June 18, 2024

Alex Neil full QPR press conference - video Dailymotion

Stoke City know exactly what they’re getting from Enda Stevens as Alex Neil closes in on transfer

Transfer news as Stoke City close in on deal for Sheffield United favourite and free agent Enda Stevens

There will be transfer targets from far afield this summer as Stoke City try to take advantage of changing rules regarding work permits and use data and their scouting network to try to unearth hidden gems.

Then there are players like Daniel Johnson and Enda Stevens, who will need no introductions to the men pulling the strings at Clayton Wood. Both are at the experienced end of the spectrum – Johnson is 30, Stevens is 33 next week – and both are free agents after long service for Preston North End and Sheffield United respectively

And the transfer team can look at each other for references. Johnson played his best football under Alex Neil at Deepdale while new head of recruitment Jared Dublin was a key figure behind the scenes at Bramall Lane. In fact, for much of Dublin’s time at Sheffield United he will have been tasked with finding a new Stevens only to end up, at his new club, closing in on a deal for the old one.

 

Football: Enda Stevens bounces back after run of injuries in time for  crucial play-off

They will know exactly their strengths, they know exactly their weaknesses, their characters and best positions. Johnson has played across midfield and the forward line while Stevens played left-back for most of the first half of his career before switching to wing-back under Chris Wilder.

one outfield player on their books aged 30 or above, Dwight Gayle.

Neil said recently: “What we’ve got to do now is invest in good young players who are going to be really good and try to make sure we’ve got the right balance and blend of good experienced players that can come in and help them develop.”

The inner sanctum of Stoke’s recruitment department must believe that these are the good experienced players who can do that. It remains to be seen who ‘the good young players’ are who they are ultimately tasked with helping develop. It’s a two-pronged transfer challenge, albeit that one prong is more exciting than the other. Stoke need to get them both right, no matter which comes first.

 

Alex Neil full QPR press conference - video Dailymotion

Still, as it stands, Stoke’s squad is so thin that it can’t afford good characters who aren’t good players too.

In Stevens’ case the main concern is clearly his game time over the last two years. He only made nine league starts in a promotion campaign in 2022/23 on the back of 22 in 2021/22 as he was frustrated by a series of injuries having previously had a reputation for not missing games.

“Obviously, the last 12 to 18 months have been the most frustrating time of my career,” he said in his farewell message. “I’m used to playing all the time and it’s the first time in my career that I have suffered a couple of niggling injuries. Looking back, on more than one occasion I let my heart rule my head and probably tried rushing back too soon. As a consequence, I struggled to gain my momentum.”

 

Football: Enda Stevens bounces back after run of injuries in time for  crucial play-off

It started in the summer of 2021 when a hernia problem was misdiagnosed as a pelvic injury, a knee injury sidelined him for a few weeks around Christmas and a calf strain kept him out from mid-January to early April, when he returned to help a push into the Championship play-off places. A calf injury kept him out for almost three months at the start of last season before he held down a spot through November and December, then a hamstring injury kept him out from January to May.

When fit he was still picked by Paul Heckingbottom, who wanted to keep him and veteran striker Billy Sharp, but Sheffield United’s finances and budgets are

“I’m disappointed,” he said after the retained list was announced. “I get it and sometimes things are out of your control. What we do lose with Enda and Billy is the thing I’ve been really trying to protect and promote – that character about that group of players and how we’ve approached things.

“That has to be protected. I also know we’re going to be working within the budget we’ve been given, but the more players you have to find in that budget the harder it gets. From that end I’m disappointed – of course I am – but I have to accept it and understand it.”

There is now a month to go before the start of the season and almost two months remaining of the transfer window. Time will tell soon enough whether Stoke get the balance right as it all comes together.

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