Stoke City were promoted to the Premier League in 2008 under Tony Pulis and, largely thanks to Rory Delap’s throw ins, the club quickly gained a reputation for playing direct route one football.
Love it or hate it though, Pulis’ style of play cemented Stoke’s place as a mid-table Premier League side before the Welshman left by mutual consent in the summer of 2013.
The Stoke board subsequently appointed fellow Welshman Mark Hughes as manager, but even they probably hadn’t expected what happened next.
Hughes began assembling a team that would come to be known as Stokealona thanks to the former Manchester United and Barcelona player’s penchant for doing his shopping at the Nou Camp.
Barcelona’s tiki-taka style of play could not have been more different to Pulis’ legacy at the Staffordshire club, but Hughes seemed insistent that he would change the club’s style of play by importing a raft of players from Catalonia.
Centre-back Marc Muniesa was the first to arrive in the same summer that Hughes began his reign at the Britannia Stadium. The now 26-year-old arrived from Barcelona’s B team on a free transfer so carried a relatively small amount of risk other than the obvious risk of asking a Barcelona graduate to defend alongside Ryan Shawcross.
The next summer brought perhaps the most surprising of all the signings though when Bojan Krkic, the man who had been tipped to be the next Messi at the Nou Camp, joined on a four year deal. The Spanish forward had 41 goals in 163 games for Barca having made his debut in 2007 but arrived in England to further the Hughes revolution.
After two ninth placed finishes Hughes went back to his old club in the summer of 2015, signing young winger Mohamed El Ouriachi from the youth side and Ibrahim Afellay from the first team on free transfers. Both looked like quite incredible bargains for Stoke at the time but neither went on to have glittering careers.
Unfortunately for Hughes, Stoke weren’t quite able to replicate the dominance of Barcelona in La Liga here in the Premier League and the 54-year-old was sacked in January this year with the club sitting in the relegation zone. Paul Lambert was the man chosen as the saviour for Stoke, and just seven games in to his 15 games in charge he had reportedly told Afellay to stay away from the club after becoming frustrated with the former wonderkid’s attitude and performances in training.
Lambert was unable to keep the club up after winning just two games and Stoke were relegated to the Championship after 10 years in the top flight. Interestingly though, Afellay was the only former Barca man still at the club as the other three were away on loan spells. How different things could have been.
Afellay is technically still at the club now under new boss Gary Rowett and has a squad number, although he is yet to feature in the Championship (he’s also now 32 years old despite looking about 14). One man who has though is Bojan. Easily the biggest talent of the four, he told The Guardian that he struggled with anxiety from the pressure that comes after netting over 900 goals for Barcelona’s youth sides.
In his first few years at Stoke he became a fan favourite, before being loaned to Mainz 05 in Germany and Alavez back in his home country. Now though the diminutive forward is back and has made four appearances in the league so far this season, much to the delight of Stoke fans.
Muniesa made his loan move to Girona permanent in the summer after Stoke’s relegation and at just 26 years of age he has a great deal of his career still to play. As for El Ouriachi, you’d be forgiven for having never heard of him before today.
The Moroccon winger spent time on loan with Shrewsbury and Hearts while at Stoke, but this summer he joined CF Badalona in the third division of Spanish football, perhaps as an attempt to get as close to Barcelona as possible even if it is just by club name.
Hughes always had a tough job on his hands to change the way that Stoke played after Pulis, and nobody can accuse him of not targetting the right players. Unfortunately too many of his signings flopped and have moved on with their careers. Now Stoke must do the same, progressing into a new era with a new manager and leaving the Stokealona tag where it belongs. You never know, they just may pick it back up again in the Premier League one day.
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