Andriy Yarmolenko: the Beginning of a New Era for Stoke City?

Andriy Yarmolenko: the Beginning of a New Era for Stoke City?

Van Ginkel, Joselu, Shaqiri, Yarmolenko. 4, 3, even 2 years ago, to even link such stars with Stoke City would have been met with ridicule, and I’m sure even the most avid of City supporters would have cast doubt over such speculation. Fast forward to the present day, and fans will surely be rubbing their eyes, scarcely able to believe what the papers have been reporting in recent weeks.

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The Potters, only promoted to the top flight in 2008, are beating clubs around Europe to extensive talent, and boss, Mark Hughes, is establishing a new era in the Potteries. The securing of highly rated Spanish striker, Joselu, was a solid signing; Marco Van Ginkel joining on loan from Chelsea turned heads, yet Hughes has not stopped where so many would have been contented to end their summer dealings. The former Manchester United midfielder is targeting consistent European football, and a side capable of challenging the status quo of the English game.  A statement of intent, Stoke are going head to head with their European spot competitors in the transfer market, and if recent reports are to be believed, the club are pipping their rivals to the post in the race for the best talent on the market.

A bid for Champions League winner, Xherdan Shaqiri, dropped jaws, and although the deal failed to materialise due to the winger’s hesitancy over a move, Hughes remained ruthless in his search, discarding the Swiss from his plans as soon as the deadline for a decision had passed. Where others may have floundered, and attempted to appease by throwing money and promises at the player, Hughes adopted a ‘no-nonsense’ approach, and surged to his next target without a backwards glance. Next on his radar is reported to be Ukrainian international star, Andriy Yarmolenko, a player that has excelled in his homeland and on the international scene for a number of seasons, and is now ready to depart for shores anew to test himself on a new stage. The highly coveted winger had been extensively monitored by a host of European clubs in recent years, with Stoke’s Premier League rivals, Liverpool and Tottenham, said to have possessed a keen interest in the wide man. Yarmolenko is the man Hughes has identified as his marquee summer signing, his statement of intent, and if his side were to secure the signature of the player, Hughes will have sent his competitors a clear and compelling message; Stoke City are out to achieve European football. Hughes has made clear his objectives, and although Yarmolenko will be a name familiar to English fans, predominantly through the scoring of an equaliser at Wembley for his national side, does the Russian born man possess the talent and mentality to carry the burden of expectation, and lead his potential side into a run of successive European campaigns?

Andriy Yarmolenko has established himself as a household name in his homeland, and is the man in which the hopes of the nation are firmly pinned upon. 19 goals since his international debut in 2010, including the aforementioned equaliser at Wembley, the winger has exhibited enough to suggest he can compete on a world stage. His hunting grounds of the Ukrainian top flight have proven bountiful, and last season alone, Yarmolenko found the net on no less than 14 occasions, a fantastic return for a winger. There is no doubt that the credentials and difficulty of the Ukrainian league will be questioned, yet Stoke fans fear not, as Andriy followed up his domestic prowess on the European stage. Dynamo Kiev surged to the quarter-finals of the 2014-15 Europa League, where they tasted defeat over two legs at the hand of Serie A side, Fiorentina, yet despite the disappointment of their exit from the tournament, the form of Yarmolenko emerged as a positive of the campaign. The winger contributed to a goal a game in the competition, registering 7 assists and 4 goals in his 11 European appearances. Proven credentials in the competition will have captured the attention of Mark Hughes, who is looking to assemble a squad capable of qualifying, and making inroads into the competition. Mid table mediocrity has been a common theme at Stoke City since their promotion to the top flight, and squads under previous managers have lacked characters that are accustomed to the taste of success. The absence of such an attribute within the squad is an issue Mark Hughes has looked to address, and summer additions have looked to tackle the problem. Midfielder Van Ginkel has enjoyed time with Champions Chelsea, as well as Italian giants, A.C. Milan, and former England full-back, Glen Johnson, brings a wealth of experience to the side. Hughes will seek similar inspiration from Yarmolenko, who boasts numerous league and cup successes from an illustrious period with Dynamo Kiev. Such a winning mentality is required to compete at the right end of the English top flight, and although title success is undoubtedly unobtainable, Hughes and Stoke City fans will surely fancy their chances in the cup competitions. European qualification will not be relied upon through this method however, and Hughes will look to draw upon Yarmolenko’s experience at successfully negotiating an arduous league campaign.

As with any transfer of a player from a relatively unestablished division to the Premier League, doubts will be cast over the ability to adapt to new surroundings. A distant European nation, dogged by civil unrest and war, the Ukraine is a stark contrast to the safety of English shores, which may come as something of a culture shock to the player. Adaptability is vital, and this also refers to Yarmolenko’s ability to adapt to the demands of the English division, and the expectation placed upon those competing within its confines. Yarmolenko was left to develop in the Ukrainian leagues, but with the eye of the world firmly upon the Premier League, performances will be expected from the offset, and failure to deliver will result in rising pressure upon the player. Combine such pressures with the likelihood that Stoke will have to break their transfer record to secure Yarmolenko, and the winger has a difficult task on his hands. Proven on a domestic, European, and international stage however, Yarmolenko has done enough to suggest he possesses the credentials to succeed, and a move to Stock City may prove to be the making of the player.

If and when the player signs on the dotted line, Mark Hughes will have added incredible quality to his side. Stoke City are renowned for their aerial prowess, and a player with his crossing ability will be an invaluable asset to the club. Peter Crouch is one player sure to be willing his manager to get the deal over the line, with the striker licking his lips at the possibility of adding to his record number of headed Premier League goals. With Charlie Adam the only player really contributing goals from the midfield, Andriy will add a new dimension and attacking threat, and if the winger can replicate his Ukrainian domestic form, the player could end up directly contributing to Stoke City’s rise up the table in a way similar to David De Gea’s securing of so many points for Manchester United this season gone by. If a move materialises, Yarmolenko will be a fantastic addition to English football, and a player capable of great things will be plying his trade at the Britannia Stadium. If the move collapses, then Mark Hughes will still reap the rewards, with players, fans and pundits alike made aware of his vision to transform Stoke City into a top 6 English side, and perhaps such ambition and determination will sway minds, and convince players to join Hughes’ revolution.

Mark Hughes is affording Yarmolenko the opportunity to become the star player of a Premier League side, something he may not acquire with a move to a club that houses a number of players pushing for such an esteemed title, and the Ukrainian international would be wise to accept a transfer that could be the trigger to transform Stoke City from mid table minnows, to Premier League giants.