Every soccer fan has heard the expression “on a rainy night in Stoke,” which refers to a player’s ability to deal with harsh conditions, defensive-minded teammates, and a raucous crowd. It comes from the fact that Stoke is a town in northern England, where it frequently rains, and is home to Stoke City Football Club, a club known for it’s defensive proclivities and raucous home crowd. For years, Stoke was the king of the 1-0 victory in the Premier League, bouncing around mid table with stifling defense and virtually no attacking talent.
It seems that those days are over for fans of the Potters.
Since his arrival in northern England, Mark Hughes has turned the Premier League’s anti-football bullies into a proactive attacking side with real quality, something Stoke City fans likely believed they would never see. Last season, Hughes brought more of an attacking style to Stoke and brought the Potters to a surprising 10th place finish, their highest ever in the Premier League.
Hughes did not stop there as a he broke out his wallet full of new EPL TV money this summer to help add some playmakers to Stoke City’s squad. The resulting team got supporters of the Potters believing they can contend for a European spot.
It all began with three key signings of former Barcelona players: Bojan Krkic, Ibrahim Affelay, and Marc Muniesa. Krkic is a speedy winger who has played for some of the biggest clubs in Europe including Ajax, Barcelona, Milan, and Roma, making him an absolute coup at Stoke. Muniesa is younger, but brings a similar pedigree as he comes from La Masia, the famed Barcelona youth academy and brings real quality to an already stellar Stoke defense.
But it is the signing of Affelay that really signaled Stoke’s arrival, as he has played for Champions’ League sides all over the continent, appeared in a European Championship and a World Cup with the Netherlands, and provided a technical attacking presence to nearly every team he’s ever been on. For Stoke City, a team that traditionally finishes in the bottom half of the Premier League table to sign three players of that caliber is nothing short of incredible.
Hughes’ transformation of the Potters did not stop there, as he also signed Marko Arnautovic to play opposite Krkic on the wing. Arnautovic is an Austrian international who won a Champions League as a loanee on Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan side, and has played for Werder Bremen for most of his career. Arnautovic brings incredible pace and physicality to the Stoke City wide areas.
Mark Hughes’ greatest signing in his Stoke career has to be that of Xherdan Shaqiri from Inter Milan. Shaqiri is an attacking midfielder, Swiss international, and has played on some of the biggest clubs in the entire world. With Liverpool and Schalke reportedly keen to sign him, to see Shaqiri in a Stoke uniform is incredible for Potters fans. All of a sudden, Stoke City appear to be one of the most dangerous attacking sides in the entire Premier League.
With the addition of Shaqiri, Stoke now have more Champions League winners than any team in the Premier League, tied with Chelsea and Manchester United at five. For a team that has typically mired in the mid table for most of its existence, it seems that Stoke City is about to take a leap towards making a play for a European spot. If Mark Hughes continues to make incredible signings at Stoke, like he has over the past year, the sky is the limit for the Potters. Expect big things from many rainy nights in Stoke over the course of this season.