Departure of esteemed Jon Walters allows Stoke City to reset
With a new season just weeks away, the thought of a club losing their highest-ever Premier League goal scorer is one that a manager is unlikely to welcome. That's exactly what has happened for Mark Hughes and Stoke, who on Friday saw Jon Walters depart to Burnley for a fee that could rise up to £3 million.
It's not quite the nightmare scenario that Ronald Koeman up at Everton is facing, though. While Romelu Lukaku -- on the verge of signing for Manchester United -- scored the bulk of his side's goals, Walters has played a more supporting role in recent times. At 33, he is more than enjoying his twilight years, and being the character he is, the thought of not playing week in, week out is not one he wants to entertain at this stage of his career.
He leaves the Potteries having earned somewhat of a cult status for his actions on the pitch, not all of which relate to the goals he scored. Instead, he is remembered more for his attitude and application, which shone throughout his time at the club -- attributes Hughes needed to call on last season when his side were struggling to find an identity.
Playing-wise, his best season was undoubtedly the one that culminated in two goals in the 5-0 demolition of Bolton at Wembley in the 2011 FA Cup semifinal, a once-in-a-lifetime moment for player and fans alike, and for that he will always be remembered fondly.
He is a player who managers love and one who carries out instructions to the letter, harrying and hassling the opposition defence, chasing down lost causes right to the final whistle. He was the very epitome of the man who brought him to the club -- Tony Pulis -- and that is something that has often been to his disadvantage.
The supporters have long since been split when it comes to Pulis and for many it is difficult to separate his own pragmatism and tenacity with the player himself, resulting in the latter coming under increased scrutiny once Hughes entered the building. To his credit, Hughes more than played his part in recent seasons but that was perhaps down to the manager struggling to maintain the winning formula he found using more of his flair players in the 2014-15 season.
Given that strikers are primarily judged on their return in front of goal, Burnley fans will have spent the weekend examining Walters' career statistics to assess their new signing. When they do so, they will have seen a player who has found double figures just once in the 17 league seasons he has contested -- in the Championship with Ipswich in 2007-08 -- and one who has never scored more than eight in a single top-flight league campaign.
Having seen their Clarets side finish with the fourth-lowest goals scored in the league (the other three were relegated) they were perhaps hoping for someone a bit more prolific in front of goal but that's arguably not why he has been brought in. The Republic of Ireland international will be walking into a club bearing many of the hallmarks of Stoke's own early years in the league, and at this stage of their evolution resolve and character will be key to them maintaining their top-flight status.
In that respect, it could well prove an astute signing for Burnley manager Sean Dyche and in truth it's probably a good move for Stoke too. With Hughes' team underwhelming for the last couple of years and the return of a fit and motivated Bojan Krkic, Hughes now has an opportunity to consistently bring back the kind of football his side briefly showcased to thrilling effect a couple of seasons ago.
That has always been a difficult task to achieve when he had the safety net of Walters available, and his departure hints at the prospect of the manager being more committed to perfecting his Plan A rather than rushing to Plan B when the going gets tough.
It's certainly a brave move on his part as it is one that not only exposes him but also puts pressure on the often-inconsistent leading lights of Krkic, Xherdan Shaqiri, Marko Arnautovic and Saido Berahino. The potential rewards are certainly worth it, though, as when all four play to the level they are capable of the possibilities are frightening. The challenge now is getting them to do so on a consistent basis.
He'll be able to call on the example, if not the presence, of the mindset needed to motivate his stars if they are to successfully achieve that, as if there is one quote that sums Walters up it is this one: "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."
James Whittaker is ESPN FC's Stoke blogger. Follow him on Twitter: @northstokie