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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.

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

Four Stoke City youngsters who Gary Rowett could put his faith in next season

Martyn Cooke

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Gary Rowett
Photo: Getty Images

On Tuesday evening it was announced that Gary Rowett had been appointed as the new manager of Stoke City.

The 44-year-old has been tasked with building a team capable of making an immediate return to the Premier League and his first task will be to overhaul the playing squad during the summer.

Rowett will be handed a sizeable transfer kitty, which will be increased further through player sales, and the Potters will be expected to make a significant impact in the transfer market either side of the World Cup. Stoke supporters will be waiting with eager anticipation to see who their new manager attracts to the club and it is certain that a new-look team will line up for the first game of the season.

However, Stoke have a number of highly rated young players on their books and Rowett may also choose to look within the club’s academy in an attempt to provide some fresh energy and youthful exuberance.

Here, The Boot Room all highlights four young players that Rowett may look to include in his plans for the new season.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Tom Edwards

Having been born and raised in Stafford, Edwards became the first local player in almost a decade to make a first-team appearance for Stoke when he was handed his debut against Manchester City in October 2017.

The 19-year-old has been at the club since the age of eight and his undoubted potential has been no secret. The defender was voted as the under-18’s Player of the Year in both of the previous two seasons whilst playing a key role in the team’s run to the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup last year.

Edwards made seven starts for the first team over the Christmas period and emerged as Mark Hughes’ first choice right back. His performances, at a difficult time for the club, were hugely impressive and were characterised by calmness under pressure, robustness in his defensive play and overlapping runs.

The arrival of Paul Lambert in January saw Edwards return to the academy side as the Scotsman elected to place his faith and trust in experience rather than youth.

However, Edwards has already demonstrated that he is capable of playing first team football and he will be hoping that Rowett will reinstate him into first-team proceedings.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Julien Ngoy

The 20-year-old is one of Stoke’s most highly rated young forwards and has been on the periphery of the first team squad for the last two seasons.

He joined the club in the summer of 2014, electing to move to the Bet365 Stadium over a host of top-flight European clubs, and emerged as a dominant force academy football whilst also becoming a central figure for the Belgian young international sides.

Ngoy was handed his debut as a late substitute against Arsenal in December 2016 and made five further appearances over the subsequent twelve months. He spent the second half of the current campaign on loan at League One side Walsall, scoring three goals in thirteen games and helping the Saddlers to avoid relegation.

The Belgian is powerful, strong and pacey whilst also having an acute instinct in front of goal. Having already experienced the Premier League and life as a first-team regular at Walsall, now may be the time for Ngoy to make his breakthrough at Stoke.

Thibaud Verlinden  

Another Belgian youth international, Verlinden joined Stoke in the summer of 2016 having risen through the ranks at Standard Liege.

The 18-year-old is highly thought of at the Bet365 Stadium and his speed, agility and low centre of gravity combined with his technical brilliance makes him one to look out for in the future. Furthermore, the diminutive winger has already been around the periphery of the Stoke first team squad and has been named as a substitute on multiple occasions.

Verlinden has spent the current campaign on loan with FC St. Pauli but has made a minimal impact in Germany and has only made a handful of appearances for the club’s reserve team.

However, the fresh start at Stoke under the stewardship of Rowett may be just what the Belgian needs to kick-start his professional career.

(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Tyrese Campbell

Campbell began his football career with Manchester City’s academy but chose to turn down a professional contract with the club in the summer of 2016 in order to sign for Stoke. The Potters were ultimately ordered to pay £1.75 million for his services by a tribunal.

However, the 18-year-old has been the star of Stoke’s academy structure during the previous two years and, even at this early stage, he appears to be worth every penny of that fee.

Campbell was a prolific for the under-18’s team last season, with his goals firing the side into the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup, whilst he finished the current campaign as the top goal scorer in Premier League 2. His 18 strikes saw him shortlisted for the Premier League 2 Player of the Season award.

The 18-year-old was handed his first-team debut in February 2018 against Leicester City and subsequently made three further substitute appearances prior to the end of the campaign.

Campbell has emerged as one of the most prolific young forwards in the country and next season may be the perfect opportunity for him to make his mark in first-team football.

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Brighton and Hove Albion

Wolves at risk of losing talented youngster Cameron John

The talented teenager could leave Molineux Stadium this summer.

Josh Kerr

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Photo: Getty Images

Talented youngster Cameron John is still yet to make his Wolverhampton Wanderers debut and the youngster is reportedly growing frustrated with his lack of game-time.

According to the Daily Mail (live transfer blog, 23/05/2018 10.50am), John is in the last year of his contract with the Midland’s side and the Premier League new boys are willing to listen to offers.

Despite not making a senior appearance at the Molineux Stadium, the 18-year-old is still hot property and a number of clubs are preparing to swoop for him.

A talented centre-back, who can also play on the left side of defence, John has impressed Scott Sellars’ in his Under-23 side over the past season and he may be rewarded with a move this summer that will see him rewarded with greater senior opportunities.

