“I think at this stage of his career it’s very important for him to play.” Those were the words of Stoke City boss Michael O’Neill following the completion of Tom Edwards’ loan move to New York Red Bulls back in January.
The 22-year-old has made the slightly unexpected move to America in a bid to get his career back on track with the Potters in the long term, particularly having fallen out of favour under the Stoke boss towards the midway stage of the 2019/20 season.
Edwards, an academy graduate of Stoke’s youth system, already has over 50 first team appearances to his name for the Sky Bet Championship club and was once tipped for great things at the Bet365 Stadium.
However after losing his place in the team under O’Neill, the defender has since been shipped out to Fleetwood Town in League One and most recently the Red Bulls in the MLS in a bid to get a reaction out of the youngster.
Now, in his second successive loan spell away from the club, Edwards has certainly been showing his parent side exactly what they have been missing after racking up 22 appearances this term across the pond.
Largely deployed at both right and centre back for much of the campaign by former Barnsley and now Red Bulls boss Gerhard Struber, the youngster has showcased both great fighting spirit and an effective long throw technique that has brought a new edge to the MLS side’s game.
There has now even been suggestions that the side from the Big Apple could look to keep Edwards past the end of his loan spell, with a permanent deal having seemingly been mooted for the player who is under contract with Stoke until the summer of 2024.
However that is surely something that O’Neill and co have cast far away from their minds, particularly after receiving some glowing reports on the youngster’s progress.
Indeed when assessing the situation from a tactical perspective, it would be easy to see how Edwards could fit into the current side, with spots at both wing back and in central defence being up for grabs should he return.
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Add to the fact that he is also a good potential long term successor to the more seasoned Tommy Smith and it seems like a no brainer for the Potters to hold onto a player who still has a lot more to give in red and white moving forwards.
Sanctioning a permanent exit for Edwards would certainly be viewed as a mistake by many and for that reason, Stoke and O’Neill in particular should think twice if a bid comes in for the defender’s services further down the line.