Stoke City have once again become a real threat under Mark Hughes, but a much different one to what they were under Tony Pulis. With an array of European talent and former Barcelona players among their line-up, Stoke are still a nightmare for anyone, ending the season with a thumping 6-1 victory over Liverpool. After another summer of good recruitment, it should be another great season down at the Britannia.
Last Season: Premier League (9th)
Manager: Mark Hughes
GKs: Jack Butland, Shay Given, Jakob Haugaard
DFs: Phil Bardsley, Erik Pieters, Marc Muniesa, Glen Johnson, Marc Wilson, Ryan Shawcross, Geoff Cameron, Dionatan Teixeira, Philipp Wollscheid
MFs: Glenn Whelan, Stephen Ireland, Marco van Ginkel, Charlie Adam, Steve Sidwell, Ollie Shenton
FWs: Peter Odemwingie, Marko Arnautovic, Joselu, Mame Biram Diouf, Jonathan Walters, Peter Crouch, Bojan
In: Philipp Wollscheid (Bayer Leverkusen), Jakob Haugaard (FC Midtjylland), Joselu (Hannover 96), Shay Given (Aston Villa), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Moha El Ouriachi (Barcelona), Dom Telford (Blackpool), Mark Waddington (Blackpool), Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona), Marco van Ginkel (Chelsea – Loan)
Out: Wilson Palacios (Released), Thomas Sorensen (Released), Andy Wilkinson (Released), James Alabi (Released), Alex Grant (Perth Glory), Rob Huth (Leicester City), Steven N’Zonzi (Sevilla), Jamie Ness (Scunthorpe United), Asmir Begovic (Chelsea), Daniel Bachmann (Ross County – Loan)
First Six: Liverpool (H), Tottenham Hotspur (A), Norwich City (A), West Brom (H), Arsenal (A), Leicester City (H)
Likely Lineup: (4-2-3-1) Butland – Johnson, Shawcross, Muniesa, Pieters – Sidwell, Whelan – Odemwingie, van Ginkel, Arnautovic – Joselu
A word from…Terry Conroy
On his memories of Stoke It was 1967 and the team was regarded as one that was supposed to be past our sell-by-date, but Tony Waddington got another two years out of me and the team, he had a great knack for doing that but he started to focus on the young talent and we all seemed to come together at the same time.
Three of the back four came in and all of a sudden there was an injection of young blood so from 1969 onwards the team just blossomed, it picked itself with Gordon Banks in goal right through to the strikers, we had an understanding and some continuity. We got to know everyone’s style of play so the early 70s were great for us, we got to a few semi-finals and we were responsible for the only trophy the club have won.
It was great to be a part of it, it’s a friendly club and we all socialised together which you won’t see as much these days. All our wives and girlfriends knew each other, we had a great bond and that was priceless.
On Tony Waddington He was an old-fashioned manager, he’d never watch a game on the touchline, he’d always watch from the stands. He wasn’t hugely into tactics, he knew the players he had and he knew what to tell them to do.
He had Gordon Banks, Banksy was without a doubt the best goalkeeper in the world, bar none, I promise you. Playing with him week in, week out gave that confidence that you wouldn’t conceded, we had George Easton too. Once he got the ball you wouldn’t get it off him, Jimmy Greenhoff too, the manager knew what these players could do and how good they could be. We knew what we had to do, it was simple and that’s what made it so enjoyable.
Tony knew the players, he trusted them and that’s the most important thing. I think now managers allow coaches to take on a lot more responsibility but Tony did much of that himself, he knew us inside out and that made everything much easier for us. We weren’t looking at stats and video analysis, those kind of things annoy me now, so much is based around stats. The simplicity of the game is you go out there and play, you score more goals than the other team and you win, it’s as simple as that. It doesn’t matter how much possession you have and thankfully we didn’t have to contend with that.
On the differences in modern day football I don’t envy the players, genuinely. I mean, good luck to them, they’re earning their money and that’s fair.
But I envy the strikers, back then the first 20 minutes the defenders had a license to kill and if you survived that you’d done well. Then the referee would step in, these days you’ll be booked for a tackle in the 1st minute, I’d have loved to have played now where you know as a forward you’ll be on pitches that are a million times better, the balls are better and things like that.
There was no joy back then going to places up north where you knew you were in for a physical battle and a kicking. We were a footballing side so teams knew to leave their mark on us and they did leave their mark I’m telling you!
On the stand collapse That was in 1976, what happened was the stand blew down and we were under insured. In the end the banks said to the manager he had to get rid of players, he started to offload one or two and the major one was Jimmy Greenhoff.
Jimmy was idolised, he was a huge presence at the club, everyone loved him and funnily enough he didn’t want to go, he genuinely didn’t want to go to Manchester United but he had to. That tells you a lot about how well we were doing at that time but he was sold just to pay the banks for the stand.
Within 12 months of that happening we’d gone from title challengers to getting relegated and it was never the same after that, the club broke up and they stayed out of the big time for many years, a nearly championship-winning side had been broken up, it was a real shame.
On the current Stoke City It gives you that hope that something good is going to happen at the club again and we’re not just making up the numbers.
Thankfully I think we’re past that now and I think fans know the club can push on, finishing 9th is remarkable and the manager has spent wisely, some really astute signings. He’s now able to attract better players because of what we’ve done, there’s a wonderful atmosphere at the stadium and there’s some real optimism about the club and that we can even think of top six. The top five will always be there but really it’s anyone’s spot from sixth downwards.
On Mark Hughes Tony was a magician in terms of what he did for the team but Mark has come in with a different style and he’s been given the opportunity to take the club on.
He’s got great faith in players abroad, his experiences in Spain and Germany probably help and he’ll have that background information on some clubs and he’s got good contacts there. Maybe he’s got an advantage over other Premier League managers in that respect and it’s a great mix of players at the club at the minute.
The period between the end of last season and this one has been a real feeling of can’t wait for the season to start. It hasn’t necessarily always been like that but now the fans are waiting in anticipation because they feel like the club can achieve something and are really building a very, very good team.
On pushing on this season You have to invest every six months, no matter who you are, you have to keep reinforcing your team, you don’t know what injuries are going to hit or what’s going to happen.
Our squad has never been the strongest in the league but I think now Mark is really preparing it for Europe and potentially getting that chance. But he’s building a squad capable of competing both in England, with some strong players and for Europe with the players coming in from the likes of Barcelona.
There’s been no roar really about losing players like N’Zonzi because they know now the club have money to replace him and they have faith in the manager.
The Offside Rule Podcast Prediction: Whilst Stoke have lost two key players this summer, their recruitment has once again been excellent for a club of their stature. With Mark Hughes at the helm, there’s absolutely no reason why Stoke can’t go one step further and start bothering the top six or seven with some consistency.
Key Player: Marco van Ginkel – The Chelsea loanee has already shown plenty of ability and talent to excite the fans during pre-season, and playing just behind the striker on a regular basis could see him become one of the stars of the season, unless injury hits him again.
One to Watch: Jack Butland – With Asmir Begovic now gone, it appears the highly-rated Englishman will get a regular chance to shine in the Premier League. It’ll be really interesting to see how he gets on with Euro 2016 looming on the horizon.