For every brilliant bit of transfer that has made Stoke City fans so happy, to every transfer disaster that has made supporters pull their hair out, plenty more players have been on the cusp of signing for the club… only for it never to happen at all.
There was Lee Cattermole parked up in Trent Vale with a pizza on transfer deadline day for one and we have scrawled back 50-odd years back through the archive looking at who else might have been a hero.
Andriy Yarmolenko – summer 2015
It would have been one of the most audacious transfers in Stoke’s history – and it took heading into a war zone to come within a whisker of pulling it off.
In 2015 Stoke were hot on the trail of Dynamo Kiev and Ukraine winger Andriy Yarmolenko. In the end they could convince the player to come to the Premier League but not his club, even if the Potters did meet his release clause of about £15m.
Agent Gary Mellor explained a couple of years later: “Yarmolenko for whatever reason reached out to us (Beswicks) and we were up against some pretty big competition, including Paul Pogba’s agent and a few others. Lads from Hanley going out to Kiev and trying to get a mandate from Andriy Yarmolenko was something else.
“But we’d seen him play for Ukraine against the USA and he looked like he’d got everything, a phenomenal player. Everyone has seen him, but when you watch him live, he looks special.
“The first time I went out Ukraine were at war with Russia really, a plane had just been shot down and I was sitting on an empty British Airways plane from Heathrow to Kiev.
“I actually had just done the loan deal for Jack Butland to Leeds before I got onboard, I was feeling really happy then I was looking around wondering why no-one else was around and thinking I was making a big mistake.
“I managed to get back and my wife has probably never forgiven me… but I met with him, thankfully he liked me and he gave us a mandate.
“Then it was easy to say to Stoke, ‘What about Yarmolenko?’
“Truth be told, when I first sat down with him his thoughts were probably more like Manchester United than Stoke City or even Tottenham Hotspur. But we started to talk about the football club, I went back, saw him again, talked about Stoke City, he started to get an interest, Stoke made a good bid for him – a bid that should have triggered his exit.
“Without going into too much detail, I think the owner of the club thought that for Dynamo Kiev to sell their best player to Stoke City would have been embarrassing on the world stage.
“If they were going to sell him it was only going to be to someone like Chelsea or Manchester City.
“Life in Ukraine is very different to life in Stoke. When Steven Nzonzi leaves Stoke City he doesn’t have a lot of issues, but leaving Ukraine when you’re from there and you have family there is a different kettle of fish. I think it didn’t work for those reasons.”
Mark Hughes suggested that Yarmolenko wasn’t the only one he rued not getting in red and white.
“You come very close to players,” he said while he was still Stoke boss, “and you think, goodness me, we nearly got that one over the line. So many things have to fall into place and so many people have to agree, not least the players themselves.
“We’ve been in rooms with very good players and you’re thinking, ‘We’ve got one here’. Then all of a sudden within it seems within five, six, 10, 12 hours it changes very quickly.
“The deal that you thought you had over the line goes further and further away. There are many examples of that. To pick one? It would be wrong to, to be perfectly honest, because there are good players out there who we have been very close to and you would be very upset!”
Jim Baxter – Summer 1963
“SLIM Jim” could have been Tony Waddington’s Dave Kitson.
The Rangers star was lined up for a then-huge fee of £70,000 as Waddington prepared the newly-promoted Potters for their first season back in the top flight.
He was 23, his left foot was at the height of its powers and a transfer deal anywhere approaching that level would have broken the club record and then some.
Instead, Waddo spent just over half that cash on Peter Dobing from Manchester City and Baxter stayed put north of the border to earn legendary status in Glasgow.
Peter Crouch – September 2004
“HANG on, Sentinel!” we hear you cry, “Crouchy is a Stoke hero!”
Yes, okay, but this deal was seven years before he actually arrived, back in Tony Pulis’s last, politically-charged year working under the Icelandic board; it might be better remembered as the binary season.
“I was told there was £2m to spend,” Pulis revealed when he came back to the club, with new owner Peter Coates, a couple of years later.
“After we went top by beating Ipswich in the September I went to the board with five or six names. I could have possibly got Peter Crouch from Southampton.
“Saints boss Steve Wigley said he was available for a deal that would have been just over £1m.
