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Stoke City

Peter Crouch: The evergreen striker who continues to remain relevant in modern football

Martyn Cooke

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Crouch

At The Hawthorns last Sunday afternoon Stoke City looked on course to suffer another defeat at the hands of their Midlands rivals West Bromwich Albion and former manager Tony Pulis.

The Potters had dominated possession throughout the contest but had struggled to create any clear-cut goal scoring opportunities against the massed ranks of Albion defenders, with the hosts taking the lead through Jay Rodriguez’s stooping header.

It has been a common story during the previous 18 months for Mark Hughes’ side as the Welshman continues to wrestle with the conundrum of finding a sufficient balance between ambitious, positive football and defensive solidarity.

The fact that The Potters had failed to score in seven of their previous nine away fixtures in the Premier League prior to Sunday suggested that Albion’s one goal lead during the second half was unlikely to be overturned.

There was a certain irony when the tall, lanky figure of Peter Crouch clambered off the bench and grabbed a scruffy-looking equalising goal.

Stoke’s reliance on the 6 foot 7 inch striker to dig them out of a hole with a headed goal is almost in direct contrast to the silky, passing possession-based game that Mark Hughes is attempting to implement in The Potteries.

However, Crouch continues to remain relevant for Stoke despite his advancing years and the common perception that the traditional target man is no longer in fashion within the modern game.

The striker has been something of a journeyman throughout a career that has taken him from the South Coast with Portsmouth and Southampton to the Champions League with Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool.

He retains a respect and cult status at all of his former clubs and, in general, it is hard to find too many people within the game that speak negatively of the 36-year-old.

Yet Crouch has rarely remained in one place for a prolonged period of time and no manager has ever seriously attempted to build a team around his lanky frame – the cliché ‘big man with good feet’ has become an unfashionable yet effective tactic.

Perhaps it is telling that he has enjoyed multiple stints with Portsmouth and Tottenham, suggesting that the grass is not always greener when the striker is deemed surplus to requirements.

Stoke are the only club where he has made over a century of appearances, at least in one continuous spell, but even in The Potteries there are some supporters that dream of the club purchasing a new, young, fashionable striker to lead the line.

There is a certain unease in some quarters that Crouch remains such a prevalent member of the squad, as proven by his goal on Sunday and the fact that he ended the previous campaign as club’s top goal scorer, despite the fact that he will have turned 37 by the end of the season.

The striker was signed by The Potters in the summer of 2011 during the era of Tony Pulis, which was characterised and defined by direct play, set pieces and defensive solidity.

His height made him effective during his initial time with the club but Crouch has continued to maintain a role within the team despite the arrival of Mark Hughes in 2013 and a switch to a more aesthetically pleasing style of play.

He remains evergreen and continues to demonstrate his importance to the club whilst a deluge of other forwards have arrived and unsuccessfully departed the Bet365 Stadium during his time there.

Crouch’s goal scoring record makes for impressive reading. He sits among an exclusive list of players that have scored over 100 Premier League goals and has netted more times with headers, unsurprisingly, than any other player in English top flight history.

In total he has scored 194 times during his club career whilst averaging a goal every other game in international football (22 goals in 42 appearances). It is conceivable that the striker could end the current campaign with a double-century of goals and having moved into the top twenty all-time Premier League goal scorers.

So Crouch remains a viable striking option in modern football, despite the demise of the traditional target man. He continues to retain a role at Stoke and he could end the season having broken some significant goal scoring milestones despite the fact that he will end the campaign having turned 37.

Yet, he shows no sign of wanting to retire and there appears little reason why the Crouch’s height will not continue to cause chaos in opposition boxes for many years to come.

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.

Stoke City

Is Bojan Krkic the perfect player for Gary Rowett to build Stoke City around?

The 27-year-old has been an outcast at the Bet365 Stadium.

Martyn Cooke

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Bojan
Photo: Getty Images

As Gary Rowett continues to rebuild the Stoke City squad over the summer there will be plenty of speculation regarding who will be arriving and departing the Bet365 Stadium.

