Afellay arrival provides Stoke City with left-sided depth
With Stoke City manager and players arriving in France for a week long training camp in advance of the Colonia Cup in Germany, there was another kind of arrival on Monday in the shape of former PSV Eindhoven starlet and free agent Ibrahim Afellay, who joins the club on a two-year contract.
It should come as little surprise that his most recent employer was Barcelona and in swapping the Nou Camp for the Britannia Afellay becomes the fourth player to make a switch to the Potteries from the Catalan giants. While Afellay found himself a free agent, his time at Barcelona and the associated professionalism and focus that comes with playing for one of the world's biggest clubs continues to be a big selling point for former Barcelona player and current Stoke manager Mark Hughes.
The Dutchman started his career at PSV and his promise was such that he was fast-tracked into first team action at the tender age of 17 before becoming a regular in 2005. His career in Eindhoven was hampered by a series of minor injuries, but despite his various setbacks, he went on to excel there for the better part of six seasons. It was in 2011 that Barcelona came calling and with the player refusing to sign a new deal and PSV announcing significant commercial losses, the La Liga side were able to wrap up his signing for a modest €3 million on a four-and-a-half year contract.
Afellay would go on to be a bit part player and struggle to fulfil his promise at Barcelona and when injuries started to strike again, he fell further and further from the first team, eventually being shipped out on loan to Germany and Greece. He now finds himself arriving in the Potteries off the back of a successful loan spell at Olympiakos, scoring six times in 29 appearances as they went on to complete a domestic double.
With the failed pursuits of Yevhen Konoplyanka and Xherdan Shaqiri fresh in the mind, it's easy to assume that Afellay is plan B or C on Hughes' long list of transfer targets for the wide areas. But in truth, he arrives as a squad player. A move for the Dutchman isn't a last resort or a fallback but rather another shrewd signing by the manager to supplement his current group with a versatile and capable attacking option, who has also shown he is more than happy to play a deeper central role. Recruiting a new player for the left-hand side this summer perhaps hasn't been as simple a task as first thought, with Marko Arnautovic bucking his usual trend by turning up for preseason in the shape and form he finished the last campaign in.
In signing a player who will need time to settle into his new surroundings, it leaves Arnautovic a first team spot with a gentle reminder that his place isn't a given. Before long, Arnautovic will have a genuine contender for his left wing throne. It's difficult to see this transfer as anything other than a positive move, but for some the continued absence of a multi-million pound star arriving is somehow indicative of impending doom. Thankfully most believe that the manager deserves a degree of trust having all but transformed a club suffering stagnation under the previous regime into a regular top-ten side attractive enough that the likes of Afellay consider Stoke an option.
Now is the time for celebration, not panic, and with the season under two weeks away the squad is in good shape to kick off its latest campaign in the top-flight. Hughes continues to impress and the quality within the club grows with each transfer window, leaving the Potters with some real pedigree in their ranks. There's so much quality in fact that when the mighty Liverpool turn up on Sunday August 9, they will realise that their less illustrious opponents not only boast a recent 6-1 scoreline over them, but also now possess four times as many Champions League winners in their squad.
James Whittaker is ESPN FC's Stoke blogger. Follow him on Twitter: @northstokie