“They had Kevin Phillips, James Beattie, Brett Ormerod and a couple of youngsters, Dexter Blackstock and Leon Best, so Crouch was available.
“I don’t know whether we would have got him in the end, but we never got to find out. I put the proposal to a board meeting and have the minutes to prove it, but I never heard back.”
Loic Remy – August 2010
“FOR me this is good,” Loic Remy told the Sentinel after being given a guided tour around Stoke’s training ground by Abdoulaye Faye. “I want to play here.”
But then he added: “I am not signing, this is just a visit.”
Stoke had already shaken hands with his club, Nice, on a club record transfer fee of £10m and the forward had been flown in for talks on a flight chartered by Peter Coates.
The 23-year-old was given the red-carpet treatment in an attempt to persuade him to consider a long-term deal at the Britannia.
There was stiff competition, however, and in the end he chose Marseilles over the Potteries before winding up in the Premier League three years later, initially at Queens Park Rangers
Pulis only took another week to break the transfer record, buying Kenwyne Jones from Sunderland.
Peter Osgood – January 1974
NO matter what the other intricacies of the deal, you can bet Yevhen Konoplyanka or even James Justin’s considerations about a move to Stoke will not include a reconnaissance mission to Hanley.
Not so with Peter Osgood, who seemed certain to be on his way to join his old Chelsea pal Alan Hudson at the Victoria Ground.
He was an interested spectator as Stoke played Liverpool, and then had a night out at famous nightspot The Place.
We don’t know what happened in Bryan Street that night, but instead of signing for Stoke, Osgood announced he was going to quit football after Chelsea refused to sell him.
Then, just as suddenly, he signed for Southampton.
“I had great hopes of Osgood lining up alongside Hudson,” said Waddo, “but from what he told me he joined Southampton because he would not have to leave his home in Epsom.”
Carlos Babington – January 1972
He was known as El Inles – AKA the Englishman – despite not being able to speak a word of English.
And six years before Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa brought South American superstardom to English football, he would have done likewise for Stoke City.
This was Carlos Babington, the prolific attacking midfielder who starred for Argentina at the 1974 World Cup.
He was desperate to play in this country, where his great-grandfather and great physician William Babington – the mineral Babingtonite is named in his honour – is remembered with a statute at St Paul’s Cathedral and his grandfather Benjamin Babington was a famed epidemiologist.
Stoke agreed a £60,000 fee with Huracan, where he was a key man in one of the best club sides Argentina has ever produced, as Tony Waddington played with a £100,000 windfall from the run to the League Cup final in 1972.
Babington, then 22, came over to the Potteries and joined in training alongside Stoke legends including Gordon Banks, Jimmy Greenhoff, Denis Smith and Terry Conroy.
It sounds like he would have been a sensation.
Sentinel correspondent Peter Hewitt wrote: “Babington arrived two weeks ago with a club director and the son of the Huracan president for company as he does not speak a word of English – and after just one five-a-side session the Stoke players enthused, ‘This chap can play a bit.'”
Waddington said: “There is no question of the player’s ability. You have to be good to score goals in Argentinian football and there is no doubt that he is going to be a tremendous player.
“But there is nothing settled yet. We have to get official clearance and he needs a British passport.”
Foreign footballers just weren’t really on the agenda.
The FA had introduced a two-year residency rule in 1930 after Arsenal had tried to sign an Austrian goalkeeper. That restricted talent from overseas to the Commonwealth countries, like classy Eddie Stuart, from South Africa, who helped Stoke win promotion in 1963.
The rule wouldn’t change until an EEC directive in 1978, allowing Dutch midfielder Loek Ursem to become Stoke’s first non-Commonwealth player.
Yet Babington should have been waved through if only his grandad had done his paperwork.
“He wanted to play in England and the fact that his grandfather was British gave Stoke hope of a loophole in the technical red tape,” wrote Hewitt.
But Waddington explained: “The snag was that Babington’s grandfather did not register as a British subject when he emigrated to South America.
“We had hoped the boy’s father could take out a British passport, which would have cleared the way, but this is not possible now.
“Frankly we were banking on Babington for next season. The delay means that we shall now have to revise our plans.”