The Potters have already dipped into the transfer market by signing Nigerian midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo and Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Benik Afobe whilst Egyptian starlet Ramadan Sobhi was sold to Huddersfield Town last week.

Xherdan Shaqiri, who is currently representing Switzerland at the World Cup in Russia, has confirmed that he will be leaving the club whilst, in contrast, Joe Allen has signed a new long-term contract to remain.

There are still plenty of question marks over current players. The likes of Jack Butland and Badou Ndiaye are expected to attract interest from Premier League clubs whilst the expensive pairing of Saido Berahino and Giannelli Imbula may not fit into Rowett’s plans but will be short of offers.

But what about Bojan Krkic?

The diminutive Spaniard was once one of the most promising young forwards in Europe after he rose through Barcelona’s prestigious La Masia academy system and made his first team debut at the age of 17.

He made over 100 appearances for the Catalan’s prior to loan spells with Ajax, AC Milan and Roma before eventually moving to Stoke in the summer of 2014.

Bojan has certainly made an impact at the Bet365 Stadium, particularly during his first two-and-a-half years with the club, but he fell out of favour under Mark Hughes and has spent the last eighteen months on loan in Germany and Spain.

(Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

At his best, the 27-year-old was a magician who produced moments of sublime skill and was a central creative influence in the team.

He was technically magnificent and would often glide across the pitch, weaving between defenders and was a genuine threat whenever he received the ball in the final third.

Bojan was one of only a handful of Stoke players from the last decade that would bring supporters to the edge of their seats in anticipation and expectation when he was in possession.

For anyone who requires a reminder of what the forward can do, simply look up his solo goal against Tottenham Hotspur form 2014.

Much has been made of his injury in January 2015. The Spaniard suffered severe knee damage in an FA Cup tie at Rochdale that meant that he was out of action for the remainder of the season and the common narrative is that he was never the same upon his return.

However, this storyline is incorrect. In fact, Bojan was at his peak over the Christmas period in 2015 when he was the centre of Stoke’s attacking trident which also included Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic.

Such was the effectiveness of the trio that The Potters picked up the nickname of ‘Stoke-a-lona’ in reference to their attacking brand of football.

So where did it all go wrong for him?

He fell out of favour with Mark Hughes and, after being dropped from the starting line-up, was never able to regain his position as Stoke City’s creative hub.

The Spaniard subsequently has spent the past eighteen months on loan with Mainz and Las Palmas but has struggled to make any significant impact either in Germany or Spain.

(Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)

In many respects, Bojan’s stock has never been lower. He has fallen off the radar somewhat in the past year and it appears that any hopes that he may have had of returning to a prominent European club are all but over.

However, this opens up a potential return to Stoke despite their relegation to The Championship.

Last season The Potters were desperately short of creativity and goals – something that Bojan can provide.
The Spaniard man be the perfect figure for Gary Rowett to build his new look team around.

Joe Allen and Oghenekaro Etebo will provide defensive security and energy in the centre of midfield whilst Benik Afobe will make be the focal point in the final third.

Bojan could be the perfect link player if deployed as a number ten and you would imagine that he would be more than capable of causing chaos amongst defences in The Championship.

There is, of course, the question of whether the 27-year-old would be prepared to play in the second tier of English football, although Allen’s decision to sign a new contract and remain at Stoke would suggest that Rowett is capable of being persuasive.

If Stoke are serious about challenging for promotion, then keeping Bojan and reigniting his career at the Bet365 Stadium would be a serious statement of intent.

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Southampton

Mark Hughes interested in reunion with Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron

Mark Hughes interested in bringing the experienced defender to St. Mary’s

Luke Beaumont

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Cameron
Photo: Getty Images

According to a Stoke Sentinel report, former Stoke City boss Mark Hughes wants Geoff Cameron to reunite with him at Southampton.

Cameron, who turns 33 next month, was brought to Stoke by Tony Pulis in 2012 following a four-year stint with Major League Soccer side Houston Dynamo.

He thrived under the leadership of Hughes, becoming a versatile and influential player for the Potters in the Premier League.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

It is suggested that Cameron’s current deal includes a release clause in excess of £5 million, and Stoke will want to receive that figure if he is to leave the Bet365 stadium this summer.

