It is an oddity of football that Giannelli Imbula is on the cusp of signing for a club that didn’t even exist when he smashed Stoke City ‘s transfer record – and as a free agent, just four years since signing a five-and-a-half year contract.
Imbula, now aged 27, should be at the height of his footballing powers – and that height should be high indeed given his natural attributes.
It was only in October 2016, eight months after signing from Porto for £18.3m, when Jon Walters said: “Giannelli is a brilliant player. He’s new to the country and he came without much English – us boys that live over here probably take that for granted.
“But I think he’s up there with one of the best I’ve played with; he’s very, very good. He just needs a bit of direction really.
“His feet are excellent, one-on-one if you go up against him he’ll get past you. You should see him in training, what he does. I think he’s excellent and he’s got a big future ahead of him here.”
He started four out of the next five games – a win and draw at home to Burnley and Leicester, away defeats to Arsenal and Liverpool – and never started again. He hadn’t been seen in a Stoke shirt for a competitive match since March 2017.
Loan spells at Toulouse, Rayo Vallecano and Lecce followed and all involved relegation battles; won in a play-off, lost and aborted respectively. He was released from Stoke by mutual consent on Saturday.
Now PFC Sochi are hoping for clearance to bring him in. They were formed in 2018 due to the relocation of Dynamo St Petersburg and finished second in the Russian National League last season to win a place in the top flight, where they currently sit bottom.
An £18.3m transfer isn’t enough to make a Premier League club batter an eyelash these days. There were 28 transfers worth more than that last summer involving top flight teams, not including undisclosed fees.
Brighton paid Bristol City £20m for Adam Webster; Newcastle coughed up the same to Nice for Allan Saint-Maximin and £40m for Joelinton from Hoffenheim; Pablo Fornals cost West Ham £24m from Villareal and Sebastian Haller was £45m from Eintracht Frankfurt.
But it will be a long time until Stoke, operating in the Championship in the dark shadow of Financial Fair Play, are tinkering with that kind of money.
The club have written cheques with eight figure fees on nine occasions. We have been through the archives to look what was said at the time and what happened next.
Previous transfer: Joined Huddersfield from Derby in summer 2017 for £8m rising to £11.3m
Stats at previous club: One season, 37 apps, 3 goals
Stoke fee: £10m in summer 2018
What was said: “I’ve had the fortune to work with Tom before and he’s a terrifically talented player,” said Gary Rowett, who had sold Ince from Derby to Huddersfield.
“He’s very strong technically and can play anywhere across the front three, but he’s particularly good from the right-hand side.
“His record in the Championship speaks for itself and we’re really fortunate to have got him in the building.”
What happened next: Stoke have been nowhere near the force in the Championship that was expected at that time and Ince only scored once in 2019 as Rowett was replaced by Nathan Jones. Battling to find form again after being restored to the wing by Michael O’Neill and a regular in the starting XI.
Previous transfer: Joined Tottenham from Portsmouth in summer 2009 for £10m
Stats at previous club: Two seasons (and one game), 93 apps, 24 goals
Stoke fee: £10m rising to £12m in summer 2011
What was said: “There has been a real buzz of excitement around the city about where this club is going since we reached the FA Cup final and then started our Europa League adventure,” said Tony Pulis after bringing in Crouch on deadline day.
“These signings certainly add to that great sense of anticipation.
“Peter has an excellent goalscoring record at the highest level. His goals-per-games ratio for England is remarkable and he scored seven goals in 10 Champions League games for Tottenham last season, which gives you an idea of his pedigree.”
What happened next: Led the line for Stoke for Tony Pulis then Mark Hughes as the club really established itself among the big boys. An ambassador too, who scored his 100th Premier League goal and set the record for most headed goals while in a Stoke shirt. Left for a short spell at Burnley before hanging up his boots.