Karel Poborsky – June 1996
LOU Macari was quietly tracking Karel Poborsky during Euro 96 when he took a seat in the crowd at Villa Park to watch outsiders Czech Republic take on Portugal.
Then he saw the 24-year-old Slavia Prague midfielder pull off a scoop lob that went down as one of the most incredible goals in the television era.
“I’ve been watching Poborsky since the tournament started and, quite frankly, what happened last night has done clubs like Stoke no good at all,” said Macari the following day, when the player was already being linked with Liverpool.
“All the big clubs will be on to him now, yet at the start of the tournament his name was on nobody’s lips.
“Players from countries such as the Czech Republic represent the best chance of a signing for First Division clubs.
“Their wage demands are more modest and there are some very good players out there. But Poborsky has doubtless added a few extra pounds to his valuation now.”
And Poborsky did end up in the north west, but at Old Trafford rather than Anfield after being snapped up by Manchester United.
Jermaine Pennant – January 2002
GUDJON Thordarson can explain this one.
“I’ve been in many places in my work and always managed to succeed. That cannot be a coincidence,” he said. “I feel I’ve got the respect of football people in this country.
“I remember when I was at Stoke and John Rudge laughed when I said I would ring a top Premier League manager about signing one of his players on loan.
“The manager returned my call and said although he didn’t know me, he knew what I stood for.
“He was keen to let me have his young player because he thought I could help him become a better player.”
Well that mystery manager was Arsene Wenger, and the player was Jermaine Pennant, who went on to help Stoke reach the FA Cup final in 2011.
The original deal didn’t happen, though, as Gudjon explains.
“Unfortunately,” he added, “Peter Handyside and Brynjar Gunnarsson then got injured and so our priorities had to change.”
The proposal for 19-year-old Pennant was canned… and in came Mike Flynn from Stockport County instead.
David Platt – December 1987
PLENTY of fans have bemoaned Stoke managers who have not given lads from the youth team a chance… but Mick Mills is still remembered for the opposite.
Mills was scouting at Crewe the month before David Platt was snaffled by Aston Villa for £200,000 but went home thinking he should stick with what he’d got.
The truth is, by that point, Platt was out of Stoke’s price range and Mills was sizing up Bury forward Liam Robinson… who was also ultimately too pricey.
Mills said: “The whole transfer scene is getting out of hand.
“We fancied Robinson when we saw him in the (pre-season) Isle of Man Trophy. I had him watched a couple of times recently and went to Crewe to see him for myself.
“He had tremendous endeavour, but I felt as a striker he did not get into dangerous areas. This week Hibernian made a £150,000 offer only to be asked for £250,000.
“You can get carried away by prices, wondering whether your judgement is right if Bury value him at that price.
“What it has done is to convince me that my own striker, Graham Shaw, is worth far more for I rate him a better prospect.”
Robinson stayed at Bury, Platt went on to star for England and Mills was left counting his pennies.
He added: “Hopefully the situation will improve and I will be ready to beat my previous highest fee of £80,000, but supporters can forget about £200,000 deals.”
Mills did have a habit of being swayed by other prospects on scouting trips, however. It was certainly true that he was watching future Leicester hero Steve Walsh at Wigan when his attention was caught by Bury right-back Lee Dixon.
And, apparently, he was checking up on future England defender Paul Parker at Fulham when he was drawn, instead, to their other full-back Cliff Carr.
Some you win, some you lose.
Ray Walker – July 1988
ARSENAL. If they aren’t upsetting everyone in FA Cup semi-finals or moaning about throw-ins they are ripping Stoke off for their star players.
They took Lee Dixon for a bargain £400,000 in January 1988 and were back that summer sniffing around 25-year-old centre-back Steve Bould.
At least, thought Mick Mills, he would get an extra £600,000 to build a team fit for to make the top flight – including a swoop on Port Vale for their ace midfielder Ray Walker.
“Already I have drawn up a short list of seven or eight players,” he said. “I am interested in and my intention is to bring in five in an attempt to gain promotion.
“I have always been interested in Ray Walker as a player and will view the situation when it happens. I believe he has asked for a transfer and although we are interested, for obvious reasons we cannot wait for ever more.
