Stoke City have made a much-improved start to the 2021/22 campaign compared to previous seasons, both on and off the pitch.
Although their on-field performances have stolen the headlines after a quick start, their transfer business in the summer also has to be commended as they went a long way in atoning for their unsuccessful spending spree in 2018.
Some of the high earners from their Premier League days, including Kevin Wimmer and Bruno Martins Indi, both left permanently while the Potters were also able to offload the likes of Lee Gregory and Sam Vokes who had little chance of making a real impact in the first team this season.
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They may have cashed in on one of their most prized assets in Nathan Collins for a £12m fee, but they did recruit Brighton & Hove Albion’s Leo Ostigard on a season-long loan deal and brought in promotion-winning man Ben Wilmot to fill the void Collins left almost straight away.
Their shrewd business didn’t stop there though, with Mario Vrancic arriving on a free transfer in the summer and already proving to be a key asset to Michael O’Neill’s men.
This incoming business has paid dividends on the pitch, although to avoid running into problems with the EFL’s profit and sustainability rules and ensure they have the sufficient squad depth to do well in the coming years, they could rely on some of their younger players coming through the ranks.
We have selected just two youngsters who could make a real impact at the bet365 Stadium in the future.
Taylor is a highly-rated centre-back in Stoke City’s youth ranks and after temporary spells out at Ashton United and Chester, he was loaned out to recently-relegated side Bristol Rovers in the previous transfer window.
After spending time with the latter in the sixth tier, the move to Joey Barton’s side was quite a step up, but he was heavily praised for one of his performances for the Pirates last month and will be in with a shout of making one or two more steps up next term if he can continue to impress at the Memorial Stadium.
The 19-year-old has been a regular starter in Bristol since his arrival, making eight League Two appearances so far and getting on the scoresheet against Walsall last month as he looks to lift his side up the fourth-tier table.
Considering Harry Souttar has been the subject of considerable interest from the Premier League sides Everton and Tottenham Hotspur, both of whom have scouted the 22-year-old ahead of a potential move, there’s every chance he could get an opportunity to shine in the Championship next term.
Leo Ostigard’s move from Brighton and Hove Albion is only a temporary one too, so he’s definitely one to look out for in the fourth tier this season.
Stoke manager O’Neill’s decision to operate with three centre-backs will only boost his chances of making a real breakthrough in Staffordshire, having already made his debut for the Potters against Coventry City in April.
He came on for the injured James Chester in the 17th minute of that tie, but will be hoping for much more action at his parent side in the coming years.
Varian seems like a man who is on the cusp of the first team after a promising 2020/21 campaign in Premier League 2.
He scored nine goals and recorded five assists in 20 appearances in the competition last season and has been sent out on loan to Raith Rovers this term to get more senior football under his belt.
Rovers currently ply their trade in the second tier of Scottish football, so there’s every chance he could break into the first team to provide competition next season if he can impress north of the border.
His experience as a Republic of Ireland youth international should also serve him well in his quest to win more first-team football at the bet365 Stadium, with Abdallah Sima potentially leaving a striking spot vacant on the expiration of his loan spell next summer.
The likes of Tyrese Campbell and Sam Surridge may keep him out of the starting lineup, but there are no guarantees over Steven Fletcher’s future, so this chance with Raith Rovers is one he desperately needs to take.
He’s already made 14 competitive appearances for them so far this season, so he looks as though he will get a sufficient opportunity to shine throughout 2021/22.