One of the most interesting sub-plots to this summer at Stoke, will be whether Defender Jonathan Woodgate will be offered a new contract. The injury prone centre half signed a one-year pay as you play deal in June, and although featured heavily in the first half of the season, he hasn’t been since for a couple of months amid speculation over his future.
The experienced Woodgate is still three games short of his target, which would trigger an automatic new contract, but it seems Tony Pulis is keen to sign him up. On the face of it, it does seem a good deal. Stoke are crying out for experienced and quality centre-backs like Woodgate to back up the younger pair of Robert Huth and captain Ryan Shawcross. Woodgate has England caps and boasts stints at Real Madrid and Tottenham, but his career has somewhat gone downhill since those glory days, due to injury.
At the beginning of the season Woody dislodged Robert Huth from the first team which, looking back, seems an incredible decision from Tony Pulis. The bold move back fired, with Woodgate looking increasingly suspect, the team were calling out for Huth’s imminent return. The German had an immediate impact, and Woodgate was shipped out to right-back, where his lack of pace and weakness against it was brutally exploited.
He has taken some stick from home supporters this season, and in some cases that was deserved, and it is safe to say that we expected more to come from the 32 year-old who Harry Redknapp was very sad to see leave Tottenham. But Tony Pulis was right when he said a couple of weeks ago “He’s been very good for Shawcross and Huth in many respects”.
Injuries have plagued another season for Woodgate, but Pulis firmly believes that he can return to his former glories. If he was to be given a run of games over a prolonged period of time then I am also confident that Woody could rediscover his very best, but I heavily doubt that he could ever remain fit enough to do so.
However, despite the fans reservations, Stoke should stick with Woodgate for one more year. At centre-back he is reliable when deputising, although not quite Huth or Shawcross. With the added experience of Matthew Upson, whose future is also uncertain, Stoke’s suspect defending this season will surely turn back into the resilient force it once was.