(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Brighton, Stoke City and Norwich City are all showing an interest in the Wolves’ young centre-back and could make an imminent swoop.

The Championship would suit John more than the Premier League and Brighton have also recently signed Leon Balogun from Bundesliga club Mainz, meaning the south coast side may not see John as a potential starter, but rather an addition to strengthen their squad.

Also, Wolves are close to announcing Willy Boly on a permanent deal, which could be a message to John that he is not in manager Nuno’s long-term plans. Therefore, a move to Gary Rowett’s Stoke or Daniel Farke’s Norwich seems most likely.

It would be a surprising move for Wolves to allow one of their best talents to leave the club. However, with heavy summer investments imminent, the club are more likely to be focused on bringing ready-made Premier League players to the Midlands, which could mean the youngster is better-suited finding first-team football elsewhere.

At only 18 years of age, John undoubtedly has a bright future and the growing interest of teams only showcases the raw talent that he possesses. He is a talented youngster, but he finds himself at a crossroads in his career, and it will be interesting to see what will follow with his next move.

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Stoke City

Three key areas for Gary Rowett to address at Stoke City over the summer

Martyn Cooke

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On Tuesday evening Stoke City announced that Gary Rowett had been appointed as their new manager.

The 44-year-old replaces Paul Lambert, who departed the club following relegation from the Premier League, and now faces the task of building a team capable of making an immediate return to the top-flight.

Rowett led Derby County to the Championship play-offs this season, ultimately losing out to Fulham, and is regarded as one of the brightest, young British managers in the country. Stoke were previously linked with the former Burton Albion and Birmingham City manager in January and have reportedly paid around £2 million in compensation to secure his services.

However, whilst the Potters may possess a superior budget to many of their counterparts in the Championship an immediate return to the Premier League is certainly not guaranteed. The playing squad requires a dramatic overhaul during the summer and the second tier of English football is notoriously unpredictable and competitive.

Here, The Boot Room highlights three key areas that Rowett must address in order to revive Stoke’s fortunes.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Convince big-name players to stay

When a club is relegated from the Premier League they normally undergo a rapid fire sale of their best players in order to reduce the wage bill and balance the books.

However, that is not necessarily the case with Stoke. The Potters are in a solid financial position and are funded by Peter Coates, owner of online betting company Bet365, who is a local entrepreneur and has the club’s best intentions at heart.

The first task for Rowett will be to try and convince some of Stoke’s star assets to remain at the Bet365 Stadium and lead a promotion challenge.

Whilst figures such as Xherdan Shaqiri and Jack Butland are almost certainly likely to depart the club during the summer, there are others that might be tempted to stay put.

Joe Allen and Moritz Bauer have already tentatively suggested that they might be willing to remain whilst Rowett should also focus on keeping hold of other key figures such as Ryan Shawcross, Bruno Martins Indi and Badou Ndiaye.

Stoke will be more capable of building a squad capable of challenging for promotion if Rowett can convince some of the key figures in the squad to stay.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Get things right in the transfer market

One key factor in Stoke’s downfall over the previous two years has been the club’s horrendous transfer policy.

It is amazing to think that the Potters have spent £12 million on Saido Berahino, who has yet to score a goal for the club, £18 million on Kevin Wimmer, who was demoted to the under-23 squad for much of the season, and a further £18.3  million on Giannelli Imbula, who spent the year on loan in France.

Quite simply, Rowett cannot afford to make similar, costly mistakes as he overhauls the team during the summer.

The club need to move away from so-called ‘big name’ players who have little affection for the club, such as Jese Rodriguez, and ageing stalwarts that are entering the twilight of their careers, such as Darren Fletcher. Stoke need to build a young, hungry and dynamic team that are motivated, driven and still have everything to prove.

However, that is certainly easier said than done.

Rowett will be handed a significant transfer budget, which will be further increased by players sales, to build a team capable of securing promotion and he needs to ensure that the money is spent much more wisely than it has been in the recent past.

(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Re-discover Stoke’s identity

Over the previous two years Stoke have gradually lost their idiosyncratic identity – much to the detriment of the club. The Potters have always been at their best when they have a clear identity, philosophy and direction.

Under Tony Pulis, Stoke were characterised as a hard working, well organised team that employed a direct style of football that relied on transferring the ball into the opponents eighteen yard box as often as possible. It was not to everyone’s taste, but it was effective and supporters knew exactly what they were going to get.

Mark Hughes altered that identity and built a team that was characterised by foreign flair, technical brilliance and a possession-based style of play. Three consecutive top half finishes followed and the media referred to the club as ‘Stoke-a-lona’ in reference to the team’s new style of play.

It was when Hughes began to move away from that definitive identity that the Potters lost all sense of direction.

It is vital that Rowett implements his own footballing philosophy and creates a clear, definitive identity that the Stoke supporters can unite behind. The philosophies of Pulis and Hughes probably sit at extreme, contrasting ends of the spectrum and the 44-year-old may be aiming to find the middle ground that balances hard work, discipline and creativity.

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