Stoke City have endured a very tough season and even though things have improved considerably under Michael O’Neill, they are still firmly in a battle to stay in the Championship when the campaign eventually resumes.
And, one man who could help them in the run-in is Ryan Shawcross. The club captain has featured in just three Championship fixtures this term because of several injuries but was back on the bench prior to the break.
A broken ankle in pre-season meant the defender missed the opening months and he has continuously picked up niggles since returning.
At 32-years-old, it’s perhaps no surprise to see that Shawcross is starting to have fitness issues and boss O’Neill will know he can no longer rely on the player to turn out each week.
Of course, you have to have sympathy for the former Manchester United man in all of this, he will be more frustrated than most that he hasn’t been able to get out on the pitch to help his teammates in their quest to survive.
However, moving forward, it presents Stoke with a problem.
Shawcross is a legend at Stoke because of his loyalty and service over the years but he will be causing a dilemma for those in power.
Having signed a new four-year deal in 2017, Shawcross will be on big money for a Championship player and the Potters need to cut their wage bill drastically this summer as they prepare for another year outside the top-flight.
Yet, Shawcross clearly isn’t going to leave for a host of reasons, not least the fact he won’t get a similar offer from anyone else. And, with a year left on his deal, the player and club are reaching a crossroads moment.
Does Shawcross accept a lower offer and hope to make the next step of his career by starting coaching at the club? Or does he look for a move where he will get more minutes?
In an ideal world, the no-nonsense centre-back would get back fully fit and he would clearly be an asset for Stoke on the pitch, whether that’s for another year or longer.
But, the past eight months have cast doubts on whether it’s possible for Shawcross to get back to his best and how useful he can be.
O’Neill is sure to oversee wholesale changes ahead of next season and it will be interesting to see what he does with the club legend who faces an uncertain future.
Thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.