Giannelli Imbula has spoken candidly about Stoke City in his first interview since joining PFC Sochi in the latest attempt to kickstart a stuttering career.
The midfielder, aged 27, has moved to Russia after leaving Stoke by mutual consent with 16 months of his contract remaining – just four years after smashing the club’s transfer record when he joined from Porto for £18.3m.
He has had three loan spells since his last appearance for Stoke in March 2017 – relegation scraps at Toulouse, Rayo Vallecano and Lecce, where he was rarely seen before they scrapped the deal last month.
There was talk in the Italian press that he might have joined Lokomotiv Moscow before winding up at the bottom of the Russian Premier League.
And it was put to him that “some people had called his move a mistake” after his dreadful record at Stoke – but he suggested that he, belatedly, will do his talking on the pitch.
He said: “If I start discussing all the offers that I had during this transfer window, then this would take up all the interview. Now I am in Sochi and am ready to give all my experience and skills to this team.
“I do not comment on the words ‘some’ people. I can only add that I was and still remain the most expensive transfer in the history of Stoke.
“As they say in my agency, ‘the game will show’. The wait won’t be long.”
Sport24 told Imbula that Mark Hughes, who had been in charge at Stoke when the player was brought in from Portugal, had suggested he had not adapted the Premier League.
Imbula fell sharply out of favour at the start of his first full season and soon all-but disappeared from the pecking order.
“You are a journalist and you will easily find information how often Mark Hughes spoke in a similar way about foreign players,” said Imbula.
“I am not the first and not the last to hear this from him.
“In fairness, it was Hughes who took Stoke into the second league when I was on loan at Toulouse and showed myself well there.”
The interview turned to Peter Crouch, one of Imbula’s teammates in the Potteries, and whether Crouch was considered a legend.
“For the English, he is probably a legend,” said Imbula.
“But for me the concept of ‘legendary player’ is narrower. A legend to me is Maradona. If we talk about English football, then I would say Bobby Charlton.”
Imbula is now trying recapture form he showed most consistently in one season under current Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa at Marseille.
“Oh, for me it’s not just Bielsa, but Don Bielsa,” said Imbula.
“There are very few such people in football. A man really burns him and is sick with all his soul. His whole life is football. He is a very direct person who will never act meanly and will not accept meanness from others.
“Bielsa is not normal. All the coaches of the world are sitting on benches or standing in the technical area and only he sits on a box of water.
“And you know, this is definitely not for attracting attention – he simply does not need it. Rather, no one interferes – so much he is immersed in work.”
Imbula hasn’t started a football match since early December and has only made two starts all season.
He said: “Frankly, I did not follow the Russian championship. Anyway, I rarely watch football. I play it.”
He added: “As soon as the coach decides, I’m ready.”