’s career suddenly began to drastically decline after a catalogue of peculiar off-field behaviour.

Bangoura went to play for Guinea in the African Cup of Nations but failed to report back after his country were knocked out of the tournament, much to the confusion of his manager, and when 23-year-old did eventually return he scored just one further goal that season before Boskamp was replaced by Tony Pulis in the summer of 2006.

However, the striker turned up 37 days late for pre-season and then went missing once again in mid-September before quickly being departing the club in January 2007.

Bangoura’s start to life at the Bet365 Stadium (then named the Britannia Stadium) genuinely excited supporters but his off field antics meant that they were soon glad to see him leave. Conclusion: MISS.

Ryan Shawcross – £1 million (January 2008)

When Ryan Shawcross arrived at the Bet365 Stadium (then named the Britannia Stadium) in the summer of 2007 as a teenager on loan from Manchester United, no one could have predicted the defining impact that he would go on to make at the club.

The young central defender quickly cemented himself as a key figure in Tony Pulis’ side and his signing was made permanent in January 2008 for the nominal fee of £1 million.

Shawcross grew into a colossus at the heart of Stoke’s defence and played a key role in helping the team to achieve promotion to the top-flight and soon emerged as one of the most consistent defenders in the Premier League, eventually leading to an England call up.

He garnered a reputation for being a solid, reliable central defender and was perceived by many to be one of the most underrated players in the country.

Shawcross has made over 350 appearances for the Potters and has been shouldering the responsibility of captaincy for almost a decade.

He is a genuine Stoke legend and remains just as important to the team’s current fortunes now as he has done in previous years – possibly one of the best pieces of business that the club have ever done. Conclusion: HIT.

Dave Kitson – £5.5 million (July 2008)

After Stoke City secured promotion to the Premier League in 2008, Tony Pulis was left with a squad that appeared ill-equipped to cope with the demands of life in the top flight of English football.

One betting agency paid out on the club to be relegated after just one game and it was clear that the Potters required significant investment in key areas of the team.

Dave Kitson was the marquee signing of the summer and arrived from Reading with a reputation as being a capable goal scorer after a prolific spell in Berkshire.

The £5.5 million fee that Stoke paid to secure the flame-haired striker’s services considerably dwarfed anything the the Potters had previously invested in a transfer. However, he failed miserably to adapt to life in the Potteries and never looked capable of fitting into the direct style of play that Pulis implemented.

He failed to score in any of his first 18 appearances and returned to Reading on loan for the second half of his debut campaign. The striker did return to the club in the summer and scored five goals in all competitions the following season, but never truly looked happy or settled.

Kitson publicly admitted in an interview that he had made ‘the wrong decision’ to join Stoke and regretted leaving Reading, which resulted in him swiftly being sold to Portsmouth in the summer of 2010.

Stoke’s first big-money sighing of their Premier League adventure turned out to be a costly error with each of his goals costing the club roughly £1.1 million. Conclusion: MISS.

Peter Crouch – £10 million (August 2011)

Former England international Peter Crouch arrived in the Potteries in the summer of 2011 after Stoke had agreed to pay £10 million to secure the striker’s services.

The lanky forward had previously played for Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Portsmouth and a host of other top-flight clubs and, despite his unusual appearance, had carved out a successful career.

Crouch has made just under 150 appearances for the Potters and scored 58 goals, making him the club’s most prolific goal scorer in the Premier League.

Despite various changes in managers, who have implemented drastically different styles of play, he has remained a key part of the current squad and, even at the age of 36, he continues to find the back of the net on a regular basis.

Crouch remains a hugely popular figure in the Potteries and he will be forever remember for producing one of the greatest goals in the club’s history in 2012 against Manchester City.

The striker controlled an aerial pass on his thigh, some thirty-five yards from goal close to the touchline, and unleashed a spectacular volley that flew into the top corner of the net.

It was an incredible moment of skill and a lasting reminder that Crouch’s game is built around more than just his height and aerial presence.

The striker ended the 2016/17 season as Stoke’s top goal scorer across all competitions and he has already plundered three goals so far this campaign, suggesting that the veteran still has plenty to offer in the coming years. Conclusion: HIT.

Giannelli Imbula – £18.3 million (February 2016)

There was considerable excitement around the Potteries when it was announced that Stoke would be smashing their transfer record to purchase French midfielder Giannelli Imbula from FC Porto in January transfer window of 2016.

