Players in the modern game are often labelled by sports writers, pundits and media outlets as being “heroes” or “legends” at the domestic clubs which they represent. They are terms and phrases that are now thrown around on a regular basis with relative imprecision and inaccuracy, often used to describe individuals who are good, but not truly deserving of such a prestigious title.
Genuine heroes and legends are something of a rarity. Yes, supporters have their ‘favourites’ or specific players that they enjoy watching every week, but how many of these are genuine legends that will be remembered and recorded forever in the annals of a club’s history?
However, every now and then a player does emerge who deserves the title of ‘hero’ or ‘legend’. A player that makes a significant difference to the team, that influences the very nature of the club, that provides that little bit of magic that gets supporters off their feet – these are the players that truely deserve such accolades and status.
It is debatable whether any single player has had such a significant impact and influence on Stoke City Football Club during the last decade or so than Ricardo Fuller. The Jamaican striker was universally loved by the locals at the Bet365 Stadium and his performances on the pitch coincided with the rise of The Potters from obscurity in The Championship, to promotion and stability in the Premier League, and appearances in the FA Cup Final and Europa League. You will be hard pressed to find any Stoke supporter who does not recognise Fuller as anything other than a genuine club legend.
However, the striker’s place in the hearts of the fan base was not initially guaranteed. He arrived in The Potteries in the summer of 2016 with a reputation of being temperamental, injury prone and having failed to have settled at any one club for a substantial length of time. Prior to joining Stoke from Southampton for a £500,000 fee he had experienced relatively short-lived spells with Crystal Palace, Hearts, Preston North End, Portsmouth and Ipswich. It is perhaps an indication of his nomadic existence in English football that prior to 2006 his longest spell with a team was two seasons.
It would be fair to say that Stoke supporters did not quite know what to expect, but the Jamaican soon became an instant hit.
At this time Tony Pulis was deploying a rigid, cautious 4-4-1-1 formation in which the team was characterised by direct balls forward and getting crosses into the box from wide areas. Fuller was handed an almost free reign as a striker to play wherever and however he saw fit. One moment he would be picking up the ball on the touchline, the next he would be looking to latch onto a through ball into the corner – the freedom of his movement was a rarity in a side that was naturally set up to be hard to be defensively solid first, and entertaining second.
However, it was Fuller’s astonishing natural ability with a football at his feet that truly set him apart from the rest. He possessed the perfect combination of pace, power and agility that enabled him to twist, turn and bound beyond defenders whilst his quick, skilful feet were allowed him to produce moments of magic. The Jamaican would dance around opponents with consummate ease by employing audacious pieces of skill with the ball and had the knack of being able to create a goal from absolutely nothing.
Any Stoke supporter who saw Fuller perform would attest to his brilliance and whenever the forward would pick up the ball there would be an almost expectant intake of breath from the crowd.
The striker’s ability is characterised by two defining moments. First, during Stoke’s successful promotion campaign in 2008 The Potters found themselves desperately clinging on to a 3-2 lead in an away fixture at Midlands rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers. In stoppage time, Fuller received the ball on the edge of his own box and raced forwards. He darted and weaved beyond countless defenders, travelling the full length on the pitch before drilling a low shot into the bottom corner of the net to conclude one of the most incredible solo goals that any football fan I likely to see.
Second, there were some that doubted whether Fuller would be able to replicate his magic in the Premier League following Stoke’s promotion but any such claims were soon ended in the club’s opening home fixture against Aston Villa. A ball was rolled into the Jamaican’s feet and there seemed nowhere for him to go with Villa defender Martin Laursen touch-tight behind him. However, Fuller instinctively flicked the ball around the defender, spinning his body in the opposition direction, and raced onto his own touch before smashing a low drive beyond the despairing goalkeeper.
