January was always going to be a difficult first transfer window back in club football for Michael O’Neill , trying to attract players to the bottom of the Championship while thinning the squad under the spectre of Financial Fair Play.
Who knows what direction everything would have taken if he had landed primary targets – or if suitors were found to pay decent fees for the quarry of expensive players no longer in Stoke’s plans.
There are plenty of unknown quantities too, if we cast forward to the summer.
That starts, of course, with what division Stoke will be preparing to play in next season. These mid-week results have not let anyone sit easy. In fact, there is already a rush for spare underpants in the Potteries area.
But also, what seems a long way down the line, the budget could swing on whether there will be interest in any of the bigger names.
Jack Butland will only have 12 months left on his contract, Joe Allen still remains on Premier League radars, Bruno Martins Indi has an impressive CV.
Stoke have one of the biggest wage bills in the division too and in the third and final year of parachute payments – by the end of which the EFL will be judging the scale of the club’s losses over a three-year period (no more than £39m is permitted) – that might come into play.
One thing that is sure, however, is that Stoke will still have a host of players on their books who will never play for the club again.
The long-awaited departure of Giannelli Imbula almost three years after his final appearance for the club is hopefully a sign of things to come… albeit that there has to be someone somewhere willing to pay some cash for one, two or six.
There are complications around amortisation and how much they can afford to write off the books without opening themselves to punishment from the EFL.
It may seem at best silly or at worst unfair that Stoke in the Championship could face penalties for mistakes they could financially afford in the Premier League, especially with billionaire owners. Even an £18m transfer is small fry if you’re serious about competing in the top flight.
If they don’t work out it can be double punishment, one on the pitch and one off it.
Rivals would point out that was the whole point of the parachute payments – and how Stoke must regret their spending spree following relegation, or at least that it didn’t work out with an immediate promotion.
But this is the position Stoke find themselves in and they’ve got to do the best they can to clear the decks for as little hit as possible.
There is enough for O’Neill to deal with in pre-season without having to manage Kevin Wimmer, for one.
Let’s hope that Stoke are already working hard behind the scenes, exploring contacts anywhere and everywhere across the world, to grease the wheels on these players’ next moves before the first day of training.
Oh, and it’s probably about time to maybe sign a left-back.