Premier League holders Chelsea have announced the £8million signing of Asmir Begović, making the Bosnian goalkeeper Stoke City’s record transfer sale.
Sevilla smashed the club’s highest transfer fee received when the Europa League winners moved to sign French midfielder Steven N’zonzi for £7m last week, nearly doubling Sanli Tuncay’s deal with German outfit Wolfsburg in 2011.
Stoke have firmly established themselves at the summit of English football as they prepare for their eighth season in the Premier League. During this time there have been huge developments on and off the pitch, with healthy financial backing enabling the club to make significant player purchases.
For the first five seasons following their 2008 arrival in the Premier League the Potters haemorrhaged money in the transfer market, with an outlay of almost £100m as they looked to establish themselves in the top flight of English football and add further talent to their first-team.
More alarming was their return in the relevant windows. In five years, the club received just £16.5m in fees, with a near-quarter of that sum acquired by the sale of their Turkish striker.
2014/15 saw Stoke City make £98m in turnover – up from £67m in 2013/14 and their first positive yield since 2008 – largely thanks to the bumper television rights deal which provided £76.2m.
But how had the club managed to keep themselves afloat in their prior years? The shortened story begins in 2006 when Peter Coates took club ownership for a second time after buying out a majority stake from the former Icelandic owners for a fee of £1.7m.
The new chairman had ambitions of a return to the Premier League within five years but after just two campaigns manager Tony Pulis had lead the team to automatic promotion with a second place Championship finish.
Their arrival saw heavy investment in the playing staff, with wages increasing from £11.9m to £29m. This expenditure also saw player amortisation (the price of the player accounted across length of his contract) rise from £2.5m to £10.4m, with Coates confessing: “The club has invested heavily to put together a team capable of being competitive in the Premier League, but this has come at a heavy cost in respect of the high initial player cost and the consequential ongoing wage bill.”
Coates is an experienced businessman who initially made his money through Stadia Catering – a catering firm which specialises in football – and then as CEO of Bet365 – the betting firm his daughter Denise set up in a portakabin back in 2001. According to the 2015 Forbes list, the father and daughter are estimated to be worth a total of 2.3bn.
Stability and security is a rare commodity in modern day football but the Coates family remain unwavering in their commitment. Peter’s son and grandson are both fanatic supporters and are tipped to take over when the 77-year-old chairman hands over the reigns.
In the years following Pulis’ exit, Coates tightened the purse strings at the Britannia to Mark Hughes’ deficit. The Welshman has been forced to make shrewd movements in the transfer market and has made good use of loans and free transfers during his reign with the likes of Mama Biram Diouf, Steve Sidwell and Ossouma Assaidi all arriving for no fee.
The biggest outlay in 2013 saw PSV left-back Erik Pieters join for £3m whilst the £1.2m capture of former Barcelona youth Bojan Krkic was the club’s only expenditure last summer.
Following two top-ten finishes under Hughes – and successive record points hauls – the former Queens Park Rangers boss has buffed his tainted managerial reputation and Stoke have already begun making significant moves in the summer transfer market.
Following a successful loan spell last season, Bayer Leverkusen defender Philipp Woschield has signed permanent terms at the club and will join fellow Bundesliga newbie Joselu for pre-season training. The former Hannover forward scored 10 goals in 32 domestic games last year and has joined the club for a fee of £5.75m.
Inter Milan’s Xherdan Shaqiri was set to become the club’s all-time record signing after the two clubs agreed a sum of £12m for the Swiss attacker but the move broke down in early July after the player failed to the meet the negotiation deadline. Undeterred, Hughes admits he already has other irons in the fire.
With Begović’s move to the west London now confirmed, the Potters boss has placed great faith in Jack Butland ahead of the upcoming season; with the England under-21 international expected to take over the number one role at the Brittania.
The club are also expected to confirm the signing of England full-back Glen Johnson on a free transfer following his release from Liverpool, whilst Chelsea midfielder Marco Van Ginkel, 22, is likely to join on loan following a short spell (again on loan) at Vitesse and AC Milan.
Jakob Haugaard has been signed from Midjtylland as goalkeeper cover whilst 39-year-old Shay Given has been brought in to lend an air of experience to an already-aged squad. In December 2014 it was calculated Stoke had the third oldest team in the division, with an average age of 28.09 years.
Hughes’ initial shyness in the market was largely forced due to the squad he took ownership of in 2013. Pulis’ splurged in his penultimate season in Staffordshire, spending big money on Peter Crouch (£12m) and Wilson Palacios (£8m) and weighed down the wage bill with the recruitment of defenders Matthew Upson and Jonathan Woodgate.
Kenwyne Jones was another substantial outlay in Tony’s final years, with the Trinidad forward signing a four-year deal for £8m just 12 months after Robert Huth joined for a club record £6m.
However, despite the mixed-bag of signings in the club’s formative years in the top flight, Pulis was named in the Financial Times as the 25th most overachieving manager between the years of 1973 and 2010 by Soccernomics co-author Stefan Szymndki. The list measured each club’s spending relative only to the other clubs in its division, referred to as ‘the divisional wage method’.
Interestingly, according to the latest available data, Stoke’s wage bill – only the 16th highest in the division – has effectively stood still in spite of last year’s lucrative TV deal with just a £0.3m increase from £60.3m to £60.6m.
Consecutive ninth place finishes has seen Hughes’ stock rise once more and the Welsh manager has transformed the club’s on-pitch style and approach. Pulis’ unattractive yet undeniably effective approach allowed the former head coach focus on his players’ core strengths, including their physicality, height and set-piece organisation.
In 2014/15, Hughes’ second season in charge, his team were shown just one red card – the lowest in the Premier League – but remain one of the grittiest sides in the division with the second most fouls per game. Pulis enjoyed playing with two wide midfielders – such as Etherington and Pennant – and that trend has continued with Stoke concentrating their attention to the flanks and delivering an impressive 24 crosses per game last year; the third most.
The overall performance figures remain relative – with a slight increase in league position – however, the players Hughes has brought in have delivering dynamism, excitement, pace and sharpness. Marko Arnautovic, Bojan and even Steven Ireland have added creativity and attacking flair to the foundations and the club look set to continue their pursuit of unearthing Bundesliga attackers with the summer addition of Joselu.
Alongside imagination, Hughes has also added proven quality in defence with the addition of Glen Johnson, an experienced full-back with half a century of international caps. Despite continuing Pulis’ trend of buying British, Premier League verified players, Hughes is now attracting players of a higher calibre and bracket to the Britannia. Alongside the Coates family backing, Stoke will hope to challenge for European qualification in the coming seasons.