Central midfield has become a popular target for Stoke City’s transfer team in recent seasons, as the club seem to be continuously pumping money into that troubled area of the pitch.
This summer was another that saw four central midfield players depart and three more come in. Peter Etebo, Sam Clucas and Ryan Woods will be the latest recruits to try and finally add some stability to a tumultuous few years for Stoke.
Going back to 2015, Stoke were at the height of their ascent in the Premier League with Steven Nzonzi, Glenn Whelan and Geoff Cameron the first choice central midfield trio.
The last of those three finally left the club this summer with Cameron joining QPR to the annoyance of some fans, but it was Nzonzi’s departure that season where the problems first began for Stoke.
Since then Stoke have spent over £60m on nine different central midfield options adding to the seven central players they already had at the club. The elongated period of instability in the centre of the field proved one of Stoke’s defining failures last season.
Taking into account form, injury and appearances it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Joe Allen has been the only successful acquisition in that position in the last three years. Given the Welshman’s dip in form this season Stoke are still looking to stop the rot so what can fans expect from the latest bunch of incomings.
Etebo is the only one to really feature for Stoke so far with Woods having joined late in the window and Clucas currently injured. And the Nigerian’s time at the club has been a mixed bag so far after impressing in the World Cup.
Starting the season with a woeful performance at Leeds Etebo was promptly dropped for the subsequent games. Making a return to the starting lineup for the Hull game, Etebo went on to look lively in consecutive victories over Hull and Huddersfield, he remains promising but needs to add more consistency to his game.
Clucas meanwhile arrived injured after failing to secure a move to Burnley based on fitness issues. He is yet to make an appearance for Stoke and based on his recent history he is unlikely to be much of an upgrade for the club.
Suffering back-to-back relegations from the Premier League with Swansea and Hull, the Swans were convinced to cut their losses on the player this summer. Taking a significant hit on the transfer fee despite harbouring ambitions of promotion themselves should be a red flag for the Potters.
Stoke need someone who can fix a struggling side and Clucas has certainly proved to not be that in the last two seasons. That just leaves Woods who was an able performer for Brentford last season at they finished ninth.
He represents arguably the best appointment in that position this summer but is another who doesn’t appear to be missed by fellow promotion chasers. It’s too early to judge with any certainty but there are worrying parallels with the deals that reflect mistakes that have been made before.
The club have already had a much harder time in the Championship than they expected and this could be another familiar mistake from the board.
Stoke need to start integrating the players they have and an argument could easily be made that Ndiaye, Imbula and Cameron represented a much stronger midfield trio than their recent arrivals.
Poor handling of the clubs resources have proved a disaster and the latest midfield merry-go-round will likely prove more of the same.
Certainly, Gary Rowett seems to have a huge job on his hands if he hopes to guide Stoke anywhere near their promotion ambitions. Midfield, however, might be the biggest conundrum for him to solve.