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Stoke City

Stoke City signing Oghenekaro Etebo shines for Nigeria at the World Cup

The Potters’ £6.25 million summer signing is impressing over in Russia.

Martyn Cooke

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Etebo
Photo: Getty Images

The Stoke City transfer recruitment team were on the receiving end of a deluge of criticism from the club’s supporters following their relegation to the Championship at the end of last season.

Indeed, it is easy to see why.

Stoke’s decline, which ultimately ended in their decade long stay in the top flight coming to an abrupt end, can be traced back over the previous two years and has been underpinned to consistent and costly errors in the transfer market.

A quick look at two of the club’s most recent high-profile signings clearly demonstrates that fact.

In January 2017 The Potters signed West Bromwich Albion striker Saido Berahino in an attempt to solve the team’s lack of goals and paid £12 million to bring the striker to the Bet365 Stadium.

However, he has yet to score for the club, a goal draught that can be traced back over two years now, and he has spent much of his time playing for the under-23 team after being publicly criticised for his poor levels of fitness.

Last summer Stoke paid £18 million for Tottenham Hotspur defender Kevin Wimmer, despite not appearing to have any shortage of central defensive options.

The Austrian never look fit, sharp or technically adequate to be a regular starter in the Premier League and he was ultimately exiled from the first team after a strong of poor performances  before being shipped out on loan to Hannover 96.

And, that is before you start to talk about Stoke’s record signing Giannelli Imbula.

(Photo by Gabriel Bouys/Getty Images)

Nigeria’s World Cup Star – Oghenekaro Etebo

However, despite the club’s recent failings in the transfer market it appears that the recruitment team have begun to redeem themselves following the arrival of Oghenekaro Etebo.

The signing of the 22-year-old came as something of a surprise to supporters.

Stoke had not been linked with a move for the dynamic central midfielder and he certainly was not a high-profile name having had spells with diminutive clubs in Portugal and Spain.

Supporters have had an opportunity to get an early view of their new signing in action at the World Cup where he has been a central figure in the Nigerian squad – and it is safe to say that they are excited by what they have seen.

Etebo has started all three of Nigeria’s group games in Russia and he has produced a string of hugely impressive performances.

This culminated on Tuesday evening when he was a star performer for the Super Eagles despite suffering a narrow defeat at the hands of a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina.

The 22-year-old looks the complete package.

Physically, he looks immaculate. He is dynamic, powerful and has an abundance of pace that allows him to cover the entirety of the pitch with relative ease, much in the same way that N’golo Kante does for Chelsea.

His energy and enthusiasm are clear for all to see and will be perfectly suited to the high-intensity world of Championship football.

Etebo is equally as impressive technically. The central midfielder always seems available to receive the ball and whenever he is in possession he looks to play forward with short, simple passes that allows his team to move up the pitch.

He has also been the primary set piece taker for Nigeria during the World Cup and he certainly has the ability to produce dangerous deliveries from dead ball situations.

Supporters will also have been impressed be the 22-year-old’s attitude and application. Etebo is aggressive, tenacious and is certainly not afraid to apply himself with ruthless efficiency when undertaking his defensive duties.

In short, if Etebo’s performances at the World Cup are anything to go by, Stoke have one hell of a player on their hands.

The £6.35 million they paid Feirense to secure his services looks like a bargain and it is safe to say that his price tag would have probably doubled had Stoke waited until later in the summer to confirm the deal.

Furthermore, had he not signed prior to the tournament, then it is more than likely that Etebo would have attracted the interest of top-flight clubs across Europe following his displays in Russia.

One thing is for certain – Etebo will be a force to reckoned with in the Championship this season.

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.

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Huddersfield Town

One winner and one loser as Tom Ince looks set for Stoke City move

The winger made 33 appearances for Huddersfield Town last term, scoring two goals.

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Tom Ince
Photo: Getty Images

Huddersfield Town winger Tom Ince is seemingly set to swap the Premier League for the Championship and pen terms with Stoke City, who were relegated to the second tier last season, according to The Sun.

The son of former Manchester United legend, Paul, played 33 games in the top flight for the Terriers last season but only found the net twice in a campaign where he struggled to find his prolific best.

It was current City boss Gary Rowett who was forced to offload the flying winger from Derby County last summer and Ince’s arrival at the Bet 365 Stadium sees the pair link-up once again.

