Stoke City strike department in flux: Ryan Mmaee in Celtic shirt as Tyrese Campbell trains with Portsmouth striker

Ryan Mmaee has had to prove his attitude at Stoke City.
-Credit: (Image: James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images)

A key part of Stoke City's summer transfer strategy has been to make sure that Steven Schumacher is overseeing a manageable squad size in his first full season as head coach.

Schumacher and sporting director Jon Walters want a senior group of about 22 players so that a budget which is constrained by the EFL's financial rules can be focused on the starting XI. There have been too many times in seasons past when too much cash has been going on players watching games from the stands.

A number one of their own was high on the agenda too, as well as an experienced centre-half, so Viktor Johansson, Ben Gibson and, all being well, left-back Eric Bocat should represent at least on paper a good start to the window.

The big item remains what happens up front. Tyrese Campbell and Wesley have been released while Sead Haksabanovic returned to parent club Celtic. That leaves Ryan Mmaee and Niall Ennis plus teen prospects Emre Tezgel and Nathan Lowe at centre-forward, Bae Junho, Million Manhoef, Andre Vidigal and Mehdi Leris in the wide positions. Bocat can play on the wing too and Lynden Gooch has played virtually everywhere.

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What has Schumacher said about attack?

Schumacher built his reputation as Plymouth Argyle manager on being ruthless in the final third and he wants to add that dynamic at Stoke.

He said recently: "We've highlighted the areas of the pitch and things that we did really well since we came in in Game Week 23 and there's loads of positives and loads of things that we were doing successfully, but there's a glaring and obvious weakness of what we've got. Now we need to be more clinical in front of goal. There's areas in the 18-yard box where we need to score more goals from and there's areas outside the box where we need to create more from.

"So it’s up to us now to go, ‘Ok, that’s what it’s saying, this is what the evidence and the data is showing us, so now can we go and get the recruitment right to give us a chance that when we’re playing so well we make the most of the opportunities.’

"We don’t want déjà vu. We don't want to be in this position again and I keep saying it. There's a lot of good going on in our team, a lot. We were up in the top six for clean sheets, we were up in the top six for set play goals. There is a lot of stuff about the team that you can work with – but there are areas as well that are glaringly obvious where we can improve.

"So if we can get that right and we can go and get the right personnel – and you get a bit of luck as well, by the way – and you get your signings right then we'll have a chance of doing better next year."

Can present forwards step up?

A tough first season in England for Ryan Mmaee, now aged 26, who struggled to string a series of strong performances together and score the goals that his side needed. He had to prove his attitude with the under-21s for a period in the New Year but came back a little chastened only to pick up a hamstring injury that ended his campaign in early April.

So 17 starts, seven sub appearances, three goals and three assists in 2023/24 and it would clearly be a gamble to entirely hang your hat on that record improving markedly in 2024/25. He popped into Clayton Wood last week and has then been away for some close season recuperation, pulling on a Haksabanovic Celtic shirt into the bargain.

It seems like the striker, who signed from Ferencvaros last summer, is at a crossroads and it will be interesting to see if he fights his way up the pecking order in pre-season.

Loïc Tanzi, a reporter for L'Equipe, claims that there is interest from Saudi Arabian club Al-Kholood.

Andre Vidigal has been back in Madeira, doing pre-pre-season drills in Seixal, ahead of his return to Stoke. He made an impressive start last season but gradually, through injuries then form, slipped out of favour. He still ended as six-goal top scorer but Stoke need their main man to score a lot more than that.

There are high hopes for Bae Junho and Million Manhoef as they head into their first full seasons in England, having found game-changing form in the spring. Mehdi Leris is throwing everything at it in training by all accounts but needs to prove he can change games too while Niall Ennis, who joined from Blackburn for about £500,000 late in the January window, has to show he can score at Championship level.

Will Emre Tezgel and Nathan Lowe be ready to stake a claim?

The last season should hopefully prove useful experience in different ways for Stoke's 18-year-old England youth strike pair. Lowe spent the campaign around the first team, getting a taste of the Championship here and there, while Tezgel recovered from injury to spend the second half of term on loan at MK Dons in League Two.

There will be loan suitors again this time around and it wouldn't be a surprise if one or the other or both and Stoke were tempted by the chance to continue their development by playing regularly.

But that stance could change quickly. Pre-season is a chance to catch coaches' eyes and goals in friendlies and a sharp eye in training would not go unnoticed.

Will Tyrese Campbell find a new club?

It was a nice way to bow out for Campbell after eight years with Stoke, scoring in a final day thrashing of Bristol City and receiving a standing ovation when he was substituted. There was then an outpouring of love to him and his family following the dreadful news about his dad Kevin's death earlier this month at the age of 54.

Campbell has been in private training alongside his pal the Portsmouth striker Callum Lang in the close season as he prepares for the next chapter of his career. It would be no surprise to see him back at the bet365 Stadium as an opponent at some point in the next few months.

Schumacher explained recently: "Tyrese has been here for a long time and has shown in glimpses over the years the potential that he’s got but probably hasn’t hit the heights of what his potential could be.

“For us, it was probably the idea to go and have a fresh start but also for Tyrese because you know he needs to go somewhere where he can play every week, play in a system that suits him every week and have a fresh start where he can maybe fulfil some of that potential that he’s shown. So yeah, it was a tough decision but it was done with the best intentions for all parties. Hopefully it works out for everybody.”

Will Stoke bring in a new striker?

It would be a surprise if they didn't and they are believed to be deep in talks about adding in this area.

Mike Pejic wrote in his Sentinel column recently: "The players are out there and it’s (Stoke's scouts') job to spot the ones who could fit precisely into the coach’s plans, probably with a little bit of polishing.

"The forwards who are already scoring 20 times a year in the Championship will be out of our budget at the moment but you don’t just look at scoring goals when you’re up in the stands and taking notes of potential targets. You look at team play and attributes and you get references about character and work rate.

"We managed to pull one out of the bag when I was working with Lou Macari at Stoke in the mid-1990s, swapping Keith Scott for Mike Sheron at Norwich. Sheron wasn’t fit when he arrived but we knew we could work on that and he’d be willing to train too. In the end we got him fitter than he’d ever been.

"His team play was outstanding, his quick and clever link-in play and movement in the area was electric and his one-touch finishing was excellent. You want the striker making runs in behind, off the ball, all the time so it’s a first pass option whenever and wherever on the pitch you win possession. What an impact that has on the opposition and his teammates.

"It didn’t just happen for him, he made it happen. He had the hunger, the potential and the creativity that made it possible. He could find space and create space for himself and for others if he was being marked closely, which he was more and more as he scored more and more.

"So that’s the type of player you want and you almost always need if you are going to advance in the league table. You need that football awareness, that nous and reliability, that desire to exploit space."

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