Optimism aplenty at Stoke as Bojan arrival signals intent
Interesting things are starting to happen at Stoke City. Perennial scrappers under old boss Tony Pulis, always good enough to survive comfortably but never quite exciting enough to totally appease their own fans, they have shown remarkable signs of evolution under the experienced watch of Mark Hughes and, if this Summer’s transfer dealings are anything to go by, that progress shows no sign of abating. Their best piece of business undoubtedly has to be the capture of forward Bojan Krkić from Barcelona.
A player with a quite astonishing youth record, Bojan was once considered the next Messi and as such broke into the Barca side at the age of just 17 in 2006. Big things were expected of the prodigious striker but they failed to materialise and after a transfer to Roma, loan to Milan, a bizarre move back to Catalonia and a spell at Ajax he has ended up in the Potteries for a fee rumoured to be around £3million.
For Stoke to land such a high-profile player is a huge coup but it isn’t a deal without risk. Bojan has often been accused of having a poor focus and temperament; this much is reflected in his inconsistent goalscoring form. Perhaps more worryingly, one of the main problems that blighted him in his early years in senior football was his slight physique and the propensity for him to be bullied out of games. Stoke will hope that at 23 he has bulked up but if there are any doubts about his strength, these will surely be exploited in the fearsome world of the Premier League.
And yet what a transfer this could prove to be for the Potters. If Bojan can rediscover the form that saw him become the most highly-rated young player in Europe then Stoke could reap monumental rewards. He has exquisite technique and a silky touch and if his manager and teammates can indulge him, there is no telling how influential he could prove to be. This isn’t just a brilliant transfer for Stoke; it’s a statement of intent. Under Pulis, a player like Bojan would have had no chance of being integrated into the side. Hughes has shown that he is prepared to play attractive, attacking football and as such Bojan could thrive under him.
Stoke City v Aston Villa Betting Odds:
Stoke win – 19/20
Aston Villa win – 14/5
Draw – 23/10
(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)
This evolution of the team was in evidence last season, especially after Christmas. He swapped Kenwyne Jones for the far more mobile and technically able Peter Odemwingie who flourished, finishing the season with five goals and many plaudits. The change ran deeper than this, though. Stoke began to play more expressively, more inventively and with more assurance on the ball. It allowed the team to build a momentum and showed that many of their players could actually play. The result was their best ever Premier League finish.
Next season Bojan will be supported in forward areas by Odemwingie and the wonderfully talented Marko Arnautović, as well as fellow new boys Mame Biram Diouf, who had a respectable scoring record at Hannover, and erm… Steve Sidwell (leave Sidwell alone – ed.). It is a surprisingly excellent-looking attacking group and that is without even mentioning the experienced and more physical Peter Crouch and Jon Walters who seem to be on the fringes of the first team – a further sign of the team’s technical development under Hughes. Defender Phil Bardsley is also an astute signing on a free transfer.
On paper, Stoke will have one of the more attractive and goal-friendly sides in the division. The top 7 seem streets ahead of the rest of the Premier League but Stoke will be battling the likes of Newcastle and Southampton for another top 10 finish. If they can show more progress this season and continue to develop their style then who knows, maybe they could challenge for a European place and begin to compete higher up the league. A cup run may be a more realistic ambition this term.
There is an element of pie-in-the-sky to all of this. There are no guarantees Bojan and Diouf will adapt well to the Premier League and Hughes may suffer in his second season, as he has done at previous clubs. For now, though, Potters fans will be filled with optimism for the coming season. If Bojan can recapture his scoring touch, their faith may well be vindicated.
Betting Instinct tip – Bojan to score the first goal against Aston Villa is 6/1 with Coral
JACK CHATTERTON is a student and long-suffering Spurs fan, who has written for In Bed With Maradona and Sabotage Times, among others. You can read his miscellaneous and quite modest blog, or follow him on Twitter or Google+.