Previous transfer: Joined Inter from Bayern Munich in January 2015 for £12.5m
Stats at previous club: Half-a-season, 20 apps, 3 goals
Stoke fee: £12m, summer 2015
What was said: “He’s a dynamic and explosive player who will bring something different to the group and at the age of 23 he still has a great deal of potential,” said Mark Hughes.
“In the chats I’ve had with him it’s obvious that he’s excited about playing in the Premier League and showing what he’s capable of.”
What happened next: Linked up with Bojan and Marko Arnautovic to help Stoke swashbuckle their way to a Stokelona nickname that winter but couldn’t prevent the stagnation and decline that followed. Joined Liverpool for a relegation release clause just under £13m in 2018 and ended last season with another Champions League winner’s medal.
Previous transfer: Graduated from West Bromwich Albion Academy
Stats at previous club: Three-and-half seasons in first team, 121 apps, 36 goals
Stoke fee: £12m rising to £15m, January 2017
What was said: “It’s been a bit of a saga but we have managed to get it over the line, thankfully,” said Mark Hughes. “At times it appeared like it wasn’t likely to happen but, as always with these kind of deals, you have to be patient and hope that all the work you have done throughout the talks pays off.”
He added: “Saido has a lot of untapped potential clearly, he is a player of good talent and somebody who has a lot of growth in the game still to come moving forward.
“He has already displayed his talents in the Premier League and proven that he can score goals at this level, which was a real attraction not only to us, but also to a lot of other top-flight clubs who were interested in signing him.
“I just feel that he has the potential to be the striker that we have been looking for for a long time – he is capable of creating chances and he is certainly capable of converting chances too.
“We are going to give him the stage to perform now, and he needs to embrace that, which I am sure he will. We are excited about bringing him here and we are all looking forward to hopefully seeing him flourish at the bet365 Stadium over the coming months and years.”
What happened next: Well, Berahino didn’t score his first goal for Stoke until after they had been relegated and – having been cast aside by Hughes and his replacement Paul Lambert – he was reintegrated by Gary Rowett. It all went pear-shaped again when Rowett left and Berahino was found guilty of drink driving in the early hours of a day he should have been playing for Stoke under-23s.
Now trying to rebuild his reputation and career at Zulte Waregem in Belgium.
Previous transfer: Joined Wolves from Bournemouth for £10m in summer 2018, 11 days before joining Stoke
Stats at previous club: Half-a-season on loan, 16 apps, 6 goals
Stoke fee: £12.5m, summer 2018
What was said: “Goals was an issue last season so of course that’s something we want to rectify,” said Gary Rowett.“In my opinion we should be trying to sign the type of player that, age wise, fit the profile we are after and are good enough to play in this division and also the division above should we achieve our goal.
“It’s very simple. The market is not limited. The owners have said they will try to competitively try to back me this summer with bringing in players but it’s difficult to put a number on specific targets.”
What happened next: A tough first season for Afobe as Stoke struggled enough to see Rowett shown the door and then again under Nathan Jones. He scored nine times in 49 appearances and an odd pre-season followed, where he seemed to really buckle down – he lost 3kg and said he felt as sharp as he had for five years – but hardly featured in friendlies, was handed the starting shirt on opening day and left for Bristol City before the second match.
Injury has derailed his loan out but he’s popular at Ashton Gate, where there is an option to make the switch permanent.
Previous transfer: Joined Liverpool from Swansea for £15m in summer 2012
Stats at previous club: Four seasons, 132 apps, 7 goals
Stoke fee: £13m, summer 2016
What was said: “Joe’s an experienced player who has played at a high level for a long time,” said Mark Hughes. “He obviously went to Liverpool for big money and I felt certainly last year was arguably his best season albeit that he didn’t get the opportunities he probably felt his talent deserved.
“Towards the end of his time there he was having an influence on games and people were understanding what a good player he was.
“He carried that on into the Euros and he was outstanding. He was one of the midfielders nominated into the team of the tournament, which shows how well he did.
“It’s quite a coup, yes I think so. I was made aware that there was a possibility he was leaving and I just felt he was the right type.
