Fan Focus: Stoke City

by Kevin Coleman

Today in the Fan Focus hotseat is James Whittaker, Stoke die-hard and ESPN correspondent for the Potters.

What is your greatest hope for the season ahead

That we have the confidence in our ability to get a result away from home. Our home form is brilliant but we can’t rely on it and if we want to move forward as a force in the top flight we need to be winning more than a handful of away games.

And your biggest fear

A relegation battle. We’ve done so well to establish ourselves but I fear with the squad we have, any prolonged run in Europe could be detrimental to our Premier League campaign. Real strength in depth is needed to give ourselves the best chance possible and getting it right this transfer window could well be the difference between a top ten finish and a long season looking over our shoulders.

Thoughts on the club’s summer transfer business

It’s awful being a Stoke fan in a transfer window, every time I hope we’ll get in there early and seal some deals but as always the days pass and other teams around us strengthen whilst we chase the same targets every year, trying to get them for peanuts. I applaud our owners/management for looking after the welfare of the club but the reluctance to buy cheaper from abroad limits our choices and means we wait until the last minute when domestic players/agents back down on their demands, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but I’d rather the group was assembled by the start of the season so any new signings aren’t playing catch up.

Who’ll be your most important player this season

It’s hard to say really, I’d like to see Jones have a consistent season this time, he played really well for the last dozen games or so and being so central to the way we play it’s vital that he is on song. I’ll also be interested to see Pennant this term, with a Pulis pre-season under his belt, we should see some even better performances from him in the coming months.

And who’s the fan favourite

Like most fans, we’re a fickle bunch but I’d say that Huth (the Berlin Wall) was loved from day one, his no nonsense displays and 9 goals last season helped him win Player of the Year for us, I just hope we can keep hold of him and that he picks up where he left off – he is an amazing presence at the back.

Anyone new who we should keep an eye out for

Not necessarily new signings but as I said above, Pennant should build on his promising form last season with better fitness levels, I’m also hoping that we’ll see more of Marc Wilson who I think could be a great player in the middle with time, Pulis seemed to struggle to fit him into the team last year. There are also a couple of young players coming through who look very promising, Cuvelier and Marshall but knowing Pulis I’d expect both to be sent on loan to the lower leagues.

The player you’d pay his taxi fee to his new club

Danny Collins, without a doubt. I’ve never known one man be so personally responsible for the team conceding so many goals. I give all our players a chance but his unprecedented levels of utter incompetence time after time means I never want to see him in the red and white again.

Who do you want to beat most this season?

Man Utd or Chelsea – I say them because they are the only ones we’ve not yet beaten, though we came very close to beating Chelsea last season, it would be brilliant to get 3 points off one of them this season. Other than them we always like to beat Arsenal, we’ve got a lot of history so we tend to enjoy it when we beat them, and we’ve done exactly that every season since our return to the top flight.

Opposition players you admire and you despise?

We’re lucky in the Premier League that there are so many great players to watch week in week out, it’s hard to pick a few, I guess I always admire those players who are honest, genuine and give absolutely everything they have every Saturday to play a game that every single fan would give their right arm to be involved in. In terms of players I despise, I’d have to say Fabregas is top of the list, he is undoubtedly an amazing footballer but his theatrics on the pitch, his comments to the media and the way he has engineered a move from a club he ‘loves’ makes me sick. An example of this behaviour was after the awful 50/50 where Ramsey’s leg was broken Fabregas’ (and others’) first reaction was to run to the referee brandishing an imaginary card rather than run to his stricken colleague’s aid – that to me says it all.

Have you got the right manager, and what advice would you give him?

I think we have a great manager with many strengths but also a number of weaknesses. The unit of players he has brought together and moulded into a team is fantastic, the effort and passion you see from our lot you won’t find at most of the other grounds in the country and that’s a great base to build from. He also has a canny nack for getting the best out of players who have lost their way, what he has done with the likes of Etherington and Pennant is amazing and you can see both are genuinely happy here.

What I do find infuriating though, is that he is a very cautious and stubborn man and my point around his approach to away matches is a good example of this, at home he will attempt to win a game, away from home his aim is to keep the point we start with and if we nick a goal then great, though if we concede then we we’re not set up to get anything back from the game. We’ve shown we can play well away from home and when we have both wingers on the pitch we have every chance of getting a result anywhere, I just wish he’d trust the players more. Another gripe I have is his mistrust of youth and foreign purchases, both are essential in order for the club to progress, both are indicative of the extreme caution that underlines his methodologies. That said, the same traits have got us somewhere I never dreamed possible so what do I know!

And finally, where will you finish?

I’m going to be positive and assume that we strengthen where we need to most in this transfer window, if we do and get a bit of luck along the way I think 10th would be a magnificent achievement.

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