“If Walker was made available I would make a move for him. But I don’t have too much time on my hands and if it is a long drawn out situation I would possibly have done something anyway and would be out of the picture.”
Arsenal, however, insisted they would only pay £225,000 for Bould and a tribunal set the figure at £390,000.
Mills only had the cash to bring in Peter Beagrie, Chris Kamara and John Gidman.
Walker did win promotion that season, but in Burslem.
Steve Sidwell – January 2003
A YEAR after Stoke’s initial move for Pennant was abandoned, they were then throwing in the towel on a move for Steve Sidwell.
New boss Pulis admitted Stoke were struggling to compete for the salary being demanded by the then 20-year-old and was now conceding defeat to Reading.
“It’s a big disappointment because we felt sure this was a lad capable of coming in and improving us in much the same way as Frazer Richardson is promising to do,” he said.
“He is doing well on loan at Brighton and there was clearly a pull on him there, while Reading is also close to his southern roots.
“His wage demands are far in excess of what we can afford within our current pay structure, so it looks as though Reading will now get him.
“But we are still out there trying to smash a few deals together and have been watching plenty of players in the meantime.”
Pulis did pull off some smashing deals, like loans for striker Ade Akinbiyi and goalkeeper Mark Crossley. Sidwell, meanwhile, finally arrived 11 years later.
Demba Ba – January 2011
NOT many deals have got closer to the line without getting over it than Demba Ba.
The striker was pictured dressed in a Stoke tracksuit at Clayton Wood, looking every inch like he was about to sign. A fee had been agreed with German club Hoffenheim and the deal was all but done … subject to a medical.
The club got cold feet because of his knee – an underlying problem that didn’t stop him scoring a bagful of goals for West Ham and Newcastle, including a few against Stoke, before joining Chelsea.
Pulis later explained: “We have a medical team who made a decision and our medical team are fantastic.
“The difference with Demba was we would have had to pay £8m to £10m for him (and West Ham and Newcastle paid nowhere near as much).
“When you’re paying that out, and his wages too, then the situation with his injuries had to be taken into consideration.
“It was a chance the club didn’t want to take and they got my backing. But he’s done brilliantly, you’ve got to say that, and good luck to him. I’ve nothing against him.”
Kevin Moran – the long summer of 1988
NOT many players have strung Stoke along for quite as long as Kevin Moran without eventually pulling on the red and white stripes.
No wonder Mick Mills was tearing his hair out when the centre-back ended up at Sporting Gijon and left him scratching around for anyone who could fit the bill.
“Moran kept us in the dark,” he said. “He was only using us as a nice alternative if the talks in Spain broke down and I was disappointed he did not give me a decision earlier.
“I was also let down by Southampton’s Chris Nicholl, who promised to keep me informed on Kevin Bond’s position once he had signed Russell Osman from Leicester.
“The call never came and I heard from a press man that Kevin was having talks with Bournemouth. By the time I made my approach Kevin had decided to keep his promise to Harry Redknapp.”
Mills looked instead at Luton’s Steve Foster, Dundee United’s John Clark – who would have a brief and unspectacular stint at Stoke in 1994 – and Peter Jackson from Bradford.
It took another few weeks before he finally brought in injury-prone Mark Higgins for £100,000 from Bury.
Marcin Zewlakow – July 2005
The 2002 Poland World Cup striker, otherwise known around these parts as the bloke Johan Boskamp referred to as a “**** guy” live on Radio Stoke.
Zewlakow was stalling on the prospect of moving to the Championship in a panic he might lose his place on the international radar.
The manager said: “I said to him, ‘Come and look at the stadium. We have big crowds here — bigger than in Belgium’.”
But no joy.
Zewlakow never did get another international cap but surprisingly, given the outburst, he did end up signing for Boskamp … at Belgian club Dender in 2008.
He had not been the only one frustrating Bossie that summer.
Step forward Walter Baseggio, the Anderlecht play-maker.
“I’ve heard nothing but I haven’t given up,” said Boskamp a week after making his initial approach.
“It is in his hands, and if he says no, then it is over. I will call Anderlecht this week to see what is happening.”
He did hear.
Baseggio said: “I don’t even know where Stoke is in England. I know it’s a good league. However, I think I’d need a telescope to see all the balls flying over me.”