Both were moments of incredible, audacious and breath taking pieces of individual skill, but they were certainly not a rarity. In fact part of the supporter’s fascination and admiration for Fuller derived from his ability to produce moments of brilliance on a weekly basis, often changing the course of a game single-handedly. Stoke fans will certainly have no lack of memories to recall.
However, genius rarely comes perfected and their were moments of madness from Fuller. In December 2008 the striker was shown a straight red card during a Premier League fixture at Upton Park after bizarrely striking team mate and club captain Andy Griffin in the face following an on-pitch argument. It was a reminder of his temperamental nature and the incident was swiftly swept under the carpet with both players helping The Potters to secure Premier League survival by the end of the campaign.
Ricardo Fuller scored a total of 50 goals for Stoke City during a six-year spell, the longest period of time that he has spent at any club throughout his career. In the summer of 2013 he was released by The Potters as the club began to purchase more expensive and extravagant signings in an attempt to ‘push on to the next level’. The twilight of the Jamaican’s career was very much a reflection of his youth as he filtered down the leagues representing a variety of different clubs.
But, if you ask them, Stoke City supporters will take great pleasure and pride in recalling the astonishing feats of Ricardo Fuller in a red and white shirt. The striker truly is a club legend.
One winner and loser as Stoke City close in on signing Sam Clucas
Stoke look set to sign the Swansea midfielder on deadline day
Stoke City are closing in on a deal to sign Swansea midfielder Sam Clucas in a fee thought to be around £6 million, a shrewd bit of business from The Potters, who will be looking to improve on their Championship opening day defeat.
Manager Gary Rowett will be hoping the midfielder can hit the ground running and bring with him some much-needed versatility that his current midfield options lack.
Stoke haven’t been able to find a permanent central midfielder capable of running the show since Steven N’Zonzi’s departure in 2015. However, Clucas may just be the man to fill the void.
Winner – Stoke’s midfield
Clucas will bring with him a versatility to play anywhere in the midfield, a trait which their current options all lack and a quality vital to succeeding in the Championship.
During his time at Hull City, Clucas played left wing, left back, defensive midfield and a number 10 role; a testament to the 28-year-old’s ability and something Stoke can use to their advantage this season.
Clucas is comfortable on the ball and has a passing range which is second to none. If the Potters are going to gain promotion back to the Premier League they’ll need a midfielder with these kinds of attributes in their side.
Loser – Burnley
It seemed as though Burnley would be the destination for Clucas this season. However, in a sudden change of events Sean Dyche’s side lost out on their target.
This will be a blow for Dyche’s side, who have struggled terribly during this transfer window, despite securing European football for the first time in the clubs history last season.
It remains to be seen whether or not they’ll make a move for anyone else today before the deadline strikes, but a few deadline day signings wouldn’t go amiss for Dyche’s men.
Three things learnt from Leeds’ opening win over Stoke: Bielsa hype justified
Leeds United have kicked off the season in style with a 3-1 victory over recently relegated Stoke City. Marcelo Bielsa and Gary Rowett were both taking charge of their teams for the first time in a competitive fixture but it was the Argentinian who came out on top.
Mateusz Klich opened the scoring before Pablo Hernandez added a second, thanks in part to an error from Jack Butland. After the break, Stoke revived a lifeline with Benik Afobe converting from 12 yards after Barry Douglas brought down Tom Ince.
Liam Cooper extended the home team’s lead only three minutes later to kill the tie off and Leeds remained composed as they saw out the tie for the win.
Here’s what can be taken from the clash…
Bielsa is already having an impact
There has been an awful lot of excitement surrounding Marcelo Bielsa’s appointment as Leeds United manager but few knew quite what to expect from the man in charge. With the line-up revealed, people were equally at a loss but on the opening day it worked to perfection.
Perhaps the clearest example is Mateusz Klich. A disappointment in the past, in pre-season and against the Potters he has looked a formidable potion and opened the scoring with a well-taken goal on Sunday, his first in Leeds colours.
