Club Focus – Stoke – Marc Wilson: The time is now

He’s one for the future without a question of a doubt.
Tony Pulis on Marc Wilson, October 25th 2010

Tony Pulis was forthcoming in his praise of young midfielder Marc Wilson in the wake of his second start for the club, in Sunday’s defeat to Manchester United. Yet the term “one for the future” has rarely had positive connotations during the Welshman’s tenure in the hot seat. Pulis’ preference for experience over youth is well-documented, and to be fair the policy is one that has served the club well in recent years. Of those players to come through the club’s academy system over the last decade, only Andy Wilkinson has become anything like a regular during the Pulis era, and even he is not guaranteed a first team place.

The likes of Martin Paterson, Karl Henry and Adam Vass all departed ST4 having not been able to command regular first team action, and a stellar loan spell in the Championship has not moved Ryan Shotton any nearer to a place on even the bench, despite playing at right back, arguably Stoke’s problem position. Ryan Shawcross, meanwhile, has been the exception rather than the rule when it comes to youngsters brought in who have managed to cement a starting place. Diego Arismendi has gone from the semi-final of the Copa Libertadores to Oakwell, while Ben Foster (signed before Pulis’ arrival) and Ritchie de Laet were deemed not good enough for the Potters before both heading to Manchester United.

In fairness, such an analysis is somewhat harsh. Beyond Foster, none of the young players allowed to leave have made much of an impact in the top flight. Moreover, hindsight is always 20/20 – Foster, for example, was unlucky enough to be behind two quality, in-form goalkeepers, while de Laet and Henry had both failed to shine during lower league loan spells.

Nevertheless, the prospect of Wilson being used only sparingly is troubling, because, from the limited glimpses of him so far, he appears to possess the very qualities that the Stoke engine room has been lacking. Against the Red Devils, in spite of being caught in possession on occasion and looking a touch lightweight, Wilson brought guile, composure and vision to a midfield that for aeons has been packed with perspiration but bereft of inspiration. Stoke are famously yet to enjoy more than 50% possession in any of the 85 Premier League games they have contested to date, and an inability to retain control of the ball has seen the team throw points away. Wilson’s ability to use the ball intelligently could therefore make a difference, and kick-start the long-awaited “evolution” into a more-multi-dimensional footballing style – particularly if a ball-winning “destroyer” was deployed alongside him to afford him some protection.

Of course, after a little over two and a half hours of football, it is far too soon to judge Marc Wilson’s Stoke prospects. Perhaps a run of games, rather than the spell in exile he endured after his debut, to take the time, in the words of Assistant Manager Dave Kemp to “learn Stoke’s ways”, would benefit him greatly. Marc Wilson may well be “one for the future”, but as far as Stoke City are concerned, there’s no time like the present.

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