Stoke City have huge vacancy to fill as they make big contract decision

Tyrese Campbell has scored 37 goals for Stoke City, who he joined as a 16-year-old from Manchester City.
Tyrese Campbell has scored 37 goals for Stoke City, who he joined as a 16-year-old from Manchester City. -Credit:Gary Oakley/Getty Images

Stoke City and Tyrese Campbell are both searching for the same thing. Stoke desperately need a striker who can lead the line and be a regular goal threat and that’s the player that Tyrese Campbell hopes to be.

He has shown, in flashes, that he can do that in the Championship. The last four games of this season are a case in point with a cocktail of aggression, strength, acceleration and ruthlessness. His goals against Southampton and Bristol City were superb and different finishes; one a calm slot with his right foot, one powered in with his left. It earned a standing ovation in what turned out to be his final appearance and best wishes in whatever happens next.

The question that Stoke have had to ask themselves is how much they can bank on Campbell hitting that kind of level over a full season. A club owned by bookies might consider the odds of him scoring 15 to 25 goals and spearheading a charge towards the top six in the next one or two years.

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If a player is going to be what Ricky Martin would call a key asset – and rewarded as such within a wage structure which has to be tightly managed, especially in these days of Financial Fair Play – then you would want to hang your hat on them for 46 games. You might accept 40 or even 35 but they have to be a consistent and reliable presence from August until May.

Campbell, for various reasons, hasn’t been able to stay in top gear over that distance since he broke into the first team properly in early 2020. The raw stats don’t really do him justice but he started 14 league games in 2023/24, 30 in 22/23 (plus 11 sub cameos as he finished as nine-goal top scorer), 10 in 21/22, 13 in 20/21 and 18 in 19/20.

He knows that isn’t enough and he is ambitious enough to demand and expect more from himself. A break from Stoke might be the jolt that propels his career to bigger and better times. It’s obviously not been a straightforward decision and he might have found what he needs at Stoke but it’s a judgement call and they’ve made it.

Teams in the play-off places have scored between 70 and 87 goals this term. Stoke only scored 49, down from 54 in 2022/23, 57 a year before that, 50 in 20/21, 62 in 19/20 and 45 in the first year after relegation. It’s been nowhere near the standard required and although keeping faith in the same players wouldn’t necessarily mean you were going to repeat the same mistakes and expect different results, something has to change.

Stoke now have a vacancy to be the main man up front. Ryan Mmaee, with three goals in his debut season (17 starts, seven sub appearances), will have to go some way to step up. January signing Niall Ennis has shown enthusiasm but not a clinical touch. There are high hopes for Emre Tezgel and Nathan Lowe but they are still only 18.

They haven’t had a player score 20 goals since Peter Thorne at the turn of the century but, actually, the prospect of playing at centre-forward in a Steven Schumacher team seems pretty attractive, linking with Bae Junho and Million Manhoef.

Opta have a stat that monitors shot-creating actions – moments that directly lead to a shot, such as passes, dribbles and drawing fouls. Stoke averaged 20.25 of these moments per match in Alex Neil’s 20 league games this season (from four away at Leicester to 30 away at Huddersfield). But they hit almost 40 in their last two home matches under Schumacher (37 vs Plymouth, 38 vs Bristol City). It was 26 away at Southampton, 33 vs West Brom, 28 vs Huddersfield and 31 vs Hull.

Schumacher isn’t pinning that entirely on the number 9.

He said after the Bristol City romp : “It is (a big difference in chance creation) and the personnel in that, the way we've played, gives you a chance to keep the ball. I keep going on about Enda Stevens. He intercepts it but passes it to our team as he intercepts it. That gives you such a good chance to go and build attacks. His football brain and quality he has shown has been a huge part in that.

“We've looked half decent in the last few games and if we can get to that level again we'll be fine - but we need to make sure we can get to that level and we have players who can do that every game.”

So that’s the challenge for Stoke, for Schumacher, Jon Walters and the recruitment team: find as many players as possible this summer who can do it in every game. A main striker will be top of the list.

Right or wrong call on Campbell? Have your say in the comments section