Club Focus – Stoke – Robert Huth: Worth his weight in gold and goals

Sceptics might suggest the fact that Robert Huth is among Stoke’s leading scorers this season speaks volumes about the dearth of creativity in the Potters’ side, or at least about the extent to which the team relies on set pieces. However, while such views are not without a grain of truth, nothing should detract from Huth’s contribution. A colossus at both ends of the pitch, the big German’s goal scoring exploits are rendered all the more remarkable when one considers that he has found the net more times in his season and a half in the Potteries than in all of his previous seven seasons as a professional combined. His match winning 81st minute header in Sunday’s FA Cup fourth round tie with Wolves was his fifth of the campaign.

Tony Pulis’ decision last August to break Stoke’s transfer record to bring Huth to the Britannia Stadium in a £6m deal was seen in some quarters as a gamble. It seemed like a large outlay for a player who had seen injuries blight his career. At Middlesbrough, ankle problems meant that the German would spend more time in the treatment room than on the pitch – he made just 46 starts in three seasons on Teesside. Yet Stoke, especially in the Pulis era, seem to possess either a magic sponge or a magic wand, given the number of players written off as crocks who find themselves revitalised on arriving in ST4, and Huth has been no exception. To date, injuries have not been a factor in his Potters’ career, and he has missed just one game so far this season.

Huth’s prowess at both ends of the pitch was arguably initially something of a curse for the defender. The threat he poses at set pieces saw him shoehorned into the right back slot for most of last season and the early stages of this one. Yet despite weighing in with some important goals, the German appeared awkward and uncomfortable in the unfamiliar position. His habit of failing to get tight enough to opposing left wingers cost Stoke on a number of occasions, even this season gifting goals to Gareth Bale and Stewart Downing, and leading to both Wigan goals in December’s 2-2 draw at the DW Stadium. Huth’s preference to be used in his preferred central defensive spot was well known, and Pulis eventually acquiesced, acknowledging belatedly that he was a better central defender than full back. Indeed, Huth has been a revelation since his move to the heart of the Stoke defence. Commanding, strong, with seemingly no way past him, his performances have eclipsed those of even captain and golden boy Ryan Shawcross. With Liverpool and Tottenham rumoured to be monitoring him, Huth may prove the harder of the two to hold onto.

It is approaching two years since Huth won his last cap for Germany. In truth, his 19 appearances for his country have been something of a mixed bag – he has scored twice, but was also sent off against Northern Ireland and lost his starting place just before the 2006 World Cup – held on home soil – after a series of errors in warm up games. He was even criticised in Bild in 2006 for failing to sing the National Anthem. On current form however, Huth may yet get his chance to make his mark at international level. The man they call “the Berlin Wall” could well scale new heights at Stoke City.

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