Club Focus – Stoke – Beattie exit tells a sad story

Last week, James Beattie finally ended his 18 month stint in the Potteries, becoming Glasgow Rangers’ first signing in two years. It was a sad end to a Stoke City career that had promised so much. After an electric start in January 2009, it seemed that the nomadic Beattie had finally found a home as he closed in on 100 Premier League goals. The harsh reality of top flight football, however, is that a player can transform in rapid order from hero to zero.

It had been clear for months that Beattie had no future at Stoke City. In spite of his protestations that he wanted to stay and fight for his place, when a combination of huge wage demands and Stoke’s reluctance to sell him to a rival Premier League team stifled interest in the 32-year-old, the truth was that both parties were looking for a divorce. Beattie’s much-publicised bust-up with Tony Pulis at the Emirates in December remained unresolved, and despite some bright pre-season showings, the Potters’ boss had been unequivocal in his desire to show the striker the door.

Premier League virgins Stoke were in dire straits when Beattie arrived from Sheffield United during the January transfer window of 2008/09. Struggling near the foot of the table, with record signing Dave Kitson failing to do the business and talisman Ricardo Fuller never far away from injury or suspension, a goalscorer was needed, and Pulis gambled that the ex-Southampton man had not lost his touch at the top level. Beattie himself had a point to prove, a disastrous big-money move to Everton leading to the end of his fledgling England career and ultimately seeing him jettisoned to the Championship.

The move to the Potteries, initially at least, would prove to be his redemption. As a hard-working target man with a predatory instinct, he was exactly what the Midlanders needed, doing what Kitson and Mama Sidibe could not do by getting into goal scoring positions. His expert header in only his third start gave his new side, reduced to ten men, a famous victory over nouveau riche Manchester City, and an overall tally of seven goals in 16 appearances fired the Potters into mid-table security, capping an excellent debut season for club and player. It is no exaggeration to say that Beattie’s goals kept Stoke up that season. His constant goal threat gave the team confidence, and with the Potters’ other hero, Fuller, suffering with shoulder problems, nobody else in Pulis’ squad possessed the nous in front of goal that earned so many precious points.

The benefit of a full pre-season should have set the stage for Beattie to fire Stoke to even greater heights the following year, and he once again started the campaign as part of the manager’s preferred strike partnership. However, something was amiss. This was a different James Beattie, one who looked overweight and apathetic. From the very first pre-season friendly, he did not look remotely interested in playing for Stoke City, and his lack of fitness led to a number of niggling injuries early in the campaign. A brief flurry brought three goals in two games, but he then reverted to lumbering apathy, no longer getting into the dangerous positions of the previous season. His performances were an insult to the club and its fans, and surely played some part in igniting the incident at the Emirates which ultimately ended his Stoke career.

The reasons for Beattie’s loss of form remain unclear. However, his spells at Southampton and Everton both told the story of a player who would mix red hot scoring streaks with long, barren spells of disinterest. The whole affair has also called into question Pulis’ ability to manage the modern day “big name” footballer, and his role in the player’s descent from saviour to liability has yet to be seriously scrutinised.

Ultimately, James Beattie had to be moved on, for the good of both player and club. It is a crying shame for Stoke, however, because even at his age, a fit and motivated Beattie would be an asset to most bottom-half Premier League teams. He remained the best goal poacher and penalty taker at the club, and Saturday’s defeat to Wolves underlined the role he could have played. An in-form Beattie would have been the logical replacement for the injured Kenwyne Jones, and would surely have offered more than the ineffectual Sidibe.

Stoke City supporters will always fondly remember James Beattie for scoring the goals that secured the team’s survival two seasons ago, and in doing so effectively paid for himself, given the bargain £3.5m he was acquired for. Unfortunately however, he ruined his chance to write himself into history as a true Stoke City hero. The only sentiments accompanying his exit are those of regret and relief.

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