Mark Hughes was building a side that appeared to have the potential to challenge for European football and the signing of the Imbula was seen as an direct attempt to push the club onto the mythical ‘next level’.

The midfielder made a bright start to his career at the Bet365 Stadium, scoring a spectacular volley against Bournemouth in one of his first appearances and produced a dominant performance at Stamford Bridge that demonstrated his pace, power and technical ability.

However, his form deteriorated as the season grew to a close with his lack of defensive awareness underpinning the frailties in his game.

The following season started as the previous campaign had ended and Imbula quickly found himself out of the starting eleven – by Christmas he was struggling to even make the match day squad.

The Frenchman departed Stoke in the summer of 2017 when he joined Toulouse on a season-long loan and drew stinging criticism from former team mate Shay Given who revealed that, “he’s come in from Porto and he’s literally tried nothing since he’s been” at the club.

It looks increasingly likely that Imbula’s career at Stoke is all but over – an expensive, record-signing flop. Conclusion: MISS.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

Aston Villa

Should Paul Lambert consider a Gabriel Agbonlahor reunion at Stoke City?

The Stoke City boss got the best out of Agbonlahor at times during his spell at Aston Villa.

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Reports in the press this week are suggesting that Aston Villa forward Gabriel Agbonlahor may decide to retire from the sport this summer. The Sun is suggesting the striker may decide to hang up his boots this summer should he not receive an offer he deems appropriate.

The former England international is out of contract in the summer and his club has little or no interest in keeping him at Villa Park. After coming through the ranks at the club, Agbonlahor will bring an end to his 17-year association with Aston Villa.

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The striker has struggled with his fitness in recent years and his form has also dropped dramatically but, at just 31-years-old, it would be a strange move to quit altogether.

What Agbonlahor needs is to work with a former boss of his who got some of the best out of him. Paul Lambert had such an impact at Aston Villa. Agbonlahor pushed for an England recall in 2013 under the guidance of the Scottish manager. Lambert had him leaner and smarter in attack and generally, it was a good working relationship.

So could Lambert hand him a life-line?

Lambert looks like he will be managing in the Championship next season. The Stoke City boss saw his side draw 1-1 with Burnley today. The gap between the Potters and survival is getting no smaller.

In order to return to the top-flight Stoke will need some new recruits and Agbonlahor could be perfect.

(Photo credit should read GRAHAM STUART/AFP/Getty Images)

Whilst not the player he was five years ago, the experienced attacker has played just six times this season, scoring one goal, this is still a player who was a Premier League star under Lambert’s rule just five years ago.

Of course, he won’t be outpacing many players these days. But his experience and nous could be a vital addition to Stoke’s cause if they are fighting to return to the Premier League next season.

If Lambert can get Agbonlahor anywhere near his best, then the Potters would be on to a winner.

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Stoke City

Stoke City are facing a relegation scenario entirely of their own making

It has been a miserable season for Stoke City fans.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Getty Images

Stoke City may have started the season celebrating the start of their tenth successive campaign in the top flight of English football but defeat against Everton now leaves the club facing the increasingly likely prospect of relegation.

The Potters are short of quality, form and confidence whilst they are quickly running out of time to save themselves with a miraculous turn of fortune and form required in the closing months of the season if they are to pull off a ‘great escape’ of their own.

The contest against Everton was the latest in a long line of ‘must win’ games in which Stoke have, quite simply, failed to win.

Paul Lambert has now won just one of his eight matches in charge since being appointed as Mark Hughes successor despite being handed a favourable run of fixtures that included games against Huddersfield Town, Brighton, Southampton, Bournemouth, Watford, Leicester City and Everton.

(Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)

Results are unlikely to improve in the near future, with Stoke facing Arsenal and Tottenham in their next two games.

Lambert has certainly not been helped by the catastrophic decisive errors that his players have been making on the pitch.

Against Everton, Charlie Adam was sent off in the first half for a rash, reckless and needless sliding challenge on Wayne Rooney with Stoke having been the better team in the opening stages of the contest.

Adam has already been the pantomime villain this season, missing a last-minute penalty against Brighton that would have guaranteed victory, whilst Jack Butland, quite literally, threw the three points away against Leicester when he fumbled a cross into his own goal.

To say that Stoke have not helped themselves would be an understatement – in reality, they have shot themselves in both feet multiple times, repeatably.

