Stoke City manager Michael O’Neill has suggested that the Potters will be aiming to further trim down the numbers within their squad in the summer to make way for some of the club’s talented under-23 players.
The Potters have looked to trim the wage bill and the squad depth during O’Neill’s time in charge at the Bet365 Stadium, with nine players having already left the club on permanent deals since he took over from Nathen Jones. Stoke also have 11 players out on loan at the moment, including the late January departures of the likes of Lee Gregory, Tom Ince, and Liam Lindsay.
That has seen the Potters squad thinned down a little and presented the chance for their younger prospects to stake a claim for some action in the Championship. The likes of Christian Norton and Will Forrester were amongst the substitutes for the defeat at Barnsley in midweek. O’Neill though will be faced with sorting out the futures of players who return from loan spells in the summer.
Speaking to the Stoke Sentinel ahead of the Potters’ meeting with Brentford on Saturday, O’Neill suggested that the Potters will be looking to try and move on permanently some of the players they have loaned out this term in the summer. While he indicated that was needed to continue to give chances to some of the younger players.
He said: “We have 11 players out on loan and we’re probably the only club in the Championship who have that to deal with – and a smaller squad gives opportunities to younger players who are maybe doing well in the 23s.
“It’s important that we get to see those younger players and it’s very difficult to integrate them into training if your numbers are high because ultimately training has to be geared around preparation for games as well.
“Those are all little challenges but certainly getting those players who were on the periphery out on loan has helped. The big thing going forward is to find long-term solutions to that.”
O’Neill is right that Stoke’s squad size without some of the 11 players leaving on loan would have made it very challenging for first-team experience in and around the squad to be given to the younger prospects. The likes of Gregory, Ince and Lindsay look like they might have to go in the summer to make room in the squad after they left on loan to Derby, Luton and Preston respectively.
There are other players whose futures have looked sealed for some time who have been loaned out like Kevin Wimmer and Moritz Bauer for example. Those were always likely to be out the door at some stage anyway. These comments suggest that O’Neill is going to be giving more of a focus on youth over the next few years.
Stoke have already seen the benefit of trusting their younger players with the impacts made by the likes of Harry Souttar, Tyrese Campbell, Nathan Collins and Joe Bursik. The likes of Campbell and Collins have inflated their valuations considerably, so it does seem a sensible way of making the club sustainable and helping them achieve success on the field.