Stoke City can't forget vital 'first part' as they build £12m new training HQ

An artist's impression of the new Stoke City facility, right, which will take shape at Clayton Wood, as seen from the training pitches.
-Credit: (Image: Stoke City)

It has been good this week to see the artist’s impressions for Stoke City’s new £10m-£12m state of the art training facility but it was a line from Jon Walters that really made me smile.

“You’ve got to be careful to get the balance right,” he said. “It’s not just a comfortable building, it’s there to get the best out of you as a player, as a staff, to really improve everything from women’s to academy to first team.”

Absolutely right. Your surroundings will only take you so far. I would have loved to have a top class gym and sports scientists on hand with all their equipment and data when I was a player or a coach – but the main thing will always be the players themselves. It is all about having good players who apply themselves to their work.

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I’m reminded of when I was coming through at Stoke and we used to have practice games on the concrete behind the Boothen End, using the entrances to the toilets as goalposts. That was your game every Tuesday as amateurs and sometimes the first team would use that area too until the gym was built. We would run down the canalside to Trentham, run up Trentham hills or up the steps or the terraces in the Victoria Ground.

It wasn’t glamorous but there were great players in that squad who knew it was all about how they approached the job in hand, how you could improve the team by your performances and the graft that you put in ready for a match situation. It is all about being ready for those last 20 minutes when you have to dig deep.

Why are Stoke in the position they’re in now, building from the bottom half of the Championship? Because the players haven’t been good enough for what is needed.

You can do well as a club if you have good players with good attitudes and rubbish facilities, although it will be harder. You are in a strong place as a club if you have good players with good attitudes and good facilities.

But if you don’t have the first part, it doesn’t matter about the rest.

Bae Junho, who has also been in the news this week after scoring with one of his first touches for South Korea, is definitely a good player with a good attitude.

There is a stereotype about South Korean footballers who come to England, about natural enthusiasm, discipline and a hunger for success. Stereotypes are probably dangerous business but Junho definitely ticks those three boxes.

We saw his performance levels, how he always gave 100 per cent and how his energy bounced off others. It’s a quality that brings out the best in other people and players. He looks like he loves what he’s doing and he’s very good at it.

When I’m asked what his best position is or what it will be over the next few years then I’m afraid I have to give a long answer. For starters, he can play off the front as a number 10, he can play in a pair off the front – I think he would be a good double act with Luke Cundle, for instance, he can play from the left wing coming in. A lot probably depends on the players he will have around him.

There is flexibility and versatility as you’re setting up for certain different match or even within the same match, depending on what is needed in a specific situation.

The bottom line is that he’s a good footballer and the type you want in your club. He will be one of the first names on the teamsheet for next season.

Is Pej right? Have your say in the comments section