Nedum Onuoha, Djibril Cisse, Bobby Zamora, Samba Diakite, Federico Macheda, Taye Taiwo, Andy Johnson, Ryan Nelsen, Stephane Mbia, Robert Green, Park Ji-Sung, Junior Hoilet, Estaban Granero, Julio Cesar, Fabio: brace yourselves, Stoke fans. If your club is not careful, this could be what lies ahead.
Yesterday, to much teeth gnashing and grumbling among the Britannia faithful, Mark Hughes was unveiled as Tony Pulis’s successor at Stoke. According to Peter Coates, the amiable holder of the Stoke purse strings, Hughes was the only candidate considered.
Coates reckoned the former Wales, Blackburn, Manchester City, Fulham and QPR boss the perfect replacement for Pulis: committed, serious, organised. The only surprise in the long list of characteristics Coates insisted the new boss shared with his predecessor was the absence of the adjective 'Welsh'.
But it made you wonder: had Coates been paying any attention to what Hughes got up to at Queen’s Park Rangers? Or was his gaze too distracted by looking up into the heavens during Stoke games in search of a sight of the ball? Well, since he missed it, perhaps I can help with a brief description of Hughes’s Loftus Road tenure: it was a disaster.
Hughes yesterday claimed he had not been given sufficient time in west London to affect the necessary change. This is not quite how the hoops fans recall his period in charge. They recall that he had more than enough time to completely refashion the squad. He brought in 15 players, and perhaps the most underwhelming squad of new boys in football transfer history, who were then rewarded with the riches of Croesus.
These were the very epitome of the Premier League’s penchant for paying mediocrities superstar salaries. And thus they immediately destabilised the dressing room where everyone else – particularly the long serving grafters who had brought the club up from the Championship - was on more realistic money.
In football, nobody minds a big earner in the team provided he is the guy who makes the difference. But these were no Luis Suarez or Gareth Bale, bringing win bonuses for their team-mates with their efforts on a weekly basis. These were a bunch of nobodies who did almost nothing. Reckless and hopeless, this must stand as the most ill-judged recruitment splurge in Premier League history. And Hughes must take responsibility for it.
Looking at that list now, it is no wonder that Stoke fans are shuddering. Only Bobby Zamora can be plausibly reckoned an improvement on anything they already have at the Britannia. And what they already have is the most technically limited squad in the Premier League. Not that they would get much out of Zamora these days; he is now so compromised by injury, he barely counts.
The fact is a spree like the one he undertook at QPR and Hughes will doom Stoke. Simple as that. Now Coates is a shrewd man. He does not earn several millions a year from Bet365 by not understanding how to run a business. But now he has brought Hughes on board he needs to adopt a modicum of the nous he employs in his commercial life at his football club.
At Barcelona they have a team of 18 people constantly researching the transfer market. At any one time, this department will have three potential replacements identified for every single member of the first team squad. These are players checked out not only for their level of skill, but their character, intelligence and ability to fit into the dressing room at the Camp Nou.
Now Stoke, obviously, cannot afford to maintain a department of 18 trawling the transfer market. Especially not now they have employed Hughes, a manager who likes to put a sizeable personal entourage on the pay roll of every club he works at.
But Coates must ensure his money is not wasted as Tony Fernandes’s so spectacularly was in west London. Now he has made the somewhat odd decision to bring in Hughes – one driven by Tony Scholes, Stoke’s chief executive, who has long admired the Welshman’s managerial approach – Coates needs to apply the strictest of terms to the outgoing transfer budget.
Obliging Hughes – a busy, committed, determined man without doubt – to work with what he has might not be the worst of ideas. Sure, he may be inheriting a squad built to play Pulis’s style of kick and rush. But even that is better than what happened at QPR.