On Wednesday morning the Stoke City first team squad officially reported back at the club’s Clayton Wood training complex for the first day of pre-season training.
It was Gary Rowett’s first opportunity to cast his eye across the current cohort of players as the former Derby County manager looks to build a team capable of challenging for promotion in the coming season.
There were a number of fresh faces present at Clayton Wood including new signing Benik Afobe, who arrived on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers earlier this month, and various members of Rowett’s revised backroom team.
Callum Davidson has been announced as assistant manager whilst there are also coaching roles for Kevin Phillips and a return for Stoke legend Rory Delap.
However, it was interesting, and in some cases somewhat surprising, to see that three former Stoke exiles reported for pre-season training.
Giannelli Imbula, Bojan Krkic and Ibrahim Affelay were all present despite spending much of the previous campaign away from the club for varying reasons.
But which of these three exiles deserve a second chance at the Bet365 Stadium under Rowett?
In January 2016, Stoke City broke their transfer record by signing French midfielder Giannelli Imbula from FC Porto for a fee of £18.3 million.
There was considerable excitement around the Bet365 following his arrival and this was only enhanced following a promising start to his career in English football, including a spectacular goal in his second appearance for The Potters against Bournemouth.
The central midfielder was young, technically efficient and physically intimidating – he looked the complete package.
However, Imbula’s form and confidence steadily declined over the following twelve months eventually culminating in Mark Hughes omitting him from the match day squad.
Last summer he was shipped out on loan to French side Toulouse for the season where he made 30 appearances as the team finish third from bottom of Ligue 1.
Quite what Stoke should do with their record signing is open for debate.
Imbula’s star has faded significantly and it appears unlikely that they will be able to recoup much of the £18.3 million that they paid for the central midfielder whilst potential suitors are likely to be put off by his large wage packet.
However, he could still be a significant asset for Gary Rowett.
If Stoke’s new manager can get Imbula fit, confident and help him to return to form then there is little doubt that the Frenchman would be a force to be reckoned with in the Championship.
The 25-year-old might flourish under a new managerial regime and he certainly possesses an abundance of quality – it is just a question of whether Rowett can get the club’s record signing to perform.
Verdict: Give him a second chance.
Dutch midfielder Ibrahim Afellay possesses an impressive CV having established himself as a central figure at PSV Eindhoven in the formative years of his career before earning a move to Barcelona in 2010.
However, his time at the Nou Camp was plagued by injuries and he was never able to make an impact for the Catalan giants.
A couple of relatively unsuccessful loan spells in Germany and Greece followed prior to Stoke City signing him on a free transfer in the summer of 2015.
Afellay’s career at the Bet365 Stadium was something of a slow burner but by the end of his first season with the club he had cemented his place in the starting eleven and was producing impressive performances on a consistent basis.
However, in April 2016 the midfielder suffered a severe knee injury in training that ruled him out of action for the best part of a year and he has never re-established himself as a key figure within the squad.
He was exiled by Paul Lambert at the back end of last season following a training ground bust up that related to Afellay’s attitude and performances in training.
The Dutchman was told that he was not welcome at Clayton Wood and he was forced to spend the final two months of the campaign in exile.
It was widely expected that Afellay would depart the Bet365 Stadium in the summer, but the appointment of Gary Rowett appears to have provided the dutchman with an opportunity at redemption.
However, it is difficult to see the 31-year-old having a future at the club.
Although he may possess significant experience and an abundance of technical ability, his lack of physical presence, fragility and proneness to injury would suggest that he is ill-suited to life in the Championship.
You would imagine that Stoke would be looking to invest in younger players rather than placing their faith in a veteran midfielder who has barely feature over the previous two years.
Verdict: Not worth a second chance
Bojan Krkic was once one of the most promising young forwards in Europe after he rose through Barcelona’s prestigious La Masia academy system and made his first team debut at the age of 17.
He made over 100 appearances for the Catalan’s prior to loan spells with Ajax, AC Milan and Roma before eventually moving to Stoke in the summer of 2014.
At his best, the 27-year-old was a central creative influence in the team who was capable of producing a sublime piece of skill or moment of magic that would break down the opposition defence.
He was technically magnificent and would often glide across the pitch, weaving between defenders and was a genuine threat whenever he received the ball in the final third.
Bojan was one of only a handful of Stoke players from the last decade that would bring supporters to the edge of their seats in anticipation and expectation when he was in possession.
However, the Spaniard fell out of favour with Mark Hughes and was never able to regain his position as Stoke’s creative hub.
His exclusion was somewhat bizarre considering the team’s inefficiency in the final third and the fact that he signed a new long-term contract in February 2016.
He subsequently has spent the past eighteen months on loan with Mainz and Las Palmas but has struggled to make any significant impact either in Germany or Spain.
Bojan’s return provides Gary Rowett with a remarkable opportunity to build his new-look Stoke side around a player who is a genuine superstar.
The 27-year-old provides creativity, goals and will be the perfect figure to unlock Championship defences if he can be convinced to remain at the Bet365 Stadium.
Whether the Spaniard would be prepared to drop into the second tier of English football is unclear, yet his presence at Clayton Wood for the first day of pre-season training suggests that there is a possibility that he could remain and lead Stoke’s promotion challenge this season.
Verdict: Give him a second chance.