Stoke City assistant manager Mark Bowen is hoping that the club’s mid-season warm weather training camp will prepare the first team squad to end the current campaign on a positive note.
The Potters have spent six days in Dubai and are due to return to the colder climate of North Staffordshire on Wednesday ahead of their trip to London to face Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend. It is the fourth consecutive season that Mark Hughes has arranged a mid-season training camp and Bowen believes that the players will be left refreshed and reinvigorated as they look to secure a top-ten finish in the Premier League.
“It serves it’s purpose for us because it gets the squad together 24-hours-a-day. They get in good work and good down time. It’s three or four years on the trot that we’ve been here and it’s had positive results. We’ve proven in the past we get refreshment from trips like this.”
Stoke face a tough run of fixtures in the coming months with games against Tottenham, Middlesbrough, Manchester City and Chelsea all to come. Mark Hughes told the Stoke Sentinel that a change of scenery will benefit the players.
“Sometimes, going into the same building and the same training centre, albeit ours is very good, it’s a little bit monotonous. We have long, cold winters and sometimes you need that change of scenery to stimulate the group again. We’ve done this for many years and it’s always had a good reaction”.
Meanwhile, Saido Berahino has revealed that he is ready to play a more prominent role in the first team when the Premier League resumes this weekend after successfully completing an extended training programme.
The 23-year-old joined The Potters from West Bromwich Albion for £12,000,000 in January and has been working with his new teammates in Dubai as part of the club’s warm-weather training camp. There have been question marks raised in the past regarding the striker’s fitness levels and Mark Hughes has only been willing to hand the new signing two substitute appearances since his arrival at the end of the transfer window.
However, Berahino told the Stoke City official website that he has been participating in extra training sessions and is eyeing a starting role in the coming weeks.
“I have been doing a lot of work with the group but also a lot, every day, away from them too, to make sure I am getting my levels right back up to where we want them to be.”
“The extra work has finished now because I am in good condition, and now it is just about maintaining what I have and improving on that with minutes in the Premier League. I have already been used in a couple of games, which has been fantastic for me, but the next step is to try and start a game and then come through that too, hopefully having made a good impact.”
Berahino has also revealed that the club’s short-term training retreat in Dubai has helped him to familiarize himself with his new teammates.
“It is important to spend so much time with the lads on and off the field, so they get to know me and understand me better and vice versa. Off the training pitches I have been able to speak to the lads about how I play and the runs I like to make, and I think by doing that then it will help us to understand each other when it comes to match days.”
“For me personally it couldn’t be going any better.”
In other news, former Stoke City midfielder Steven N’Zonzi has spoken about his time in North Staffordshire for the first time in an interview with The Guardian.
The 28-year-old spent three seasons with The Potters after signing from Blackburn Rovers for £3,000,000 in the summer of 2012 and developed into one of the club’s leading players, especially following the arrival of Mark Hughes as manager. In 2015 the Frenchman moved to Sevilla for £7,000,000 and he has continued to grow into one of the most sought-after players in Europe with Barcelona, Manchester City and Arsenal all linked during the January transfer window.
N’Zonzi explained to The Guardian that he enjoyed his time in North Staffordshire and that he benefitted from the change of playing style implemented by Mark Hughes.
“I enjoyed it at Stoke, especially the last season. With [Tony] Pulis we had a good team but we were more about being strong and physical; with Hughes it was more of a passing game. That is what I like most, so I felt really good. My last season at Stoke I finished really well.”
The midfielder playmaker has flourished in Spain where his simple passing is utilised by Sevilla to build attacks from deep positions. Speaking about his departure from the Bet365 Stadium N’Zonzi explained:
“I didn’t really see any English team that wanted me. Sevilla wanted me a lot so this is why I came, naturally. Monchi [Sevilla’s director of football] had been watching me a long time, even at Blackburn. He said: ‘We play in the Champions League, you can improve your game’.”
N’Zonzi still keeps in contact with some of his former teammates at Stoke including Steven Ireland, Mame Biram Diouf, and Marco Arnautovic. He still talks fondly of Peter Crouch who he describes as being “a nice person who doesn’t take himself too seriously”.
The Potters have struggled to replace the presence and talent of N’Zonzi since his departure in 2015 and many Stoke supporters will be wishing the 28-year-old the best of luck when he lines up for Sevilla against Leicester in the Champions League during the next three weeks.
Finally, Stephen Ireland’s Stoke City career remains uncertain after Peter Coates revealed that the midfielder’s future had yet to be “discussed”.
The 30-year-old suffered a double fracture in his leg following an innocuous collision with a teammate during a training session in May 2016 and has yet to return to action. The player’s contract is set to expire in the summer leaving the former Manchester City and Aston Villa star with minimal time to recover and prove his fitness in a bid to earn a new deal.
Chairman Peter Coates told the Stoke Sentinel that Ireland’s future was unclear but that the midfielder was well-liked within the dressing room.
“I think that it is fair to say he has been unlucky with injuries. He has been unfortunate and we as a consequence we have been very unfortunate because we have had a good player at the club who hasn’t always been available.”
“He’s a nice guy, one who is liked a lot at the club … As for his future I have to say it is not something we have discussed yet, but when we do it will be a case of what Mark [Hughes] wants to do.”
Ireland has been in and out of the Stoke City team since turning his initial loan deal from Aston Villa into a permanent transfer in January 2014 due to periodic injuries and competition for places. The former Irish international’s absence has seen him fall further down the pecking order with Joe Allen, Glenn Whelan, Charlie Adam, Geoff Cameron and Giannelli Imbula all vying for a place in the Stoke City midfield.
However, The Potters do have a reputation for supporting players that suffer severe injuries. In 2008 Rory Delap was handed a contract the day after he suffered a broken leg whilst on loan from Sunderland whilst Andy Wilkinson was handed a short-term deal and treated by the club in 2016 after suffering a concussion injury that eventually forced the academy graduate to retire.
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