Giannelli Imbulla joined Stoke City on the last day of the January transfer window for the highest fee in all of Europe of £18.3 million. This was a major statement of intent by Stoke and it appears to have been money well spent.
The French player, who has yet to get a call up for the senior squad having represented both the U20's and U21's, has had a huge impact as he seems to have settled at Stoke compared to a miserable time spent at F.C. Porto where he only played ten times in the league and failed to score.
Luckily for the Premier League and his employers, this hasn’t stopped the young Frenchman from filling the Steven N’Zonzi shaped hole that was present in Stoke’s midfield following the enigmatic midfielder leaving to Sevilla for Champions League football during the summer.
Imbula has been instrumental in the upturn in fortunes for Stoke. Since his arrival the Potters have won four, drawn one and only lost twice against Everton and Southampton respectively.
It therefore appears as though Imbula has settled into life well in the Potteries, with Mama Biram Diouf helping the youngster to integrate into the dressing room by speaking French as Imbula’s English improves. Despite the lack of verbal communication, the Frenchman certainly does his talking with his feet.
The statistics speak for themselves
This is displayed by his 88% successful pass rate which helps the Potters to maintain possession and territory. Against Watford, it was his run as he glided past three Watford players that allowed Ibrahim Affellay to release Phil Bardsley who assisted Stoke’s opening goal. This has become the norm of Imbula who aids his club’s transition from defence to attack. It is Imbula, alongside Glenn Whelan, who disrupts the opposition’s play before driving forward or feeding the attacking trio of Xherdan Shaqiri, Marko Arnatovic and Bojan.
Despite all the plaudits going to Leicester’s N’golo Kanté this season, Imbula’s successful pass rate of 88% and average duals won of 58% are better than the Leicester player’s statistics of 82% and 47% in the same areas. This not only shows how the Potters go under the radar somewhat, but also just how impressive this young man is.
His effortless style makes him a pleasure to watch and despite his slight stance, he is extremely strong and rarely gets dispossessed. On the 6 March 2016 Imbula was in the top five Premier League players in terms of take-ons, and in doing so joined esteemed company with Dimitri Payet and Riyad Mahrez amongst others. This statistic is made even more impressive considering Imbula made the list without playing a match in January.
Perhaps Imbula’s most influential display was in the Potters’ three – one victory away at Bournemouth. Not only was he at his efficient best, but the Vitality Stadium was also the place where Imbula netted his first goal. As the loose ball fell to his left foot, Imbula didn’t break his stride and struck a sweet volley into the back of the net.
This goal is testament to the ability of the young midfielder and clearly displays the accuracy of comparisons to other midfielders such as Yaya Touré and Claude Makélélé that have been circling.
There could be more to come
Perhaps the only criticism of Imbula is that he doesn’t score enough goals having only scored eight goals in his entire club career. This is an area where Imbula must improve if he is to realise his potential and fulfil the promise that he has shown thus far in his short career in the Premier League.
However, one thing is for sure, despite only playing seven times for the Potters, Hughes’ transfer team have come good again and bought a player who oozes quality. Not only this, but he also appears to have the ability to help fulfil Stoke’s ambition to break into Europa League and take the club onto the next level.
Hughes will hope that Imbula will bulk up during the summer and use the rest of the season to continue his impressive form and acclimatisation to the Premier League. With a full pre-season to work on his finishing and getting into better goal scoring positions, the Potters will hope that he can improve on what has already been a good start to his career at Stoke.
There is no doubting Imbula’s quality, and having been the highest transfer fee in Europe, he may yet develop to be one of Europe’s best players given time; he certainly has all the attributes and the environment to enable him to do so.