Aesthetic Afellay – Stoke’s Midfield Maestro
Posted by Eddie Bradbury | Published on March 9, 2016
Hughes has built himself a satisfying reputation during his time at Stoke City for making shrewd transfer signings and Ibrahim Afellay can be another to add to his collection. Afellay arrived in the summer of 2015 as a free agent and is the fourth ex barcelona player Hughes has managed to attract, following Marc Muniesa, Bojan and youth prospect Moha. It is also worth noting that Afellay is the fifth player to arrive at Stoke with a Champions League winners medal, highlighting the momentous climb the club has made in recent years. Afellay has brought a wealth of experience with him to the Britannia Stadium, having won four Eredivisie titles, the La Liga title and the Copa del Rey, in addition to his Champions League medal. I am astonished how easy it was for Stoke to bring such a well decorated figure to the club, without any serious interest coming from other clubs.
Hughes is a believer of giving stars a second chance to prove themselves, as he has done with Stoke in the past with the example of Bojan. You could argue that the acquisition of Afellay was a gamble, as he has suffered many injuries throughout his career which was one of the factors in why he did not ‘make it’ at Barcelona. After a stuttering through seasons with loan spells at Schalke and Olympiacos, not many Stoke fans would have believed he could have made the impact that he has on the team this season. It was not the best start for Afellay in life at Stoke City, it took him a while to adjust to the premier league and create any kind of rhythm for himself. Afellay showed glimpses of the ability he possesses in his first few games in a Stoke shirt, but you could see that he was not fit and had not jelled into the team. Just five games into the season he was sent off at home to West Brom for slapping Craig Gardner, in retaliation for being fouled. His naivety cost him a two match suspension and delayed the impact he could have on the side.
He was arguably brought in as a wide player to create competition with Arnautovic in particular on the left hand side, this role was previously occupied by Victor Moses but Hughes did not want to make this move permanent. With the departure of N’Zonzi, Stoke lacked quality in the midfield, with loanee at the time Van Ginkel not proving himself to be worthy of a regular first team place. With this in mind, Hughes decided to use Afellay as a midfielder and boy has it paid off. Afellay has adapted to the role of a deep lying playmaker brilliantly and has arguably been our most consistent player since December in my opinion. He is a pleasure to watch and has the ability to dictate play from the centre of the park, which is evident with a 91% passing accuracy from 26 appearances this season. Although he has only scored 1 goal this season, I think Stoke fans appreciate him for what he contributes in other departments. He is an efficient player and you can tell that there is a purpose to everything he does, whether he is looking to create attacks or when he commits and dribbles past players. He is also a great ball carrier and has taken the pressure off of the defence countless times this season, holding onto the ball and allowing the team to get further up the pitch. His style of play reminds me of Spaniard Santi Cazorla, although he is not quite in the same calibre as the Spaniard.
He is now one of the first names on the team sheet due to the impact he has had on the side. He has helped Stoke’s transition in regards to the revolution of the style of play under Hughes. His recent form has led to the detriment of Bojan’s place in the side, which is an achievement in itself might I add. The addition of Giannelli Imbula has not phased him, in actual fact it has made him play better. You could argue that his performances over the past few months have warranted more praise than he has received, with record signing Giannelli Imbula taking the limelight. However, his performances have not gone under the radar of Netherlands manager Danny Blind, who included Afellay in the dutch squad earlier today for the friendly against England. I am delighted for the man, it will give him the chance to make his 52nd appearance for Netherlands and it is a reward for the persistence he has shown throughout the season. You could argue that in some ways his time so far at Stoke City has rejuvenated his career.
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