Stoke City big transfer decision explained as brief but dramatic Jared Dublin era ends

Jared Dublin is leaving Stoke City after 11 months as head of recruitment.
Jared Dublin is leaving Stoke City after 11 months as head of recruitment. -Credit:Stoke City

Stoke City are expected to bring in an experienced head of recruitment after a tough decision to move on from Jared Dublin.

Dublin has had a pretty dramatic 11 months in office at Clayton Wood, with his appointment coming at a time when the squad was being overhauled, the club had escaped the worst constraints of a three-year rolling Financial Fair Play cycle and work permit rules were changing to make signings from overseas suddenly feasible for Championship clubs.

There were 24 arrivals in all, of whom four were free agents and 12 cost a transfer fee, 16 were from British clubs and eight from abroad. Seven were on loan and five had previously played for either Alex Neil or Steven Schumacher.

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In terms of responsibility, it has never been a one-man band. There is a team of scouts and analysts plus input from managers and coaches. Former technical director Ricky Martin was hands-on too while new sporting director Jon Walters has been spotted at stadiums up and down the country to get first-hand reports on potential targets. Everyone reports and is ultimately answerable to chairman John Coates.

But there have clearly been some deals with a distinctly more Dublin stamp than others. It is unlikely, for example, that Wouter Burger or Nikola Jojic were in Neil’s little black book of prospective players until Dublin joined in late June last year after a brief spell as head of scouting at Reading.

He has quite a unique CV compared to rivals in the English second tier, giving up a career as an app-developer in San Francisco and problem solver at Google to chase his dream in football. He studied a Football Industries MBA at the University of Liverpool before getting his breakthrough job at Sheffield United, where he worked alongside Paul Mitchell.

There is no doubt he is a little bit of a maverick and he enjoyed the exotic opportunities he could explore with Stoke, who were ready to be patient for him to get the necessary visa so he could get on board. Neil described his knowledge of the global market as “freakishly good” and quipped about an instant ability to name “the best left centre-back in Sweden”.

Burger has proven to be one of the success stories of last summer’s shopping spree. At 23, the midfielder seems like a growing asset even for a fee that was reported at £4.3 million. Stoke are protected by a long-term contract too, with three years left to run.

Bae Junho, aged 20, was crowned player of the year after his £2m switch from South Korean club Daejeon Hana Citizen last August. He signed a four-year contract too. Late January buy Million Manhoef, aged 22, had a strong finish to the season with four goals in the last three home matches. The right winger, signed up until 2027, could end up costing about £3.4m.

They are signings that mean Dublin will be remembered more fondly than some of his predecessors in what has been a very hot seat over the last few years – but that’s not to say that recruitment has always come out well under the microscope during a season when Stoke had to haul themselves out of relegation trouble.

There have been mixed verdicts on others, including striker Ryan Mmaee and forward Andre Vidigal, who finished the season as six-goal top scorer. Mmaee, aged 26, cost an initial £1.75m from Hungarian champions Ferencvaros and still has it all to prove while Vidigal joined from Portuguese side Maritimo for about £500,000. Both penned three-year deals.

Mehdi Leris, aged 25, was in and out of the starting XI after he joined from Sampdoria for about £850,000. Jojic, aged 20, hasn’t been able to make an impact for the under-21s after his £1.2m switch from Serbian club Mladost Lucani.

Stoke’s business this summer is expected to try to complement the ones which have worked, get more from a couple who are at a bit of a crossroads and, all in all, find the perfect blend and balance to propel the club upwards. If the initial plan was for Dublin to continue to lead that, in the end he seems to have been something like the right man at the wrong time. It’s a big call and it has not been taken lightly.

If Stoke aren’t going to turn their back on what is available around the world, it is equally true that – at this stage in the club’s hoped for journey back to the Premier League – they won’t try to sniff out every answer in a far flung corner and the constant message has been that everyone has to be on the same page.

The difficult sell to supporters at the moment is that Stoke have recruited too many duffers from the domestic market since 2017 and three of their most popular players right now are from South Korea and the Netherlands. Mama Sidibe and Scott Coomber remain trusted senior members of the recruitment team so it isn’t a completely new broom but the decision on who to bring in as transfer chief will be even more important as the decision to let Dublin go.

The proof, as ever, will be in the pudding. You live or die by the players you get on the pitch. There is a focus on the starting XI and a massive push on due diligence, especially with character references.

Viktor Johansson is the first through the door in the new era, a 25-year-old with Championship experience and just starting his international career with Sweden. As a case in point, his character references are superlative – and it is in a position down the spine of the team where Stoke have been too reliant on loanees.

It’s just the start. It's not going to be a summer as head-spinningly revolutionary as 12 months ago but there is still opportunity for significant work, there will likely be two or three tweaks behind the scenes and they have to find a way to break this bottom half repeat. If there is a big decision to make, they have to make it.

Stoke signings with Jared Dublin as head of recruitment

Enda Stevens, Ben Pearson, Michael Rose, Daniel Johnson, Andre Vidigal, Wesley, Ryan Mmaee, Nikola Jojic, Mehdi Leris, Wouter Burger, Bae Junho, Lynden Gooch, Ciaran Clark, Scott Morris, Million Manhoef, Niall Ennis, Ki-Jana Hoever, Mark Travers, Chiquinho, Luke McNally, Sead Haksabanovic, Daniel Iversen, Luke Cundle, Viktor Johansson.

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