Stoke City have long been known for their brutish tactics and their players that would look more at home on a rubgy pitch than in a football match. Just a few short years ago they featured a lineup where it seemed like every player had to be at least 6’3” and their best weapon was a long throw from Rory Delap.
Under Mark Hughes, Stoke still maintain some of that identity with players like Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters but their latest signings have shown a desire to change and adapt their style.
Stoke announced today that they added Switzerland international Xherdan Shaqiri to the squad in a £12m deal from Inter Milan. The little Swiss magician has been a bit of a nomad in recent years as he moved from FC Basel to Bayern Munich, then to Inter Milan and now to Stoke in a span of three years.
Last summer they signed former FC Barcelona midfielder Bojan Krkic and he made a great impact on the team before he suffered a knee injury in late-January. This summer they showed that same intent by signing another former Barcelona midfielder in Ibrahim Afellay and bringing Chelsea FC youngster Marco Van Ginkel on loan.
All three players have similar career trajectories in that they were expected to do great things at their respective clubs but injuries derailed their expected progress. Van Ginkel is the youngest of the bunch at just 22 but Bojan, despite being around for what seems like decades, is also just 24 years old.
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With players like Bojan, Shaqiri, Afellay, and Van Ginkel in the squad, Stoke City is starting to reflect the identity change that manager Mark Hughes embarked upon when he came to the Brittania. They still need the steel of players like Walters and Ryan Shawcross to protect the little tricksters up front, but they are quickly becoming a more dynamic side.
There is always the risk of becoming too open of a side when you focus so much on attacking intent and attacking players but Stoke appears to have an excellent mix of physicality and on-ball talent. Geoff Cameron and Van Ginkel can hold down the center of the park and allow the magicians to show off their tricks.
We have all seen what Shaqiri is capable of at the 2014 World Cup and he should slot in perfectly at the right midfielder spot for Stoke. Despite his listed height of just 5’7, the Swiss winger is powerfully built and has shown that he will not shy away from a physical challenge.
His career may not have gone the way he intended since leaving FC Basel in 2012 but this is his chance for redemption and a chance to audition once again for the big clubs in Europe. If he can get back to the level of play he has shown in Swiss colors then the partnership of Shaqiri and Bojan can help propel Stoke City to unprecedented heights.