Stoke City boss delivers emphatic transfer message



Michael O’Neill is adamant that Stoke City are not interested in selling their best young players as he brushes off any transfer noise about Harry Souttar.

Stoke accepted a big money offer for Nathan Collins from Burnley in the summer in order to reinvest in the team under the shadow of Financial Fair Play.

But gossip about Premier League interest in Souttar – first appearing after Everton assistant Duncan Ferguson was spotted watching the draw at Preston – does not mean much compared to how highly the defender is valued and his ambition to play at the top with his current club.

“Look, there’s speculation in the press – of course there is,” said O’Neill, who is preparing his side for a trip to Sheffield United on Saturday (3pm).

“That can happen because a Premier League scout attends a game. That’s the reality of the situation. People put two and two together and choose what number they want to come up with.

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“From our point of view, Harry signed a long-term contract just last season, around January time, and off the top of my head I think he has four-and-a-half years left.

“His focus is purely on Stoke City at this minute in time.

“We don’t want to sell young assets that are at the club. We felt we had to do that with Nathan because it allowed us to invest in the team in Ben Wilmot and Sam Surridge but also strengthen the club. Those are decisions that are never easy to make but you have to make them.

“In Harry’s situation, he has obviously been captain of the team. His focus is on trying to get to the Premier League and trying to get to the Premier League with Stoke.”

Souttar returned to Clayton Wood on Thursday morning after playing for Australia in Qatar, a rearranged home match against Oman, and Japan.

It is two years since the centre-back, now 22, pledged his international allegiance to the Socceroos over Scotland, who he had represented at youth level, and, although his miles might be clocking up, the experience is priceless.

O’Neill said: “It’s not causing us any issues and you have to respect the decision the player has made. If you’re asking if I’d rather he was flying back from France or Germany, of course I would, but the reality of the situation is that he’s very well looked after by Australia.

“I think the break in Qatar, he enjoys that. Australia are playing their games there at this minute in time.

“He’s getting great experience as well. I’m no aficionado of Asian football but he’s going to play in big World Cup qualifying games in Japan and places like that.

“I think the most important thing is that we are seeing him establish himself in the starting XI consistently for Australia. They have a very strong chance of going to the World Cup and that’s a very positive thing.

“All of that is happening for him because his club form has been consistently good. He knows he has to maintain that to have the luxury and experience of international football.”

Abdallah Sima (ankle) and Morgan Fox (hamstring) remain sidelined for Stoke this weekend and Alfie Doughty is a doubt after missing training through illness.





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