You could argue that relegation will not come as a major surprise. A ten-year stint in the Premier League is a significant achievement for a club of Stoke’s stature and size whilst the fans have certainly had plenty to celebrate, including an FA Cup Final appearance and Europe League tour.

Perhaps the club’s shelf life has simply expired and it is naturally Stoke’s turn to drop into the second tier as part of English football’s Lion King-esque ‘Circle of Life’.

However, the reality is that Stoke’s current predicament is entirely of their own making and there are plenty of villains to choose from.

Mark Hughes will rightly receive the brunt of the blame.

The Welshman led The Potters to three consecutive top-ten finished for the first time in over a century, but the final eighteen months of his reign were characterised by bizarre tactics and a deterioration of results.

This was exemplified by Hughes’ insistence on playing a 3-4-3 formation this season despite not having the personnel that suited the system, with Mame Biram Diouf, a striker by trade, forced to operate as a wing back.

However, the club hierarchy must also take a large portion of the blame.

Despite the majority of Stoke supporters recognising that the team were spiralling towards the relegation zone, chairman Peter Coates appeared oblivious to any danger.

In December, he told the Staffordshire Sentinel that he “did not understand what all of the fuss was about”, demonstrating either an outstanding level of complacency or that the club hierarchy were completely out of touch with reality.

Furthermore, Coates was extremely slow to dismiss Hughes despite deteriorating results. Prior to Christmas, he suggested that the manager’s future would be determined by games against Burnley and West Ham.

Stoke lost both contests, yet it took a further month and an embarrassing defeat in the FA Cup against fourth-tier Coventry City before the Welshman eventually received his P45.

Coates’ loyalty to his manager was admirable but the consensus is that he acted far too late.

Stoke’s attempts to appoint a new manager were equally as indecisive and chaotic, with the club hierarchy publicly stumbling from one rebuttal to another.

(Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)

Gary Rowett and Martin O’Neill both turned the job down whilst Quique Sánchez Flores said yes initially, only to conduct a dramatic U-turn 24 hours later by deciding to remain with Espanyol.

The eventual solution was to appoint Paul Lambert, who had reportedly been turned down for the Hull City job earlier in the season.

It may seem harsh to criticise Lambert, but the Scotsman has simply proven that he is not a Premier League manager. True, he did walk into a crisis zone, but it is noticeable that he has failed to stimulate an upturn in results.

Defeat against Arsenal at the weekend would mean that Lambert will have picked up fewer points than his predecessor against the same teams this season whilst failure to beat Tottenham could leave the Scotsman with just one win from his ten games in charge.

Underpinning Stoke’s problems on the pitch has been, what can only be described as, a shambolic transfer policy off it.

This is exemplified by Saido Berahino, who was signed for £12 million and has failed to score in over a year, Kevin Wimmer, signed for £18 million and now training with the reserves, and club record-signing Giannelli Imbula, who is in exile in France on loan with Toulouse.

That is almost £50 million worth of talent that has been poorly invested in the previous two years.

The future is bleak for the Potters and although the fat lady has not sang yet, she is currently waiting behind the curtain preparing to perform.

There is a slight glimmer of hope, but that could be quickly extinguished if Stoke fall to defeats against Arsenal and Tottenham in their next two games and results go against them.

There will be plenty of time for reflection, but Stoke supporters know that this is a relegation entirely of the club’s own making.

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It’s crunch time for Stoke City under Paul Lambert

The next two months are crucial for the future of Stoke City.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Getty Images

There are only eight games left of the Premier League season and with Manchester City running away with the Premier League title the attention now turns to the race for survival.

Stoke City began the season celebrating their tenth consecutive year as a top-flight club and yet the campaign could ultimately culminate in relegation to the Sky Bet Championship.

The warning signs were there in the summer when star winger Marko Arnautovic forced through a transfer to West Ham United and claimed that the Potters ‘lacked ambition’, something that the club hierarchy strenuously denied before forcing Mark Hughes to be reliant on free transfers and loan signings.

The further departure of club stalwarts such as Jonathan Walters and Glen Whelan was also a loss in the dressing room and behind the scenes, if not necessarily on the pitch.

The campaign actually got off to a promising start as Stoke secured four points from their opening two home fixtures against Arsenal and Manchester United, but the wheels quickly began to fall off.

Hughes had opted to deploy a new look 3-4-3 formation and, despite some early success, it soon became apparent that the Potters did not have the personnel or quality to make the system work.

