Michael O’Neill’s transfer window at Stoke City is a bit like doing the decoration or some DIY. In any project, you have to do your preparation and get that base right.
A whopping 13 senior players have left, and there are only two on my list whom I wish had stayed.
Nathan Collins is the big loss, and I would have liked to have seen him reach his full potential in red and white.
But in the situation Stoke are in, they have to take the money, and that’s it. They’ve got a replacement in Ben Wilmot, a 21-year-old England under-21 international, for a fraction of what they received.
There are good early signs about Wilmot, who looks comfortable on the ball and a progressive passer as he strides out from the back, looking for teammates in good positions. Hopefully, everyone who watched the Euros will be inspired to do similar.
We want to see a positive attitude to play forward when you’re facing forward rather than going backwards or sideways. Make players deal with it when they are in attacking positions, even if they are outnumbered one on two.
We want to see slick movement, we want to see players dashing forward to support. That’s what will excite the fans: quick, clever play in the attacking third. You want to see an understanding from players about when to slow the game down for a purpose, so they can speed it up and bang! It’s all about knowing how to break down an opponent.
John Obi Mikel is the other one I was sad to see go. You don’t find many players with his know-how in the Championship.
It was interesting to see Joe Allen get used in that holding position against Aston Villa last weekend – and earn good reports – but I wouldn’t be surprised if O’Neill wanted to bring in another holding midfielder.
Allen has more understanding of attacking play than defensive, his best game is about breaking forward. There are times when every midfielder worth his salt will have to drop in and do a job for the team, knowing how to block space, but you don’t want to lose Allen’s main assets.
Around him, O’Neill has some clever and experienced midfielders who he should be able to manipulate and tweak depending on the state of the game, whom you’re playing against and what they are doing against you.
Mario Vrancic has just helped take Norwich to the Premier League and it’s important to have players in your group who have been successful and know what it takes.
Nick Powell is versatile and with him in the squad when you play three at the back you have the option of playing of going 3-5-2, using him as a number 8 or at centre-forward; 3-4-1-2, as a number 10; 3-4-3 with him wide in attack.
Hopefully, Sam Clucas will be fit to feature more this season too, and he can work in central midfield or left in a four.
It will all depend on how the game is going, who is causing damage – or how much damage is being caused against you. There’s decent competition but room for another to help the balance. Those who read this column know how much I value that holding role.
The chase is on for another striker or two too, and I hope we bring in one who can get behind the opposition defence. If you don’t have someone with pace to do that, you’re onto a loser.
It was a frustrating sight to see Sam Vokes being thrown on in the latter stages of games last season. His assets involve relying on service, and the supply was never going to be there in the final third as the wingers fell out of the picture through the campaign.
If he’s not getting balls into where he’s standing, he’s not going to be fruitful, and so it proved.
I am still concerned that we don’t have enough options on the wing and in the final third. If Steven Fletcher is not there to link with Powell, what have we got? I still want to see wide players with dribbling ability and quality, who can get half-a-yard on a full-back and drag defenders over because of the threat they offer.
Maybe we can look to Tyrese Campbell to do that when he’s fit. We need someone who can hurt teams, get down the side of centre-backs and spin off, make diagonal runs. When you get possession, he’s the first man you look for.
But it’s a fresh start, we’re beginning again. The number one priority is to have a solid base and to start getting respect back into the name of Stoke City Football Club.
We’ve got a core now – it’s a smaller core than we’d like, and 46 games is a long stretch to prepare for – but it seems they are players whom the manager can trust, and we’ve had far too many you couldn’t say that about over recent years.
Therewas talk five years ago at Rio that we were going to have a demonstration of freestyle Poomsae at the Olympics, and I wish it was in for Tokyo to give you all a glimpse of a discipline that I find fascinating.
Television has a massive effect on the people watching, kids and adults, and just like I’m sure we’ll see with BMX and skateboarding, people will have loved Poomsae, and it would have given the art a big boost.
Freestyle Poomsae is a performance-based on Taekwondo technique with a composition of music and choreography. It’s like dance, gymnastics and Taekwondo rolled into one and performed either as an individual, pair or in a group.
It’s gymnastics with kicks, you’re judged on the height of a jump, acrobatic actions, gradient of spins, creativity… It’s fascinating. There are some moves that will make you go, ‘Whaaat?’
Hopefully, in time it does come through because I think the fighting side of Taekwondo might put people off the sport. There’s far more to it than that, and I know loads of you would love it.