Cameron is currently unsure whether he has a future at Stoke under Gary Rowett, so he will be hoping to find out when he returns to training next week.

It isn’t a secret that the Stoke boss is a fan of the player, however, heis trying to reduce the overall age of the squad following the club’s relegation from the Premier League but has stated there is room for some of the aging contingent which might include Cameron.

The American defender is highly thought of in his native country and a return to Major League Soccer has been rumoured. Championship clubs are also thought to be monitoring the situation.

The prospect of remaining in the Premier League and reuniting with Mark Hughes might be a huge factor if he decides to stay in England and finds himself out of favour with Stoke City’s promotion-chasing group.

With 149 Premier League starts to his name, there’s no doubt Cameron would add experience and valuable depth to Southampton’s defence.

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Stoke City

Joe Allen’s new contract sends a warning to Stoke’s Championship rivals

The 28-year-old has put pen to paper on a new four-year deal.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Getty Images

Any supporter that has suffered the despair of relegation will tell you that the biggest fear that they have in the ensuing summer is that their club will be forced to sell many of their prized assets.

That fear tends to be exacerbated for clubs that drop out of the Premier League. The top flight may be awash with cash, big money signings and astronomical wages yet these can quickly become a burden in the financial wasteland of the Sky Bet Championship.

Relegated Premier League clubs often undergo a rapid-fire sale as they try to ensure their financial sustainability by reducing the wage bill whilst their star players tend to jump ship as quickly as possible.

It is a fine line balancing the books and ensuring that a team remains competitive and, as Sunderland supporters will tell you, a few bad decisions can quickly lead to a devastating downwards spiral.

Those fears were certainly prevalent around the Bet365 Stadium when the current campaign came to its conclusion as Stoke City’s decade-long spell in the top flight came to an unceremonious end.

After ten years in the top-flight the squad was full of star names, such as Xherdan Shaqiri, Jack Butland and Joe Allen, and expensive transfer failures that were sitting on long-term big-money contracts, including Saido Berahino and Giannelli Imbula.

The expectancy was that Stoke would be resigned to losing many of their prized assets whilst being forced to scramble as much money back on other transfer flops as possible. A major rebuilding job would be required over the summer and the squad would have to be overhauled – there was certainly fears of aa dramatic fire-sale.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

A clear signal of intent

It came as something of a surprise earlier this week then when the club confirmed that Joe Allen had signed a new four-year contract.

The Welsh international had joined The Potters in the summer of 2016 from Liverpool and was only two years into a five-year deal. He had been one of Stoke City’s star performers in what had been a disastrous campaign and it had been widely assumed that the 28-year-old would depart in the summer.

Allen’s loyalty to the club will come as a huge boost to new Stoke manager Gary Rowett as he attempts to mould a team capable of challenging for promotion. It is a definitive signal of intent that sends a clear message to their Championship rivals that they have little intention of being excluded from the Premier League for more than a season.

To have a player of Allen’s quality and experience playing in the second tier of English football suddenly provides The Potters with a new sense of positivity, optimism and momentum. This is a player, remember, who was named in the team of the tournament at Euro 2016.

You also have to applaud the 28-year-olds moral compass. It is clear that he has an affinity with the club and it would appear that he is willing to shoulder some of the responsibility for the club’s relegation whilst attempting to correct matters for the forthcoming season. Such loyalty following relegation is something that we see desperately little of in the modern game.

His decision may also have a bearing on some of Stoke’s other star names.

Allen’s willingness to sign a new contract may just make the likes of Jack Butland, Bruno Martins-Indi and Badou Ndiaye think twice before jumping ship at the first opportunity. The question is no longer how many players Stoke will sell, but rather how many they are going to keep?

Ultimately, Allen signing a new contract can only be a good thing for Stoke as they prepare for life in The Championship. His quality on the pitch will be crucial if the team are to secure promotion whilst it provides a clear message to rival clubs – that Stoke City will be a force to be reckoned with in the forthcoming season.

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