Marko Arnautovic’s transfer request could be the first signs of a Potters freefall with the club lacking a sense of direction.
Stoke City, a club respected by all in the Premier League; a side yet to taste relegation from the top flight in the Premier League era, but could the drop come sooner than expected for Mark Hughes’ side? After three consecutive ninth-placed finishes, Stoke finished 13th in a very flat season for the Midlands club, and you can’t imagine many transfer targets over the summer will be itching to move to the Bet365 Stadium.
The fact Arnautovic wants out is not a huge surprise after being one of very few consistent performers last season. The winger us wanted by West Ham, which would be seen as a sideways move, but the lures of London are perhaps too strong for the Austrian.
If the 28-year-old was to make an exit, you wouldn’t be surprised if there was a mini-exodus at the club. Xherdan Shaqiri hasn’t settled, and unless a more exciting manager were to be brought in, it looks like it will be his last season at the club. Another ‘star’ player is former Barcelona man Bojan, who was loaned out Mainz last season after being dropped by Hughes. If the big men want out, then it could be curtains for both the manager and the club’s future.
When you think of Mark Hughes, you think a very safe, unexciting manager, who lacks a clear style of play. Under previous manager Tony Pulis, Stoke were a well-drilled side, who were incredibly tough to beat, especially at home, and superb from set-pieces. Last season, Stoke lost eight home games in all competitions, including a 2-0 defeat to Championship side Wolves in the FA Cup.
Wherever Hughes has been, he has never set the world alight, perhaps why he keeps picking up mid-table clubs. As Wales boss, he failed to qualify for an international tournament. Blackburn was his biggest success, keeping them well clear of relegation for four seasons, and even as high as seventh in his final season in charge. That success earned him a move to Manchester City, shortly before they were flooded with cash. Despite bringing in Vincent Kompany, Robinho, Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tevez, Hughes still couldn’t mount a title challenge, and was subsequently replaced by Roberto Mancini in 2009 after finishing 10th.
History tells us that a club can only keep up with the big boys for so long in the Premier League. Sunderland were the most recent to suffer this fate, but unlike Stoke, had been battling relegation for the past five seasons. The same happened to Aston Villa the season before, ending their near 30-year spell in England’s top tier, showing that you are never too big to go down. Other casualties have been Fulham and Bolton Wanderers in recent years, with the The Trotters slipping down to League One in 2016.
You do fear for Stoke, and although it does seem unlikely that they will be relegated in 2017/18, there is a sense that a drop is not far away. The fact they had to rely on the 36-year-old Peter Crouch for goals last season (their top scorer with 10 goals in all comps) speaks volumes. A solid transfer window is needed for Hughes’ side, but by the looks of it, it will be the names that go out that will cause the headlines, not the ones coming in.