Close Season Blues

By Dan Buxton
Last updated : 05 June 2010

Are we really still ten weeks away from the start of the football season?

It feels like a lifetime since our last, fun-filled trip to Old Trafford. We may have lost heavily that afternoon but it was a great day out with the Stokies present on top form. The problem with away matches like that is they make the close season so much harder to cope with. People who don’t get football or those who think they are football fans (despite rarely leaving their armchairs) will just never get it. They may have hobbies that they think can in some bizarre way rival football, but in truth they will never understand. Football isn’t a hobby. It is a way of life and once you’re hooked that’s it until the day you die.

The tortuous wait for more football is tempered by the fact that the close season is transfer rumour heaven (or hell depending on your point of view). I used to love a good Stoke-related rumour. As a youngster I spent much of my parents’ hard-earned salary on Stoke City transfer gossip phone lines as I hoped to get “the inside track” on news from the Victoria Ground about the return of Bertie Biggins and the acquisition of the enigmatic Mark Walters.

The problem now is that the expensive phone calls from the innocence of my youth have been replaced by the ability to log on to the internet and read the ramblings of people either desperate for attention or in desperate need of medical assistance. There are of course exceptions to the rule. There are also individuals who I can’t suss out and who seem to have some genuine knowledge about all things red and white. Given our history of royally screwing up anything to do with new signings, those intrepid web posters who do genuinely have a “source” still risk public ridicule when the information they give fails to bear any fruit.

So far in this pre-season we have been linked with many players and on the most part I have struggled to envisage us acquiring any of them. Whether it is Carlton Cole, Kenwynne Jones or Nikola Zigic (although I suspect that link was a long shot after a seemingly unrequited advance from many internet posting Stokies!) we rarely seem to be the “early bird” and are often left chasing after the ugly bridesmaid.

Football transfers are very complicated and I do sometimes wonder how hard we force the issue. I worry that, because we’re a very honest club from top to bottom, we can be exposed as a touch naïve. We seem to trust both players and their representatives when they roll out the old “just sleep on it tonight” line – which generally means the agents are on the phone to other clubs quicker than you can say “15%.”

Most Stoke fans are aware where we need to improve the team and hopefully some of the rumours will bring home the bacon. We certainly need a couple of central midfielders, a pacy right winger (plus a player who could cover both flanks), a new target man who knows where the net is and, if we are being greedy, a couple of new full-backs to boot. Add to these transactions the fact that we are going to have to ship out a lot of dead wood and you then get an idea of just how busy this summer will be for our management team.

The one bright spot for football fans this summer is of course the World Cup. Obviously all England supporters are hoping that our “golden” generation of players will at last fulfil their potential and bring the ultimate footballing prize back home. However, closer inspection of the squad reveals that, in reality, if England can get past the quarter-finals they will have had a successful tournament.

There can be no question that we have a very decent manager but it is clear from recent friendlies that the limitations of his squad have given rise to plenty of head scratching from the Italian. There are serious question marks over who gets the keeper’s jersey, the back four has now lost its captain, the midfield appears unbalanced and Rooney apart, we look bereft of options upfront.

Capello certainly isn’t without his faults either. The selections of Warnock, Upson, Carrick, Heskey and to an extent Ledley King, have raised a few eyebrows.

The manager has declared in the past that he would pick on form over reputation. This seems to contradict his exclusion of the likes of Paul Robinson, Michael Dawson (who has of course now been called up), Ryan Shawcross and Adam Johnson.

It would be a fantastic achievement to win the World Cup and it would certainly give the whole nation a much-needed lift. We are priced as short as 5/1 with some bookmakers but if we weren’t English I doubt any of us would even contemplate a wager given the quality of the opposition in South Africa.

That said, it is a bloody long time until Stoke play a competitive match again. So with that in mind, “COME ON ENGLAND!”

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