Club Focus – Stoke City – Making sense of the Remy debacle

For a team with such a proud footballing heritage, being the world’s second-oldest league club and having hosted and sired some of the game’s true greats, it is something of a paradox that Stoke City should be so familiar with high farce. From being the victims in the incident which gave birth to the penalty kick in 1891, to being relegated by a strong gust of wind in 1976/77, and from prospective managers doing a last minute runner to losing new strikers to deep vein thrombosis, the Potters are no strangers to fiasco. That is why, to long-time supporters, the Loic Remy pantomime was met with a long-suffering shrug. Having felt confident enough of securing the French starlet’s signature that the club chartered a private jet to collect him and complete the deal, Stoke were left embarrassed when Remy and his agents elected to talk to other clubs before making a decision. It now seems increasingly likely that the player will not be plying his trade in the Potteries this season.

The saga is a strange one for a number of reasons. While the pursuit of one of the hottest properties in European football underlines the club’s ambition and financial muscle, it nevertheless marks a radical departure for Tony Pulis. The Welshman is known to favour experience in his teams, tending to purchase players with a proven track record in the Premier League. His reticence to dabble in the foreign market notoriously led to the termination of his first stint in the Britannia Stadium hot seat in 2005. Moreover, the limited forays he has made into overseas transfers have, to date, proven fairly disastrous, with Ritchie de Laet, Demar Phillips and Diego Arismendi not managing a full half of league football between them in a Stoke shirt. That Pulis was prepared to shatter the club’s transfer record for a 23-year old unproven in English football is therefore curious, and no clear explanation for this apparent sea change in attitude has been forthcoming thus far.

The Frenchman has a reputation as a quick, powerful forward, and assuming that Pulis’ intention was to slot him into his existing 4-4-1-1 system, it appears that he would have taken the role of out and out striker rather than deep lying target man. This would effectively mean the end of Ricardo Fuller’s time as an “untouchable” in the Midlanders’ starting XI – a seismic change, given that that the team’s attacking threat from open play has rested almost entirely on the Jamaican’s shoulders since he signed in 2006. The Remy chase suggests that Pulis has recognised how toothless Stoke are without Fuller and acted to broaden his options in the final third – a wise move given that Fuller is almost 31 and has a history of knee problems. It would still be something of a surprise however, given that most had assumed that the Potteries outfit would be casting around for a partner for Fuller rather than a direct replacement.

If the Remy saga has raised questions about Fuller’s first-team place, it has almost certainly sounded a death knell for Tuncay’s Stoke City career. A prolific pre-season had seen the Turk’s fitness and attitude praised by Pulis, and the stage was set for him to finally make a lasting impression after cutting a frustrated figure for much of his first season in the Potteries. However, rumours of his departure will not go away in spite of Wigan’s recent £3m bid being rejected. It has never been clear exactly where Sanli’s best position lies in Stoke’s rigid system. He has mostly been deployed as an alternative to Fuller, with decidedly mixed results. The arrival of another pacy striker – who fits more clearly into Stoke’s style of play – would surely push the Turk further down the pecking order and one step closer to the exit door.

The OGC Nice striker’s versatility in also being able to play on the right wing could have been another factor in Pulis’ interest. The impending departure of Liam Lawrence has made the right flank position a priority for the Potters, and Remy’s rapid acceleration and attacking instincts could bring balance to the side by mirroring the impact of Matthew Etherington on the left. Even this would mark a significant change in Pulis’ thinking, as last season he utilised the more defensively minded Rory Delap and Dean Whitehead on the right for much of the campaign to shore up the team’s defensive shape. Any player used on the flanks in a Pulis team is going to be required to track back and fulfil his defensive duties, so the presence of a genuine attacking livewire on the right would suggest an evolution of the system towards a more open, attacking style.

The player’s club and agent, not to mention Remy himself, have all intimated that he will not be joining Stoke, so obviously one can only speculate as to what his impact would have been. The club’s dogged pursuit of him, however, is so far removed from Tony Pulis’ usual modus operandi to suggest that the Welshman is planning some major surgery on his squad and tactics irrespective of who arrives at the Britannia Stadium during this window. It is going to be a very interesting few weeks in the Potteries.

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