The 26-year-old is clearly rated very highly by Rowett and he represents a pretty solid replacement for the recently departed Xherdan Shaqiri who has recently joined Liverpool for a fee in the region of £13 million.

With Stoke looking to challenge for automatic promotion and an instant return to the Premier League, boss Rowett is very keen to ensure that he has the very best squad at his disposal and Ince will surely be a hit in a league that he has previously been a sensation in.

Here at The Boot Room we took a look at one winner and one loser in Tom Ince’s pending switch to Stoke City.

Winner – Gary Rowett

This deal offers a firm indication that the Stoke City boss didn’t really want to sell Ince last summer when he was in charge of Derby County and it shows that he is a big fan of the winger’s qualities.

After failing in the play-offs with the Rams last season, the highly-rated young boss will be desperately keen to start proving his worth as a manager and given the tools at his disposal at the Potters, promotion simply has to be the aim from 2018/19 for Rowett.

Having sold such an influential player in Shaqiri it was vital that the Stoke boss went and found a solid replacement. As far as Championship wingers go, they don’t come much better than Tom Ince.

Loser – Tom Ince

It has to be said that the player himself will be mightily disappointed to be dropping out of the Premier League following just one season at Huddersfield Town.

The 26-year-old will feel that his performances warranted a prolonged stay in West Yorkshire but boss David Wagner clearly shares a different tact and is happy to cash in on the player.

Ince must now get his head down and concentrate on playing football.

His ultimate motivation will be to show Wagner what he is missing out on and hope to return to the top flight by helping his new club to promotion from the Championship.

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Stoke City

Four Stoke youngsters looking to impress Gary Rowett in Germany

It looks set to be a season of opportunity at the Bet365 Stadium.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Getty Images

The Stoke City first team squad are currently in Germany for a six-day training sabbatical as Gary Rowett steps up his preparations for the new campaign and pre-season begins to get into full flow.

The Potters are based in Herzlake, a small village in the north of the country, where the players will be undertaking a more intensive training regime as well as participating in three friendly fixtures.

Rowett has taken 26 players to the pre-season training camp including new signings Benik Afobe, Adam Federici and Peter Etebo in addition to a host of familiar faces.

However, Robert Huth, who has been training with the club over the summer as he builds up his fitness after being released by Leicester City, is not among the travelling party.

There are also some less recognisable names joining Rowett and the first team squad in Germany including four youth team prospects that supporters may not be fully aware of.

Josef Bursik

The 17-year-old started his career with AFC Wimbledon, initially joining the club at the age of eight, and he quickly rose through the youth team ranks at Kingsmeadow. By 2017 he was training with the first team on a regular basis and was named as a substitute against Swindon Town in April that year.

Bursik is an England youth international and has been a regular feature for the under-17 team over the previous twelve months. He played six matches as the side reached the European Championship final in May and was part of the squad that won the under-17 World Cup last year, making him one of the most promising young goalkeepers in the country.

He joined Stoke in the summer of 2017 as a scholar and his performances in the academy, combined with the departure of Lee Grant and the absence of Jack Butland, have convinced Rowett to include him in the party that travelled to Germany.

Harry Souttar

The physically imposing central defender rose through the ranks at Dundee United, cementing himself as a key facet of the club’s development squad, before being promoted to the first team in 2016.

He made his debut in the Scottish Premier League against Partick Thistle before netting his first senior goal just four days later against Kilmarnock.

His rapid progress attracted the interest of a host of Premier League clubs but it was Stoke who were able to secure his signature for an undisclosed fee.

Souttar has continued to impress and develop at the Bet365 Stadium and was handed his senior debut by Mark Hughes in an EFL Cup tie against Rochdale in August 2017.

The 19-year-old spent the second half of last season on loan with Scottish Championship side Ross County in order to gain more first team experience and made a total of 13 appearances.

Stoke are currently short of central defensive options following the departures of Kevin Wimmer, Marc Muniesa and Kurt Zouma, leaving Souttar with the perfect opportunity to impress Rowett whilst in Germany.

Lasse Sorensen

The 18-year-old rose through the ranks with Danish Superliga side Esbjerg fB where he emerged as the club’s outstanding youth team player before completing a move to Stoke in January 2016.

Sorensen has continued to impress at the Bet365 Stadium and his rapid development whilst playing for the under-23 side led to Paul Lambert promoting him to the first team squad at the back end of last season. He was handed his full senior debut in the final match of the season against Swansea City where he played 76 minutes whilst also providing an assist.

