While deadline day 2016 was considered a quiet one, we still saw the biggest move in England transpire and a team break their transfer record. This happened with Stoke City’s £18.3m signing of Belgian born midfielder Giannelli Imbula. After breaking their transfer window just six months ago with the signing of Xherdan Shaqiri, Stoke have continued to be ambitious in the transfer window.
Imbula made a summer move from Olympique de Marseille to FC Porto for about £15.1m. While it was touted as a good move at the time, it never really worked out for the 23 year old. He struggled for playing time at the Estádio do Dragão, despite now sacked manager Julen Lopetegui describing him as a “Ferrari” when persuading owner Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa to sign him. By the end of his short spell in Portugal da Costa was wondering why “It (the Ferrari he was described as) hasn’t come out of the garage yet?”
While he may have failed in Portugal, Imbula has shown that he has metric tons of talent. The midfielder moved to France at a young age and spent his youth career between the academies of RCF Paris and Paris Saint-Germain before finally winding up at Guingamp. After breaking through at Guaingamp and helping to win them two promotions in three years, he earned his move to Marseille.
Imbula moved to the Stade Veladrome in the summer of 2013, but he didn’t get off to the best start. He struggled under Ellie Baup and then Jose Anigo in his first season. He failed to establish himself in the starting XI making only 11 league starts and was eventually relegated to the role of super sub making 16 substitute appearances. Then Marcelo Bielsa was appointed as manager for the 2014-2015 season and Imbula had a breakthrough. Under the tutelage of Bielsa, the 23 year old became one of the best ball carrying midfielders in Europe and a dribbling machine.
Giannelli Imbula: Completed more successful dribbles (110) than any other player in Ligue 1 last season
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) February 1, 2016
In Imbula, Stoke have acquired a prototypical box to box midfielder that thrives in the transitional stage of the game. He can defend, he can attack, but he’s best in turning defense into attack with his dribbling and ball winning abilities. His strength, athleticism, and long strides allow him to carry the ball through the opposition midfield and turn defense into attack quickly and efficiently. As teams like Leicester City have shown, being good in transition can pay big dividends in this Premier League. Along with his ball winning ability (2.4 tackles and 1.1 interceptions per game in 2014/2015) he doesn’t foul too often averaging less than two fouls per game in a crazy Marseille midfield that pressed more often and with more intensity than any other team in Ligue 1.
Imbula’s long strides and lanky body have inevitably drawn comparisons to a certain Frenchman that captained Arsenal’s Invincibles team. Is Imbula the next Patrick Viera? Probably not, but who knows? What the he is is a very powerful, mobile, and technically gifted midfielder that will add an element Stoke don’t have with a midfield two of Geoff Cameron and Glenn Whelan.
*Quotes on Porto’s owner from Mohammed Ali (@