He took our breath away then broke our hearts – how Giannelli Imbula symbolised Stoke City’s decline – Martin Smith



The departure of Gianelli Imbula from Stoke City means we can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

The misfit midfielder had become a symbol of all that has gone wrong at Stoke as we surrendered what seemed like a secure position in the Premier League.

To me, he is also a symbol of just about everything which is wrong with the modern game.

He was the player we hoped would replace the chasm left by the departure of Steven Nzonzi in the summer of 2015, and we were willing to spend £18.3m to bring him to the club.

He hadn’t long been signed for FC Porto, and it was in their colours, in a pre-season tournament in Cologne, that we first saw how good a player he was.

He led the Stoke midfield a merry dance in that game, and it’s easy to see how he caught our attention and why we were prepared to break our transfer record to sign him.

Perhaps what should have also caught our attention was the willingness of the Portuguese club to let him go, despite only signing him seven months earlier themselves.

In hindsight, it’s not difficult to believe they quickly came to realise what soon became apparent to us, that Imbula wasn’t much of a team player.

He had all the ability in the world, and on a few memorable occasions we got to see it. A couple of his performances for Stoke took the breath away. However, they were far too rare, and most of the time he ambled around the pitch with all the interest of a factory worker trying to kill the last hour of their shift before they can clock-off.

Reports emerged of a lack of engagement with his team-mates and difficulties learning the language of his new club, and that says so much about the player.

For the money we paid for him, and the wages he must have been on, it was heartbreaking to see such an apparent lack of interest, and the damage it has done to Stoke is considerable.

We have a board that have unflinchingly provided funds when they’ve been required to, and despite their much-publicised wealth and success, there’s no point pretending that £18m, plus all of Imbula’s wages, for a non-existent return hasn’t stung at least a little.

We invested so much money and faith in Imbula, and he let us down. There are far too many players out there who want the trappings of success but don’t appear willing to put in the work needed to deserve such riches. Sadly, Imbula is a poster boy for them, and it’s a tragedy we had to be the club to take such a hit on him.

But at least his exit at the weekend for an uncertain future apparently playing in Russia means we can bring down the curtail on this sorry episiode for our club and look with optimism to the future.





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