Gary Rowett’s problem is the hangover of last season
On paper, Stoke City’s squad is probably the strongest in the division. Yet, in reality, it hasn’t quite worked out. Bringing on players like Darren Fletcher and Bojan Krkic as substitutes is something that most Championship managers could only dream of, yet his team looked a shambles for much of the tie.
Like much of 2017/18, big names with talents to match, such as Jack Butland, Ryan Shawcross and Joe Allen, didn’t live up to the occasion and left plenty to be desired. Even new signing Tom Ince was lazy in his tracking back and defensive duties, costing the side dearly for the second goal.
Leeds may not need another striker after all
What will have impressed Marcelo Bielsa most will have been that his team looked to have a goal threat even with £10 million signing Patrick Bamford on the bench. Goals from a defender, holding midfielder and more advanced midfielder showed that goals will come from all over in the current team.
Kemar Roofe lacked the killer instinct that is required but produced a magnificent display running Stoke ragged with his movement. The addition of Bamford could add the clinical final touch. Some have claimed that the Whites must sign another centre forward to be in with a chance of promotion this season, but early signs suggest it may not be the case.
Is Gary Rowett correct in his honest appraisal of Stoke’s pre-season?
The 44-year-old took over the reigns at Stoke earlier this summer.
Stoke City manager Gary Rowett admitted that he was ‘disappointed’ with the performance of his players following a two-goal defeat in the club’s final pre-season friendly against FC St. Pauli on Saturday afternoon.
The 44-year-old also told the Stoke Sentinel that the result would give the team a “little bit of a kick up the backside” and that “we’ve got lots to do”.
The contest against St. Pauli was characteristic of how The Potters have performed over the summer and will undoubtedly leave Rowett with concerns on the eve of the new season.
Stoke were one-paced, struggled to create clear cut chances and conceded two goals against a team that are likely to finish mid-table in the German second division.
In fact, it is almost as if the players have picked up where they left off at the end of the previous campaign and many of the issues that underpinned the club’s relegation from the Premier League are still prevalent now.
The Potters have won just one friendly during pre-season, a three-goal rout of Walsall in early July, and have failed to secure victory in any of the subsequent five fixtures, scoring only one goal.
Performances have not been great by any stretch of the imagination and a lack of prolificacy at both ends of the pitch will rightly be course for concern.
Of course, this is only pre-season and Rowett himself has emphasised that the summer is all about preparation.
However, his negative appraisal of the players following the St. Pauli game suggests that he is far from satisfied.
In many ways the summer has been a reality check for Stoke.
There was a renewed sense of optimism following relegation in May as the club moved quickly to appoint Rowett, made positive moves in the transfer market and were able to retain the services of a number of high profile players.
Most media and betting outlets have the Potters down as favourites to win the Championship this year and supporters have excitedly been talking about a promotion challenge.
However, the second tier of English football is a bruising, unpredictable arena where nothing should be taken for granted.
The league is full of prestigious clubs and there is no hierarchy in place as teams battle through a campaign of playing twice a week – anyone is capable of generating a promotion push.
Stoke should be well aware that they can take nothing for granted at this level. The last time the club dropped out of the top-flight it took them over two decades of scrapping in the football wilderness until they returned.
Rowett is right to be frustrated at his team’s pre-season performances.
Yes, results may not particularly matter but performances certainly do. The 44-year-old will have been looking for positive indicators from individuals and the collective group over the summer as he prepares for the club’s opening game against Leeds United – he will not have seen many.
The overriding concern will be that Stoke will carry their poor pre-season form into the start of the campaign.
Under Mark Hughes’ reign at the club, the Potters were renowned for making a poor start to the new season after a summer of disappointing pre-season performances.
Stoke can ill afford to start the campaign slowly and the team must hit the ground running when the Championship kicks off in less than a week if they harbour genuine ambitions to challenge for promotion.
Rowett is right – there certainly is still plenty of work to do and he will be hoping that his players will produce a much improved standard of performance when the competitive fixtures kick in.
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