Ah, what might have been. Automatic reminders on social media today show it was only four years ago – and what a long four years it has been – since then newly-crowned Stoke City record signing Giannelli Imbula produced an unstoppable performance at Cheslea.
Imbula had given a demonstration of his potential on his debut against Everton following an £18.3m arrival from Porto – even if Stoke lost 3-0 in foul weather.
He then scored in a 3-1 win at Bournemouth – with praise heaped on him from Ibrahim Afellay and Xherdan Shaqiri, who could see a little bit of Patrick Vieira in those long, strong strides up the pitch – and helped secure back-to-back home wins over Aston Villa and Newcastle.
Then came Stamford Bridge.
This was the twinkle-toed bulldozer who had captured the attention of AC Milan and Co when he was at Marseille. He entranced his opposite numbers in the home line up as Stoke got a 1-1 draw thanks to Mame Diouf. Ryan Shawcross gave the visitors a rollicking in the changing room for not winning.
In our review of the match from London, we wrote: “Not everything went Giannelli Imbula’s way here. He lost the ball a few times and a couple of passes went astray – but he continues to show more than a glimpse of the kind of impact he can have against even the very best teams.
“That was never more so than in the dying stages when he collected the ball from Erik Pieters just inside his own half and decided to go it alone. No Chelsea player could stop him as he bulldozed towards the by-line and then cut inside to set up a chance that just didn’t quite fall nicely for Bojan.
“This fella is giving Stoke a new impetus from midfield, an X-factor that can dictate or change games, and that’s pretty exciting.”
It really was exciting.
Who would have believed that 12 months later he would make his last appearance for Stoke before being shipped out on loan for relegation scraps in three countries before being released by mutual consent. He has joined PFC Sochi but will be a free agent again in the summer.
What happened in between is worth a dissertation, if someone has a very high frustration threshold.
That trip to Chelsea was also one of the tipping points for away fans in the Premier League, which would introduce a £30 cap for tickets at the start of the following season.
We wrote at the time: “Stoke sold 1,257 of the 1,512 tickets they were allocated at Stamford Bridge, but that is no justification for the prices: £47 in the lower tier and £50 up above. The touts who were prominent in the streets were asking for even more.
“Supporters will have to fork out between £45 and £47 to go to Liverpool on April 10 too, despite the farce that greeted them on their last trip to Anfield for the Capital One Cup semi-final in January.
“Yet it is fans of clubs like Chelsea and Liverpool who would benefit most if the Premier League backs a division-wide cap of £30 for away tickets – or ideally £20 – when they meet on March 23.Every game those teams play on the road is a big game for the home team and therefore priced accordingly.
“It is time they did something for their own fans, never mind long-suffering Stokies.”