The focus of our window shopping has largely been about the ‘marquee names’ – the Swiss superstar, the Dutch internationals, even some of our less ‘noisy’ captures include a man who has been England’s first choice right back for the best part of the last decade and one of the Premier League’s finest ever goalkeepers.
We shouldn’t overlook the fine work the club has done, however, in laying some firm foundations for the future. We have brought in some of the most promising, highly rated youngsters in England and Spain this summer, and this fab four requires a closer look…
Moha El Ouriachi
The most high profile of our young recruits is the result of our third raid on Barcelona’s famous ‘farmhouse’, La Masia. Yet Moha El Ouriachi is different to the other Blaugrana graduates we’ve collected like Pokemon over the past two seasons. He’s not here because Barca had no use for him – he actually turned down a new deal with the Catalan giants to join the mighty Potters.
A left winger who has represented both Spain and Morocco at youth level, but who has declared his desire to play for the North Africans at senior level, Moha first caught the eye as a 17-year-old in the UEFA Youth League. He then starred in a prestigious friendly u-19 competition organised by Spartak Moscow, scooping player of the tournament honours. An old-school, chalk-on-the-boots winger with explosive pace and considerable trickery, Barca poached him from city rivals Espanyol, then struggled to hold onto him as the youngster became the subject of a Clasico bidding war. Real Madrid offered to double his salary to lure him to the capital, but Moha chose to stay with Barcelona, who assured him they had big plans for him.
He then lost his way a little bit, struggling last season to get into a truly rotten Barca B side that ended up finishing bottom of Spain’s Segunda Liga – thus making him, at 19, perhaps the youngest-ever candidate for a dogs’ home rejuvenation in the Potteries.
Early glimpses of him in Singapore, at Wrexham and for the under-21s suggest a raw talent who has much to learn, tending to disappear down blind alleys at times. Yet there’s no denying he has a bag of tricks. It appears he requires a little seasoning – yet we may well see more of him than we might have expected to. On his arrival, his agent declared the deciding factor in him choosing Stoke was that he would be much closer to the first team – so maybe he’s been assured of some senior opportunities early on?
Just as Stoke have profited from Barcelona’s de-emphasising of La Masia, the steady exodus from Real Madrid’s academy, the equally fabled ‘Factory’, La Fabrica, has been exploited too. Sergio Molina had been with Real since the age of nine and was captain of the club’s under-19 side. A real leader, he scored twice in six appearances in the UEFA Youth League but sadly missed a penalty in the final of Spain’s version of the FA Youth Cup, the Copa del Rey Juvenil, as city rivals Rayo shocked Real to lift the trophy.
What we have in Molina is a bona fide, honest to goodness holding midfielder. His bio on Real’s site uses words like ‘unflashy’ and talks about how his intelligence and tactical discipline brings balance to the side.
So look forward to no-marks barracking him for passing sideways and not scoring enough.
He may just be the long-term heir to Glenn Whelan, a destiny I’m sure he was excited about as he grew up watching Zizou and the boys.
Mark Waddington and Dom Telford
So, from the golden sands of Barcelona and the cosmopolitan high life of Madrid to, erm, Blackpool. ‘Waddington’ is a name that tends to play well in the Potteries, for obvious reasons. ‘Telford’ less so, given its association with the ghastly new town who so embarrassed us early in the Macari era. Yet while the acquisitions of this young duo have been less heralded than their Clasico-schooled team mates, there’s reason to be just as excited about their arrival.
Their journey down the M6 has been curiously shrouded in mystery. Both broke into the well and truly doomed Blackpool’s first team last season and gave their long-suffering fans a ray or two of sunshine amid the choking foggy gloom. Yet they were exiled to train with the youth team again by tyrannical supervillain Karl Oyston for refusing to sign new, £200 a week professional contracts. By the time he relented in March 2015, the pair had decided to leave the sinking ship, but for some reason both ourselves and the Tangerines stayed tight-lipped on the move, despite both players surfacing in our u-21 shellacking of Getafe B in May, in which Telford scored. It was August before the signings were formally announced, the delay likely something to do with compensation, as Blackpool are set to receive at least £100,000 from us per player.
Waddington in particular looks to have a serious future. A tall, imposing box to box midfielder, the 18-year-old caught the eye in the cups last season, making his debut in the Capital One Cup against Shrewsbury before being named man of the match in the Tangerines’ narrow 1-0 FA Cup defeat to Aston Villa. Disaster then struck; he suffered a serious metatarsal fracture, resulting in his foot having to be pinned and him missing the rest of the campaign. At a time when a midfield player with an engine is currently conspicuous by his absence in the middle of the park, his progress will be of some interest to Mark Hughes and his team. The admirers he accrued in just five first team appearances last term means there should be no shortage of takers should we look to send him out on loan, with Brighton, who tried to buy him in January, likely front of the queue.
Striker Telford seems to be more divisive. A small, skillful forward who likes to drop deep and can create as well as find the net, he scored a series of worldies for Blackpool reserves, such as this insane lob against Liverpool.
He then marked his home debut for the first team with a late equaliser that all but brought the roof down on Bloomfield Road (possibly literally, given the state of that dump). However, he struggled to have the same impact in his other 13 senior appearances, and some Tangerines fans feel he lacks the height, pace and build to make it at the top level in the age of the lone striker. Still, he is only 19 and has already made his mark in pre-season with a very tidy goal at Wrexham. It’s going to be interesting to see the path his career takes.
Add this quartet of hotly tipped talent to the existing crop, such as Belgian wunderkind Julien Ngoy, Eddy Lycegne and our own Olly Shenton, and, alongside a pretty alluring ‘front of the house’ we have our most exciting group of youngsters for decades. The kids are alright.