Time for Stoke's transfer team to earn their crust

Posted by James Whittaker

Laurence Griffiths/Getty ImagesStephen Ireland: Comes with baggage but has flourished under Mark Hughes

As the UK's tabloid newspapers try to out-do each other in linking Mark Hughes with every player who has ever served under him, I hear many posing the question: are Stoke going for cheap and cheerful or taking advantage of cut price quality?

There have been dozens of names linked since the arrival of Stoke's new man in charge and whilst some of those mentioned have fallen off the radar of late, I've been surprised by those fans quick to condemn many of the players suggested.

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Whilst Stoke are an attractive proposition as a club, being virtually debt free, owning their own ground and with a top-notch academy to boot, ultimately getting players in amounts to one thing: money. The figures released last week from parent company Bet365 made painful reading, showing Stoke to have lost around 400% more compared to the 12 months previous (£6 million to £30 million) and despite the annual TV pot of gold, Stoke are still a medium sized guest at the top table and that level of loss is not acceptable let alone sustainable.

Sustainability is the buzz word and with Denise Coates making specific reference to it when referencing the club's accounts further illustrates just how high on the agenda it is for the club. So what does that mean in respect of the manager's dealings in the transfer market? First and foremost he will have the boss's words ringing in his ears about being better at recruitment than his predecessor. Whilst value for money and resale value will be key to Hughes' moves in the market, that doesn't necessarily mean that the side will suffer with the quality available this summer.

Any players signed from here on in will comprise three kinds of deal, good foreign buys, some quality 'dogs home' players and individuals who represent a decent investment. The side will not be changed a great deal, but it's clear that change is still needed and new arrivals of the mix mentioned above will be a good start.

In the good foreign deals box you can place the likes of Erik Pieters, an experienced international full-back available for the paltry sum of around £3 million. Pieters' pedigree is excellent and with his experience and comparatively modest wage demands, he represents the kind of value the club are seeking to achieve. Especially when the alternatives are unproven, domestic lower league players who under the hype of their agents and the English media believe they are the second coming. A notion soon echoed by their ridiculous wage demands, which sees them end up on a bigger club's bench for the next four years.

In terms of the 'dog's home' players, you don't need to look too much further than David Bentley and Stephen Ireland, both of whom have excelled under Hughes, are available on free transfers and are at, what is typically referred to as, the peak age for a footballer. Whilst their recent exploits have been little short of disappointing they represent a calculated risk under a manager who has had such a positive impact on them in the past.

Much like the signing of Jermaine Pennant, any move would likely be subject to heavily incentivised contracts with a view to recapturing the form that made them household names in the first place. Like it or not, Stoke City cannot attract that level of ability and quality without the baggage both would bring with them. To dismiss the advantage Stoke appear to have regarding the ability to sign those players in particular, would not be prudent.

And then there are those you could label as an investment, I believe the owners are more than willing to steal a march on their rivals by spending big where a deal is available that is good for Stoke City. A good deal means a player at the right age, who would not only improve the squad but represent a chance to make a modest profit further down the line as they (hopefully) succeed and progress to the point where one of the big clubs come calling. This is something we have seen with Asmir Begovic, who signed for just over £3 million and is now being valued at almost five times that amount.

There is certainly nothing to be worried about; rather Stoke have a plan to be financially responsible and thinking about the future than splash cash they don't have to appease those wanting to stay at the top of the spending charts. Whilst that will most likely equate to more work for the scouting set-up, the technical director and chief executive, that's what they are there for, the only difference now is they actually have to earn their crust.

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