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Stoke City

The rise of Stoke City and their future direction

The Boot Room

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Tony Pulis steered Stoke back into the Premier League in 2008. Despite Paddy Power paying out on Stoke’s relegation before a ball had even been kicked, they managed to fight to a respectable 12th position in their first season. Ultimately, Stoke remained a mid-table side for the whole of Pulis’ managership (Despite a brief foray into the Europa League in 2011 due to FA Cup success). Stoke under Pulis became synonymous with words such as “physical” and “battle”, the Rory Delap long throw, and wind-assisted long balls.

Therefore even the most devout of Stoke fans would have been hard pushed to predict the upwards trajectory of their club after Mark Hughes’ appointment in 2013. Hughes’ transfer market activity in his few seasons in charge has been nothing short of phenomenal. Players in the Stoke 1st XI such as Richard Cresswell, Rory Delap and far past his best, Michael Owen have been quickly replaced by young and bright Continental stars such as Ibrahim Affelay, Bojan and Xherdan Shaqiri to name but a few. At present, Stoke has the boast that 5 of their squad are Champions League winners.

Looking specifically at the most recent signing of Shaqiri for £12m, there are wide reaching ramifications. First and foremost, is the fact that the £12 million fee paid for the Swiss international is a transfer record for the Potters. Wise purchases of top young players who have the potential to turn a game on its head with a moment of magic are huge statements of intent by the club.  The second consequence of this transfer is whom they beat for Shaqiri’s signature. Reportedly a host of clubs were after the signing, and in particular Everton. It cannot go unnoticed that Stoke is now beating many of its rivals to key transfers.

Stoke’s successful transfer policy has in turn led to a change of fortune on the pitch. In Hughes’ first season, he guided Stoke to a 9th place finish and the highest points tally since 1974-75. Stoke under Pulis was known in some respects as a tough, dirty team, and the Britannia a fortress for visiting sides. It might not have been aesthetically pleasing at times, but it kept Stoke as an established mid-table Premier League team. However, in the years that Hughes have been in charge, slowly the squad has been improved, and performances on the pitch have matched that. The evolution of the club have led them to become a possession based side with expansive and creative play. Some of the fans have tongue in cheek renamed Stoke as Stokealona!

While unimaginable to say just a few years ago, Stoke have undergone a total transformation, and have become a team of big stars. Pieters has come out in the media today to say that facing Spurs “holds no fear”, and that Stoke truly believe they can get a result against any side in the division. This only highlights their growing stature in the game. Stoke took a number of big scalps last season including a double over Tottenham and a 6-1 demolition of Liverpool on the final day. The Potters want to make sure that they are no longer seen as scalps but become commonplace.

So where are Stoke heading? What should their targets be for the upcoming season and the seasons that follow? Despite a defeat to Liverpool on the opening day (Which took a spectacular strike from Coutinho to break the deadlock and seal the 3 points), I would be very surprised if Stoke did not finish in the top half of the table with the standard of players they have available to them. They took a few big scalps last year, and they will certainly need a few more to even entertain the thought of improving on last season’s 9th place finish. However, with the introduction of the TV money, the gap between the European spots and mid-table is closing quickly. If Stoke can continue to operate effectively in the transfer windows, and the performances on the pitch are matched by this, there are no reasons why Stoke can’t challenge for the Europa League spots in the coming seasons (And a Cup run or two at the same time). Rivals for these spots such as Everton lack squad depth, and Stoke could make this advantage pay.

