Analysis: The Stoke City Barcelona Pipeline

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The Premier League’s transfer window closed two weeks ago today and a lot has been said about Stoke City’s business during the off-season.

Stoke signed two players from FC Barcelona this transfer window bringing their total of former Barcelona players on the books to 4

So let’s recap. Stoke City added eleven new players to their roster this off-season.  Two of their new additions in Ibrahim Affelay and Xherdan Shaqiri are former Champions League winners with FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich, respectively. Stoke City signed two players from FC Barcelona this transfer window, the aforementioned Ibrahim Affelay and Barca starlet Moha El Ouriachi, bringing their total of former players on the books to four (Bojan and Marc Muniesa account for the other two).

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What’s even more surprising is that three of the signings all joined Stoke on a free transfer. Moha El Ouriachi, the 19-year-old winger and La Masia alumnus, rejected a new contract with Barcelona in favour of a move to Stoke.

Mark Hughes’ recent business in the transfer market has gobsmacked not just the English football media, but observers of both the Premier League and FC Barcelona.

This is after all Stoke City.

For all their successes; seven consecutive Premier League seasons, FA Cup finalists in 2010-2011, and earning a Europa League berth in 2011-2012, Stoke’s reputation precedes them. This is the same Stoke City that garnered a reputation under Tony Pulis as the club that played hoofing, grinding, long-ball football. A club with a reputation for being bigger, tougher, and gritter than its Premier League counterparts – leading Sir Alex Ferguson to call them “the green giants”.  The same club that developed a reputation for possessing a brutal defensive bulwark captained by notorious defender and human steamroller Ryan Shawcross. This is the club that inspired Andy Gray’s cliche about whether certain Iberian players in La Liga could score goals on a “cold night in Stoke”.

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So of course, at least to football fans who aren’t supporters of The Potters, Stoke’s recent raids on Barcelona were surprising. Barcelona doesn’t exactly have a reputation as a selling club. Four of Barcelona’s biggest sales of all time have come in the last five years with one of those sales being a net loss for the club (Zlatan Ibrahimovic). The vast majority of Barcelona’s outgoing transfer activity consists of contract terminations, free agency departures, and loan moves. That and the majority of departing Barcelona players often leave for other clubs within Mediterranean climate zone of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) and Italian Peninusla.

How is it that Stoke has managed to connect so effectively with Barcelona to capture some of their young former talent?

Stoke seems to keep their ability to secure a pipeline with Barcelona fairly close to the chest. Stoke City chairman, Peter Coates, has spoken highly of the ‘good relationship’ between Stoke and Barcelona but largely dodged questions on how that good relationship might be established.

There are a few factors that might have led Stoke to cultivate such a good relationship with Barcelona.

Next: 1. Stoke's New Style of Play