Club Focus – Stoke – Time to exploit the foreign market?

There are many reasons cited by the chairmen of football clubs when for wielding the managerial axe.

However, eyebrows were raised in June 2005 when Stoke City’s Icelandic owners brought Tony Pulis’ first reign as manager to an abrupt end. Then-chairman Gunnar Gislason blamed Pulis’ dismissal on his “failure to implement the strategy of exploiting the foreign market” in his transfer policy. The Welshman would emphatically prove Gislason’s decision wrong in leading Stoke back to the promised land, following his re-appointment by new chairman Peter Coates. However, with little transfer activity expected before close of the transfer window on Monday, many of the weaknesses in the current squad have gone unaddressed. Consequently, the question of Pulis’ reluctance to gamble on overseas talent is cause for concern once again.

The Stoke boss’ preference for signing players already tried and tested in English football has served the Potters well up to now. The club’s promotion to the Premier League was founded on a strong core of established professionals such as Rory Delap, Richard Cresswell and Ricardo Fuller, while the experience of Faye and Beattie were crucial to the Midlanders’ impressive maiden season in the top flight.

However, as Stoke struggle to attract players in their mission to cement their Premier League status, the option of looking overseas has become more pertinent. In the top tier, English-based players are generally far more expensive than their foreign counterparts. Other managers have shown that foreign gems can be unearthed cheaply. At Blackburn, Mark Hughes signed Chris Samba, McCarthy and Roque Santas Cruz and still had change left from £6m. Steve Bruce paid just £1m for Wilson Palacios and made a profit of around £11m when the Honduran moved to Tottenham. Of course, not all such gambles pay off, and for every Palacios there is a Marco Boogers or Milton Nunez. However, as Pulis trawls the domestic market for new blood, his reluctance to look beyond the British Isles could be costing the club a lot of money. Is there really no better target man in the European leagues than £14m rated Kenwyne Jones? Is there really no foreign goalkeeper Stoke could take a chance on who would cost a fraction of 39 year old David James’ wages? Pulis has been heavily linked with both Jones and James, but a more thorough scouting system could bring some valuable assets at a fraction of their cost.

There have been signs in recent seasons that the Potters’ attitude to signing players from overseas is gradually changing. Ritchie De Laet arrived from Royal Antwerp for a nominal fee in 2007. He was joined by Jamaican international winger Demar Phillips, while a deal for Phillips’ compatriot, tenacious midfielder and long throw specialist Rodolph Austin was only scuppered by the Home Office’s denial of a work permit. The Potteries club is also casting its net across both American continents. Stoke have established a strong partnership with Texas based Austin Aztex FC, a second division US outfit. Meanwhile, Pulis’ right hand man, David Kemp, is heading up a South American scouting network which yielded the arrival of highly rated Uruguayan youngster Diego Arismendi in August. However, while Tony Pulis might be more amenable to buying players from overseas these days, he remains reluctant to actually play them. De Laet, bizarrely, has played more games for current club Manchester United than he did at Stoke. Phillips was practically invisible during his brief stay in the Potteries, while Stoke did not take up their option to re-apply for a permit for Austin. This allowed him to move to Norwegian club SK Brann, where his performances are rumoured to have put him on Aston Villa’s radar. Even Arismendi, at 22 a Uruguayan Primera Divisi

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