The Danish youth international signed a new long-term contract at the start of the summer as a just reward for his progress and has been described as being one of the club’s ‘brightest prospects’.

Furthermore, Rowett has spoken positively of Sorenson and described the midfielder as having ‘all the hallmarks of being a top young player’ and having ‘as good an attitude as any young player’ that he has worked with.

Sorensen will face a difficult challenge to break into the first team squad this season with the likes of Peter Etebo, Joe Allen, Charlie Adam and Giannelli Imbula all above him in the pecking order.

However, he is certainly a player to keep an eye on for the future.

Ryan Sweeney

The Republic of Ireland youth international joined AFC Wimbledon at the age of eight and he subsequently rose through the academy ranks at Kingsmeadow, signing his first professional contract in February 2015.

The central defender made his Football League debut later that year and became of regular feature of the match day squad despite his youth and inexperience. He made a dozen more first team appearances over the next year and a half with his rapid development attracting the interest of a host of Championship an Premier League clubs.

Sweeney signed for Stoke in the summer of 2016 for a fee believed to be in the region of £250,000 but has yet to make his first team debut for the club.

He has spent the last eighteen months on loan with Bristol Rovers where he has made over 40 appearances and is undoubtedly looking to capitalise on the lack of central defensive cover that Rowett currently has in his first team squad.

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Stoke City

How Stoke have become early favourites for promotion

Martyn Cooke

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Stoke
Photo: Getty Images

Loyalty is a commodity that is in short supply in modern football.

The age of players spending their entire careers at one team or managers building a club over a period of time spanning decades is long gone.

Instead, the contemporary game is characterised by players that jump from club to club in search of regular game time or more money and a ‘managerial merry-go-round’ in which over half of managers in English football’s top four tiers will either be sacked or resign by the end of the season.

For players especially, the focus is on being in the Premier League. That is where the glitz, glamour, talent and, ultimately, money is located and there tends to be limited loyalty if a club is relegated from the top tier.

Which makes the recent developments at Stoke City come as a pleasant surprise.

The Potters were relegated in May after a decade-long spell in the Premier League and the general perception was that the club would be stripped of its prized assets over the summer.

Jack Butland, Joe Allen, Xherdan Shaqiri and pretty much anyone else who possessed a significant reputation was linked with a move away from the Bet365 Stadium.

(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

The fear for supporters was that there would be some kind of fire-sale, leaving the new manager with the unenviable task of starting from scratch and building an almost entirely new squad.

However, that simply has not been the case.

Yes, Xherdan Shaqiri was sold to Liverpool last week, although that was to be expected after it was revealed that he had a relegation-release clause that made him available for just £13 million, and his departure was proceeded by the sales of Ramadan Sobhi and Lee Grant.

But, beyond that, there has been a surprising level of loyalty shown by the majority of the squad.

Gary Rowett’s most impressive feat since being appointed as manager at the start of the summer has not been who he has bought in the transfer window, but rather who he has been able to convince to remain at the Bet365 Stadium.

Joe Allen, who was named in the team of tournament at the European Championships just two years ago, was the first to sign a new long-term deal and commit his future to the club. The Welsh midfielder certainly would not have been short of options this summer and his decision to remain is a significant statement of intent.

He was then followed by Moritz Bauer, who signed a new contract earlier this month. The 26-year-old only arrived in January but has been quick to commit to the challenge of securing promotion from the Championship despite being hugely impressive during his 15 appearances in the Premier League last season.

Furthermore, Peter Crouch has signalled his intention to stay after suggesting that he had ‘unfinished business’, whilst the likes of Ryan Shawcross, Bruno Martins Indi, Eric Pieters and Mame Biram Diouf all appear willing to stay.

Rowett revealed over the weekend that he is hoping to convince Bojan Krkic to remain at the club and return to his best after his loan spell in Spain ended and there are whispers that Jack Butland might also be willing to scrap it out for a year in the second tier.

Somewhat bizarrely, it is not inconceivable that Stoke will start the campaign with a stronger, more balanced squad of players than the one that ended the previous season in the Premier League.

It is perhaps no surprise to see Stoke among the favourites with betting companies to be promoted although there is certainly still plenty of work to be done.

However, Rowett has started to build an intimidating squad of players that is full of experience and quality. He has not achieved this through splashing vast arrays of cash in the transfer marker, but rather by convincing existing big-name players to remain at the club.

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