The sight of Mame Biram Diouf, a striker by trade, stranded as a wingback pretty much summarises the tactical naivety of Hughes and his unwillingness to revert to a back four, despite poor results, saw the club slip into the relegation zone.

Ultimately, it has been Stoke’s inability to defend that has underpinned their demise this season.

At one stage, the Potters had the unenviable record of possessing the worst defensive record of any club in the top flight of European football, whilst only West Ham United have conceded more goals or kept fewer clean sheets in the Premier League this season.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

The Manager

Mark Hughes was dismissed in late January after Stoke City had been knocked out of the FA Cup by fourth-tier Coventry City and were stranded in the Premier League relegation zone.

There is little doubt that the Potters were correct to part ways with the Welshman, although in hindsight the club hierarchy had remained too loyal for too long.

Stoke’s attempt to hire a successor was chaotic, disorganised and became something of a soap opera.

Gary Rowett was the first manager to publically turn down the job after being approached and was swiftly followed by Quique Sánchez Flores, who conducted a swift U-turn within twenty-four hours of reportedly agreeing to leave Espanyol, and Martin O’Neil.

Stoke supporters were eventually left with the uninspiring appointment of Paul Lambert who, quite clearly, was nobodies first choice for the role.

The former Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers boss has certainly had a positive impact since arriving in the final weeks of January and has undoubtedly made the team more organised and harder to beat.

However, Lambert has overseen just one win in seven fixtures, at a time when the club are desperate for points, despite having been handed a favourable run of fixtures that included Huddersfield Town, Watford, Brighton, Bournemouth, Southampton and Leicester City.

The 48-year-old will need to stimulate a dramatic improvement in results of The Potters are going to have any hope of avoiding the drop.

The Squad

On paper, the current Stoke City squad consists of a core contingent of proven international players that should have the quality and experience to pull away from the relegation zone.

Jack Butland, who is vying to be England’s first choice goalkeeper, Kurt Zouma, one of the most highly rated young defenders in Europe, Joe Allen, a central midfielder of undoubted quality, and Swiss superstar Xherdan Shaqiri make up the spine of the starting eleven, whilst Moritz Bauer and Badou Ndiaye arrived in January to add further quality.

However, there is an obvious lack of creativity in the current squad and the responsibility for facilitating goal scoring opportunities rests solely on the shoulders of Shaqiri.

In addition to this, Stoke lack a proven goal scorer with Mame Biram Diouf (inconsistent), Peter Crouch (one dimensional) and Saido Berahino (who has yet to score in over two years) the only options at Paul Lambert’s disposal.

This imbalance in the squad has been reflected in recent results. Since Lambert’s arrival in late-January Stoke have lost just once in seven games, against the champions-elect Manchester City, and have kept three clean sheets in the process.

However, in the same period, they have only won once, in Lambert’s first match against Huddersfield Town, and have found the net just five times – three of which were provided by Shaqiri.

It is the lack of creativity and goals that is undermining any shoots of recovery at the Bet365 Stadium.

Remaining Fixtures

Everton (H), Arsenal (A), Tottenham (H), West Ham United (A), Burnley (H), Liverpool (A), Crystal Palace (H) and Swansea City (A).

Stoke City have a semi-difficult run of fixtures but there are certainly opportunities to accumulate points over the closing weeks of the season.

Home games against Everton, Crystal Palace and Swansea City are ‘must win’ based on the fact that the Potters have the worst away record in England, having won just once on their travels this campaign, but trips to Olympic Stadium and the Liberty Stadium could provide a chance to rectify that.

Fundamentally, if Stoke can get to the final two games of the season and still be in with a chance of securing safety then they will be relatively pleased. It could all come down to the last day of the season with a mouth-watering fixture against Swansea.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Will They Survive?

Although Paul Lambert has certainly had a positive impact since being appointed in late-January, making the team more organised and harder to beat, it is difficult to see where Stoke City will secure the three or four wins required to guarantee safety.

The Potters have won just six games all season and the lack of creativity throughout the side and the absence of a proven striker leaves you wondering where the goals are going to come from.

There is certainly still hope for Stoke supporters, but Lambert will need to facilitate a dramatic improvement in performances if he is to guide the club to safety.

It will be an achievement if he can get the Potters to the final two games of the season, against Crystal Palace and Swansea City, and still be in with a chance of surviving.

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