“We heard about him as a guy as well. His character is really strong and we knew he would enjoy fitting in with the group here. That’s an important factor and not least his ability. We’re going to enjoy working with him I’m sure.”
What happened next: One of the first names on the teamsheet ever since.
Previous transfer: Joined Galatasaray from Osmanlispor for £6m in summer 2017
Stats at previous club: Half-a-season, 17 apps, 1 goal
Stoke fee: £14m, January 2018
What was said: “He’s a really nice kid with lovely manners, but if he’s got some devilment in him, it’s on the pitch then you don’t curtail it,” said Paul Lambert, who admitted the deal had been quite far down the line before he was appointed.
“All top players have it and you need a bit of that, as long as he stays within the laws of the game and he’s not over-zealous or it strays into craziness. He’ll be fine.
“He’s really energetic and has got great drive on the ball, which I think we need in the middle of the pitch.“He’s a driving force as well which will help us. He’s got great experience – he’s not a young kid – he knows the game, and he’s going to the World Cup which is a fabulous thing for him as well. So I’m looking forward to working with him. Once he finds his feet he will be a big player for us.”
What happened next: Badou couldn’t help keep Stoke up but he was one of the brighter spots in a miserable second half to a terrible season. A brief outing at Leeds on the opening day of the Championship later, he was gone back to Galatasaray on loan to help win the Turkish title.
He missed pre-season back at Stoke due to the Africa Cup of Nations – Senegal reached the final – and Nathan Jones didn’t pick him until mid-September in case there was transfer interest. One of the better players under Jones but made it clear to Michael O’Neill he didn’t see his future in the Potteries and left back on loan to Turkey, where he is helping Trabzonspor try to become champions.
Previous transfer: Joined Tottenham from Cologne for £4.3m in summer 2015
Stats at previous club: Two seasons, 31 apps, 0 goals
Stoke fee: £15m rising to £18m, summer 2017
What was said: “The key for me, and the club, is to get good players into the building, and we have managed to do that this summer,” said Mark Hughes, having also brought in Jese Rodriguez, Max Choupo-Moting, Kurt Zouma and Darren Fletcher, as well as bringing back Bruno Martins Indi. Wimmer had only made 13 Premier League starts for Spurs.
“My problem now is keeping them all happy, but believe me I would much rather have that problem than not. It is important to have a group of players who are at the right level, and we feel we have that now, especially in defensive positions.
“I think what people will see and appreciate really early on is Kevin’s quality on the ball and his outstanding range of passing.
“Of course, he is a big strong guy too, but he possesses a tremendous left foot and is able to play clever and intelligent balls into people’s feet, whether that be through the middle or on angles. He will certainly benefit us for years to come.”
What happened next: Stoke had conceded 50 goals in 23 games that season by the time Paul Lambert took charge for the first time in January. Wimmer did not feature again, spent last season at Hannover and is currently at Royal Mouscron in Belgium. Under contract at Stoke until 2022.
Previous transfer: Joined Porto from Marseille for £16m in summer 2015
Stats at previous club: Half-a-season, 21 apps, 0 goals
Stoke fee: £18.3m, February 2016
What was said: “We had a decent day with a significant result,” said Mark Hughes after it took until an hour of the deadline to get the transfer secured for Imbula.
“It’s a five-and-a-half year contract and that shows our commitment to Giannelli and the player we think he is. There’s a lot more to come from him as well so we want to benefit from that.
“We’re really looking forward to working with him. He’s a player of great talent and we’ve just got to get the best out of him.”
He added: “He’s a defensive midfielder and he’s got a lot of attributes in terms of understanding that role, but he can play in a three as well. I like that flexibility in players because it gives me more options.
“He’s a good young player with good power, good ability on the ball, a good range of passing and will add to the quality we already have. He can look after the football and affect games in a good way, so we expect him to make an impact.”
What happened next: Well, where do we start?