Alex Neil highlights 'key assets' he signed for Stoke City amid plea for hungry players

Alex Neil, Manager of Stoke City, looks on prior to the Sky Bet Championship match between Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers at Bet365 Stadium on November 25, 2023
Record... Former Stoke City boss Alex Neil. -Credit:Getty Images

Alex Neil has mounted a defence of his transfer record as Stoke City manager, claiming the “key assets” he brought in will serve the club well.

The Scot left the club in December, just 16 months after arriving at the bet365 Stadium, following an underwhelming start to last season.

He was replaced by Steven Schumacher who, working with technical director Jon Walters, has begun the process of revamping Stoke’s first-team squad for 2024/25.

That could mean some of Neil’s recruits being moved on, but the former Norwich City and Preston boss remains confident that his work will ultimately yield dividends for the club.

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He told the Lancashire Post: “Obviously, I’ve been on a few holidays since I left Stoke and had time to reflect - as you do.

“Every club you work at is very different... they are not even similar. But every club you walk into, when you lift the bonnet up and look under it, you think, ‘Oh, right, okay, it’s a little bit different than what I thought’. And then you’ve got to try to make the best use of what you’ve got.”

Neil joined Stoke at a time when the club hierarchy was concerned about falling foul of the EFL’s strict spending rules, and he claims that coloured his time as manager.

He explained: “Stoke was a bit different in the fact that - if I’d walked in during the [last] summer, when we needed to churn things around - I think what you get is a bit of a blank canvas. And you’ve got time to try and build the club.

“What I had to do was, basically, walk in 12 months earlier and then see that squad through. We only signed frees or loans because we didn’t have any money. We had to sell Harry Souttar in the January, to make sure we fell in line with FFP and didn’t break the rules.

“It gave us a pot of cash to spend last summer, but again, we signed six frees and five loans. All the ones we put our money into were key assets. So, Bae Jun-ho, I think won player of the year. Wouter Burger, was second in the player of the year. And Ryan Mmaee who, for me, will become a really good player for them.

“So yeah, we invested in those guys. But the difficulty you have then is taking 19 players and trying to mould a squad in three months - which is challenging. And particularly in the Championship, with how competitive it is.

“You then have the expectation of where people want to finish and how you want to do, so it’s not easy. If it was easy, everybody would do it.”

In all, Stoke recruited 18 players last summer - 13 permanent deals and five loans - with varying degrees of success. However, the squad was left short in certain key areas, prompting disquiet from fans.

Looking ahead, Neil seemed to take a pot-shot at the Potters and the squad he left behind at the bet365 Stadium.

Asked about his future plans, he added: “To be honest, I’d like to try to recreate what I had at Preston for those years - in terms of having a squad I really enjoy, having players that are hungry, want to make their way and want to achieve.

“You don’t come across it very often, but I was fortunate I managed to walk into the right changing room at the right time. I’d like to try and do that again.”

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