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If Mark Hughes wished to make his Stoke City team the polar opposite to Tony Pulis’ then he is a long way down the path to succeeding.
Only seven players remain from the squad Pulis handed over to Hughes in 2013 and Bojan Krkic, Xherdhan Shaqiri and Ibrahim Afellay are lightyears away from Mamady Sidibe, Kenwynne Jones and the tactical innovations of Rory Delap and his towel-assisted long-throws.
Joe Allen, for £13 million from Liverpool, is the latest to join Hughes’ Stoke revolution and the “Welsh Xavi” as he is nicknamed will slot into a midfield, all 5ft 6 inches of him, where Wilson Palacios and Steven N’Zonzi would be found ploughing themselves around.
Technique and guile, not brutish directness, is now the order of the day at the Britannia- or the BET365 Stadium as it’s now named- and it will help to create a happier setting for young talent to blossom.
It is unlikely that Martin Jol, the former Spurs manager now in charge of Al Ahly in Egypt, would have allowed the 19 year old prospect Ramadan Sobhi to move to the banks of the River Trent if Stoke were still in the stasis of Pulis’s flat-cap and tracksuit era.
It is clear that Jol has high ambitions for Sobhi having informed Manchester United’s Jose Mourinho to keep an eye on the winger while he is at Stoke.
It is testament to Sobhi’s potential but also the faith Jol has in the teenager.
“I hope he will succeed in England and I will always support him. I am confident he is ready to play in the English top flight” said the former Spurs, Ajax and Fulham coach, “he is a brilliant player and he can play at Manchester United after that.”
It is telling that Stoke have been trusted with the next stage of Sobhi’s development given that both Roma and Arsenal had made their interest known, the latter failing with a bid to take the Egyptian on trial earlier this year.
Regarded as the hottest property in North Africa, what Sobhi can learn from Shaqiri and Bojan while offering initial cover to Marko Arnautovic will be priceless if he can make Stoke a significant profit on the £5 million they bought him for.
A full international of 6 caps after representing Egypt at every age level since 2013, it is commendable business in a market in which Jordan Ibe, a year older than Sobhi but yet to win a senior international cap and with one breakthrough season to his name, can be worth £15 million to Bournemouth.
Sobhi has won two Egyptian Premier League titles having broken into the first team at Al Ahly as a 16 year old in 2014 and, blessed with stylish dribbling, clinical passing, vision and eye for goal, he has repeatedly been named the new Mohamed Aboutrika, footballing royalty in Egypt.
He has already played a huge part in helping his country qualify for their first African Cup of Nations since their triumph in 2010, jumping off the bench to make a late equaliser in a crucial match in Nigeria before scoring the winner in the home leg four days later.
If anybody needed a reason not to get too carried away, a reality check came in May as he was forced to sit out The Pharaohs’ last qualifier with Tanzania due to a high school exam.
That he is switching continents with the intention of making an impact in the Premier League just two months later, while still a teenager, owes to Sobhi’s brash confidence that can translate over to his tendency for showboating.
A brilliant standing on the ball trick he performed in the red shirt of Al Ahly caught on so much Britain’s ambassador in Egypt John Casson repeated it while the winger sorted out his visa ahead of his Stoke move.
“The only thing I feel is that I’m shouldering a big responsibility of helping my team win. But, thanks to God, no pressure affects me”, he said last year, offering an insight into the irrepressible self-belief that will help him adapt quickly to life in England. “I’m never worried when I step onto the pitch.”
Rectifying a nuisance of a habit
Sobhi, by his own admission, had a habit of using one trick too many at youth level, something that he was forced to tone down when he moved up to Al Ahly’s full-team, and his occasional lack of end-product can still frustrate.
The 19 year old is still very much a raw talent who Hughes is likely to use cautiously at the start.
Caution was something Stoke’s chief executive Tony Scholes was keen to emphasise when talking up his new signing.
“We have to remember two things. Firstly, his age; he’s only 19 and secondly, he’s coming from a different country, a different culture”, he said. “Let’s not too much pressure on too soon. He’s one for the future … but in time he could become a great player for us.”
Time is what he needs at the moment
Scholes is aware Stoke may have picked up a future star, a player who could reap the club huge profits in a few years time.
For now though they can enjoy his ability and exciting talent, much owing to the new direction the Staffordshire club is heading in.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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