Three events from the last few days have provided a snapshot of where Stoke have been, where we are now, and where we could be going.
Jonny Walters, eh? What more is there to say that hasn’t already been said? The Merseyside-born Ireland striker said goodbye after seven seasons with the club on Friday, and left with a lorryload of thanks from Stoke fans, the club and his fellow professionals.
The time is right for Walters to seek a new challenge, and there’s something rather fitting about him joining Burnley, a club who’s style he should suit down to the ground (or rather, up in the air). This did little to ease the sadness many felt at the transfer, not because they saw it as a mistake or an act of treachery on Jon’s part, but because it marks a break from our recent history.
The team of 2010/11 was raucously good fun once it gelled. Pretty much from the moment Danny Higginbotham’s free-kick trickled over the line in the Cup Quarter Final, Pulis’ men went on a barnstorming run that could have (should have?) picked up a trophy were it not for heartbreaking injuries and Kenwyne’s lack of composure in front of goal.
Walters was at the heart of all of this. A bustling, bullying, utter shithouse of a striker that occassionally pulled off something spectacular. We all know the highlights of his Stoke spell, but it’s worth emphasising that his longevity is an testament to all his positive attributes. To play so many games and become such an important figure under two different managers underlines how great he’s been – and to think, when he signed, we thought we’d simply added a body from the Championship to bolster to the squad.
For better or for worse, there is no longer room for Super Jon at Stoke, and it remains to be seen whether other veteran campaigners – Whelan, Crouch, Adam – will be following him out the door. Despite a couple of suprising new contracts, it’s beginning to feel as though our older generation is being moved on. Super, super Jon…
Onto a guy who contrasts with Jon in many respects, Arnie. A player who has provided some utterly magnificent moments, the like of which I’d never see from a Stoke player. The player who, for my money, has carried the burden of our attacking threat on his shoulders for about two seasons. He created Arnageddon yesterday by handing in a transfer request, after reported interest from West Ham.
Having thought about it for a while, and even recorded a podcast about it – I’m still no closer to knowing what I thing. I suspect perhaps that I’m so infatuated with Arnie as a player – his mesmeric ability to pluck a ball out the air, his eye for a pass, his ridiculous ability to bully fullbacks, his tenacity and work rate (don’t you dare suggest otherwise) – that I’m not ready to be angry with him yet. I don’t know what this says about Stoke’s suggested ‘lack of ambition’, but I know it’s a horrible situation when our best player wants to go to a worse club.
What I do know is that it’s very much a reflection on the present-day game, where player power talks and money shouts. As Arnie’s suitors in London know only too well from the Payet saga, it’s very hard to keep a player at your club when his head as been turned. It’s also very much where we are as a club. Our best players will be in the crosshairs of the bigger and more well-financed, and summer time is open season.
I’m clinging to a perhaps misguided notion that a bigger club in the continent will come in for him, as I couldn’t stand the prospect of Arnie playing against us. If it is to be West Ham, then that will sharpen the pitchforks in ST4 – and I can understand that. For now though, I’m not angry, I’m just very disappointed.
What does it tell you about football that so many of us were willing to (eventually) watch a stream of a friendy match involving a second tier Swiss side? Probably a bit too much.
Anyway, as many remarked watching the two Stoke XI’s march towards Urine Cup Glory, the young lads did alright. In fact, a few did very well indeed. The youth academy is a real source of optimism at the moment, and if you haven’t already you simply have to read Jase’s piece on Stoke’s youth sides.
Whether we’ll see much more of these lads in the Premier League this season remains to be seen, but what is vital is that they get game time. Be it at Stoke or on loan somewhere. Many have speculated about a Jon Walters replacement being signed but for me, we have to deploy Ngoy more often next term and give youth a real chance. Ngoy, who got 44 league minutes in total last season, was a real shining light and is surely worth being upgraded to a supporting actor role rather than be limited to cameo appearances. Other bright spots were Verlinden, Edwards, Souttar and new recruit Tymon. Unlike Jules, these are all waiting for first team minutes, so this season will be a real acid test of Hughes’ commitment to youth development.
If we do commit, and if just one of these lads comes good, it will all have been worthwhile and the future could be very bright indeed.
The Wizards of Drivel Podcast, Episode 58: Wizards meet… DUCK Magazine