Hughes aims to take Stoke to Europe
Stoke boss hopes to sign Swiss star Shaqiri to boost continental hopes
Mark Hughes has consigned Stoke City's long-ball game to history after taking over the managerial reins two years ago.
That he pulled off the transformation from route-one football to passing football, and achieved two consecutive club-record Premiership finishes of ninth, made his achievement all the more remarkable.
But the Stoke manager is dreaming even bigger. He wants to qualify for Europe next season.
Speaking to reporters minutes after touching down at Changi Airport yesterday, the former Manchester United striker believes that the Potters' chances of securing European football will hinge on a solid start.
Said the 51-year-old Welshman: "We have to be as consistent as we were last season.
"My teams historically finish seasons strongly. If you look at all my teams, because of the way we train consistently through the season, we always finish strongly.
"If we can have a good start, and have the same strong finish that we always have, then we will have a better season. We have been ninth the last two seasons. We would love to better that and, if we can push for Europe, why not?"
Stoke's reliability in the final straight saw them notch a 3-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur and a 6-1 thumping of Liverpool in their final two home matches of the previous campaign.
Their growing ambition is also matched by their recent moves in the transfer market.
Last month, they signed former Spain Under-21 striker Joselu for £5.75 million ($12m), but it is their bid for Inter Milan winger Xherdan Shaqiri, for a reported £10.5m, that speaks volumes of their aspirations.
For a team who spent just £1.2m on new players last summer, this is a big leap.
FIRST TO ARRIVE
Hughes, whose side are the first of three Premier League clubs - the other two are Arsenal and Everton - to arrive here for next week's Barclays Asia Trophy, said: "He's (Shaqiri) very much a player we are interested in.
"We have made a bid but, at this time of the year, you have to show patience because for players and clubs, it's a big decision.
"We're calm, we still have two months of the window open, so we are not trying to hurry things or force people into decisions.
"We have progressed and are moving in the right direction.
"We are a top-10 Premier League club. We have good reasons for players to think of us in a good way.
"We hope that's enough, sometimes it isn't.
"But we are competing for a high level of players now. There are a lot of good teams which are options for the best players, so we will try our best to get the best players we can."
Stoke defender Geoff Cameron, 29, said that he and his teammates will be making the most out of the 11 days they will be here. It is a chance for them to "get back on the same page" and build up their match fitness following their break, but they are viewing the Barclays Asia Trophy as a serious chance for them to "grow the foundation" before the season starts.
Said the American: "Just like any game, we are not going into this thinking of having a kind of a walk-through.
"We are here for a reason, to get fit and prepare ourselves for a tough season ahead."
Stoke will take on Everton next Wednesday. Three days later, they meet either Arsenal or the Singapore Selection side, which comprises four S.League foreign players and 19 locals, and are helmed by Tampines Rovers coach V Sundramoorthy.
Welbeck, Sanchez not coming here
England forward Danny Welbeck will not travel with Arsenal to the Barclays Asia Trophy here next week, as he continues to recover from the knee problem which ruled him out of the end of last season.
This was confirmed yesterday by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who will take a 27-man squad (see above) to Asia, with summer signing Petr Cech joining his new teammates for the first time since a £10-million ($20.8m) switch from Chelsea.
Wenger said on the club's official website: "Welbeck isn't completely recovered from the problem he had. He is not back in full training, so he will stay behind."
Speaking last month, the 24-year-old indicated there was no serious issue, just more time needed to recover.
He said: "It was worse than we first thought it was, but it is just a natural healing period and usually I heal faster than others."
Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky, who along with captain Mikel Arteta has signed a contract extension, is also not heading to Singapore because of what Wenger describes as a small injury picked up on international duty.
Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina, linked with a move away from the club following Cech's arrival, has been given extra holiday following the Copa America, as has key man Alexis Sanchez, whose penalty in the shoot-out won the final for hosts Chile.
While the likes of Calum Chambers, who has cut short his time-off after the European Under-21 Championship, Chuba Akpom and 18-year-old American Gedion Zelalem will all hope to get some game time on the Asia tour, Carl Jenkinson, Yaya Sanogo and Joel Campbell were not included in the group and could be sent out on loan for next season.
Arsenal play a Singapore Selection side on July 15, and will face either Everton or Stoke on July 18. - PA Sport.
Arsenal squad to Singapore
Goalkeepers: Wojciech Szczesny, Petr Cech, Emiliano Martinez
Defenders: Hector Bellerin, Mathieu Debuchy, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Gabriel, Calum Chambers, Kieran Gibbs, Nacho Monreal
Midfielders: Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla, Mesut Oezil, Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey, Mathieu Flamini, Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain, Gedion Zelalem, Dan Crowley, Jeff Reine-Adelaide
Strikers: Olivier Giroud, Chuba Akpom, Alex Iwobi, Chris Willock.
*Subject to change