Stoke City aren’t done yet in terms of summer signings – but it will probably need players to go first before they can finish their business.
Michael O’Neill has already brought in four new signings – free agents Morgan Fox, James Chester, Steven Fletcher and John Obi Mikel – and although the season starts next Saturday with a Carabao Cup tie against Blackpool, the Championship doesn’t get going until September 12 and the transfer window is staying open until Friday, October 16.
The market is unique given the collective impact of the EFL’s Financial Fair Play rules, the pandemic and the delayed and condensed season.
Some clubs coming under severe financial strain might mean that more bargains are available than normal and Stoke are alert to any opportunity to improve their starting XI, while still being wary of their own significant restrictions.
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“I wouldn’t say that,” said O’Neill when asked if it was almost done for incomings.
“We’re in a very difficult situation with where the club is and it being very difficult to spend money because of financial fair play and the current situation which is affecting all football clubs.
“So when good players become available and they’re available for no transfer fees you have to act quickly because they have options. That’s why we’ve added the players we have done.
“But we still think there are areas of the team which we need to improve. It will be, I suppose, a case of players leaving before we’re able to do that.”
Stoke will re-house the four senior players who were out on loan last season and Peter Etebo and Badou Ndiaye have suitors while Kevin Wimmer and Moritz Bauer might be more difficult to move on.
Liam Lindsay, who hasn’t featured since January, is attracting interest in the Championship, as is Lee Gregory, who was also on the periphery in the second half of last season until a flourish in the final fortnight.
Joe Allen and Thibaud Verlinden are progressing well in their recoveries from long-term injuries – but the start of the season is expected to come too soon for either. Even then, they will be eased back in to action which will come thick and fast.
Allen, aged 30, ruptured an Achilles tendon in the final game before lockdown in March and is now back running. Winger Verlinden, aged 21, suffered an anterior cruciate ligament training in February and is back on the grass too.
O’Neill said: “Joe is working away well, just five months now for Joe so the start of the season will come too soon.
“It is an injury that you cannot rush as when he is ready, he is ready. He has done an amazing amount of work to be fair to him, so we will welcome him back when he is ready.
“Thibaud is the same. It is an ACL injury so he is not going to be fit for the start of the season.
“We will get them back a quickly as possible and will make sure that they are in the best position that they can be in.”
Stoke take on Shrewsbury in a friendly at Clayton Wood on Tuesday before hosting Blackpool on Saturday. It is hoped the club will be able to live stream the cup match, with all games still behind closed doors until at least October.