Though all these changes do come with a health warning attached. On their day, Stoke can attack any team with pace and precision, and their new signings have the potential to turn 1 point to 3. However, the question has to be posed, can these new signings do it on a “Cold, wet Wednesday night in Stoke?”! Normally this question is reserved for world class stars of big clubs, whether they could play against a tough, hard-hitting Stoke side in poor conditions, and the like. Now it can be applied to the Continental stars of their own club. Higginbotham has come out to the media to question whether the team has enough fighters in the squad anymore. They have players such as Walters, and Adams, who provide the aggression and old school Stoke ethic to be able to grab the team by the scruff of the neck when it is needed. Do players such as Bojan or Affelay have this same fight, if the chips are down against a rough and tough, relegation fighting side? For this season, Stoke is unlikely to improve on last season’s performance. However, if Hughes’ can effectively blend the elements of flair and fighter in the coming seasons, they could be looking at a very successful period in Stoke’s history. Whatever happens with Stoke, the increased TV money being spent by the mid-table sides, can only lead to a more exciting, unpredictable Premier League. Great news for any football fan.

Featured Image: All rights reserved by Dan Westwell

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Stoke City

Stoke City should avoid re-signing Robert Huth and look to the future

Although a romantic idea, the Potters should avoid resigning the 34-year-old.

Martyn Cooke

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On Wednesday morning, Leicester City announced that Robert Huth would be leaving the club at the end of the season after three-and-a-half years with the Foxes.

The German defender has made 93 appearances during that period, scoring six goals, and became a fans favourite at the King Power Stadium for the prominent role that he played in the club’s recent success.

He was a crucial facet of the Leicester team that were crowned Premier League champions in 2016 and was widely admired for his tough, no-nonsense style of defending.

However, Huth will go into the summer as a free agent after the Foxes decided not to renew his contract when it concludes at the end of the campaign.

The German has struggled to regain his place in the first team squad since suffering a string of injuries in the closing stages of last season and is behind the likes of Wes Morgan, Harry Maguire and Aleksander Dragovic in the pecking order for a starting role.

Huth remains a popular figure among Stoke supporters after his contributions helped to establish the club in the Premier League, reach an FA Cup final and progress to the latter stages of the Europa League.

His central defensive partnership with club captain Ryan Shawcross is widely perceived by fans as being the best in the club’s modern era.

With the Potters being relegated to the Sky Bet Championship and Huth set to leave Leicester in the summer, some Stoke supporters have been left wondering if the German is set for a dream homecoming.

The current Stoke squad will undoubtedly experience a dramatic overhaul during the summer as the club prepares for life in the second tier and the departure of Kurt Zouma, who returns to Chelsea when his loan expires next week, will mean that the Potters will be in the market for a defensive replacement.

However, the potential signing of Huth would not represent a positive move.

The central defender is now 34-years-old and has barely featured for Leicester over the last twelve months. In fact, the German has yet to make an appearance this season and has struggled with multiple consecutive injuries over the last year.

If The Potters are serious about reclaiming their place in the Premier League then they must avoid trying to relive the past and start to look to the future.

Regardless of the place that Huth has in the hearts of Stoke supporters, it makes little sense objectively to purchase an aging defender who has barely played in twelve months.

Attempting to recreate the glory days of half-a-decade ago is unlikely to solve the club’s current issues in the here and now.

(Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

A defensive partnership of Huth and Shawcross would have a combined age of 64 – you have to question how effective the pairing would be in the intense world of football in the Championship where the games come thick and fast with often two matches a week in a congested fixture list.

There is little to gain from trying to relive the past.

Instead, Stoke should be looking to bring together a young, hungry group of players that are developing towards the prime of their careers and still have everything to prove.

It should be about building with the future in mind, rather than reminiscing about creating an ‘old boys’ club.

A return for Huth to the Bet365 Stadium would be an idealistic and romanticised concept in the minds of some supporters, but is he truly the best option?

Huth will forever be remembered as a genuine Stoke City legend, but he represents the past and it is the future that the club need to be focusing on.

A return to ‘The Potteries’ may be a romantic notion for some supporters, yet it would not represent forward thinking or progress for a club that needs to rebuild after a period of regression.

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Newcastle United

Newcastle should swoop for Stoke’s Joe Allen in the summer window

The Welshman will be hot property as he seeks a return to the top flight.

