Michael O’Neill on recruitment, trying to sign left-back last year and confidence in Jack Clarke


Michael O’Neill is sure that Stoke City’s quickfire business in the January transfer market is a sign that the machinery is in place for the club to nail its recruitment.

Winger Jack Clarke has arrived from Spurs to make it three fresh faces in before the first league game since the window opened, away at Blackburn. Rabbi Matondo and Rhys Norrington-Davies are also in line to make their league debuts.

There has been a sea change behind the scenes since O’Neill arrived in November 2019, with Alex Aldridge arriving in the summer as head of recruitment.

And the manager said: “The last two windows we were really light in the recruitment team. We’ve made changes in that area – but we weren’t able to do that until the summer.

“Alex coming in and there’s a new team there and it’s very important. It was much more difficult in the previous two windows when we had to be much more involved.

“Obviously we work very closely with the recruitment team and they provide us with the options and I think the process we have in place is much better, certainly for during the time I’ve been in the building.

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“We’re consistently looking for players that we feel will improve the team and potentially be players that a) we can sign, b) that they’re at the right cost initially – obviously FFP (financial fair play) means we have to be mindful of that and c) that they will improve us and potentially be assets if they become permanent players at this club.

“I think that’s the nature of recruitment. You have to try to find players at the right price and, equally, find players that add value. We’ve certainly managed to do that with players at the club and existing players who were at the club when we came in.”

Clarke, aged 20, joined Tottenham from Leeds in 2019 for £10m. He had spells on loan back at Leeds and with Queens Park Rangers last season but has spent the first half of this term under Jose Mourinho.

O’Neill said: “He’s a young player that went to Spurs for a big fee, having broken into Leeds at a very young age. He then has to adapt to that situation.

“But having seen him today and having watched him prior to today, he handles a football really well. He’s very creative, he’s got good pace – he’ll stretch teams as well – and he’s versatile. He can play on both sides.

“He’s an exciting young player and hopefully we can give him the platform where he can demonstrate that because it’s always difficult when you go to a club, are loaned back, go back and then go out on loan again. That’s never easy.

“At least the last six months he’s been more settled at Spurs and he feels he’s benefited from that time, that’s helped him improve with the quality of his training and the players that he’s training with on a daily basis.

“He feels ready to come out and make an impact in the Championship again and we’re very hopeful that will be the case.”

Left-back Norrington-Davies, aged 21, goes straight into the squad having been one of the stand out left-backs in the Championship while on loan at Luton.

O’Neill said: “It was a coup (to get him). He’s a player we looked at last January but we weren’t able to change the loan arrangement that he had at Rochdale.

“That was his first season in the league and I think he learned a lot from that – and I think he’s been excellent this season for Luton. He’s very versatile. He can play wing-back or left-back and even at times in midfield but we’ve brought him in to play at full-back.

“He’s one of those boys who has continually stepped up the levels as he’s gone out on loan. We believe he’s one of the best options that we could have signed in that position.”





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