How Stoke have become early favourites for promotion
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.
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.