Josh Kerr

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Photo: Getty Images

Newcastle United should make a move for Stoke City midfielder Joe Allen, who will be looking to stay in the Premier League after the Potters relegation to the Championship was confirmed on the weekend.

Earlier this month, The Sun reported that the likes of West Ham and the Magpies were interested in the £20 million-rated Welshman’s signature after Paul Lambert’s side became the first Premier League team to face the drop.

The former Liverpool midfielder is only 28 and may still feel his talents are best suited to the Premier League. Therefore, a move away from Staffordshire may be the best solution in order for him to stay at the highest level.

Allen has featured for the Potters in a more defensive role this season, one that has seen him grab two goals as well as six assists.

A player with significant Premier League experience, the Welshman would bring a lot to this Newcastle side, and a host of other top-flight clubs would no doubt love to have him in their engine room.

Lovingly referred to as the ‘the Welsh Xavi’, Allen is by no means the most prolific midfielder, but his work rate and experience are second-to-none. He is a real leader in the dressing room that the Magpies would be foolish to ignore.

The £20 million would be a club record signing for Newcastle, surpassing the fee spent on Michael Owen’s capture from Real Madrid back in 2005. However, Allen represents stability and Benitez will be searching for that if his side are to stay up again next season.

Allen’s relentless energy in the middle of the park will suit the Spaniard, and his experience will see him set the example for the young players around him to follow. He also looks real Rafa Benitez signing, a player whose work-rate and dedication matches his quality.

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English Premier League

Xherdan Shaqiri has progressed despite Stoke City relegation

The Swiss international has eight goals and six assists this season.

Jake Jackman

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Xherdan Shaqiri arrived in England with a big reputation after playing for both Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.

The Swiss international was regarded as one of the brightest talents to emerge from his homeland in several years, but his lack of consistency and selfish style prevented him from being a success at two of the biggest clubs on the continent.

Despite that, it was still seen as a huge surprise that he joined mid-table Premier League side Stoke City.

At the time, the attacker would have seen the club as a stepping stone to bigger things with a move to a top-six Premier League team in his future.

His first two seasons were underwhelming, as he managed to contribute only seven goals and eight assists in 48 matches.

He was involved in a goal every 249.9 minutes, which isn’t good enough for a player with his quality.

The environment at Stoke didn’t help him play to his potential, as there was little ambition at the club with the only focus being to stay in the division.

Although there were some nice moments from Shaqiri, he didn’t impact matches on a consistent basis and that stopped a bigger club from making a move for him.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Saturday was the day of Stoke City’s relegation from the Premier League and that has created doubt regarding the future for Shaqiri, but he is one of the few players in the squad to emerge from this season with credit.

In the match against Crystal Palace, the 26-year-old gave his side some hope with an excellent strike from a free-kick, but the Potters once again showed that they couldn’t hold on to a lead and that is one of the major reasons for their current position.

That goal took Shaqiri up to eight goals and six assists for the season.

He has nearly matched his contribution from the last two seasons combined and that shows the improved consistency that he has found, despite Stoke’s struggles. This has been helped by his playing time, as he has started all but two of the team’s matches.

As the season progressed to a climax, there was a lot of pressure on Shaqiri to produce the magic to save Stoke City.

The plan seemed to be ‘defend and give the ball to the winger’ to provide a match-winning moment.

It may not have worked, but it gave a platform to the Swiss international to show his ability and he has managed to do that with some impressive showings.

(Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

The relegation will hurt Shaqiri today, but his performances over the course of the season mean that he is unlikely to have to play Championship football.

He is far too good for that and he has the opportunity to leave this summer.

The World Cup will be his first priority, but he could use the tournament as a shop window and attract a club of the highest calibre possible.

A top-six club may be beyond him, despite his improvement. However, there will be a lot of Premier League interest and it would be a good decision to remain in England.

The style of football suits him and there is no telling how effective he could be in the right system.

Stoke never provided that, but there will clubs that will. It may not feel like it today, but this season has represented progression for Shaqiri.

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