How an under-appreciated Glenn Whelan has been the grit as Stoke glitter

Ireland midfielder is one of the first names on the teamsheet for an in-form Premier League side

Glenn Whelan, Ireland,

Ireland's Glenn Whelan ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

Tonight as they prepare for a Capital One Cup semi-final against Liverpool, Stoke City FC are going through something of a golden period.

An established force in the middle portion of an increasingly fluid Premier League, their influx of ex-Barcelona players like Bojan and Ibrahim Afellay and admired European performers like Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic have given them a bit more of a hipster edge in comparison to the old-school style employed by former manager Tony Pulis.

But from the midway point of their promotion-winning 2007-08 season to the 2011 FA Cup final date against Manchester City and the current side, a couple of players have been a constant.

One of those is of huge interest to us and remains a somewhat maligned figure.

Ireland midfielder Glenn Whelan may not be universally appreciated by football fans or one or two pundits, but certainly within the dressing rooms he's involved in, his value is noted.

Take the words of his former Stoke colleague Asmir Begovic as the goalkeeper eulogised about the Dubliner ahead of the Bosnia playoff ties.

 

Glenn Whelan's interceptions against Man City were the most of any midfielder on the day (via Squawka.com)

"To the naked eye, and the uneducated football fans, it's difficult for them to understand his role, but he keeps the team ticking over. He's the guy who is the disciplined one, who'll sit in front of the back four, do the dirty work that people don't appreciate at times. He's made a whole career out of that and that's why he's been so valuable to teams," said the now Chelsea keeper.

Certainly he has been a trusted lieutenant for Pulis and Mark Hughes, playing all 20 Premier League games for Stoke this season, fulfilling a full 90 minutes 85 per cent of the time.

Unlike Jon Walters, the hero of the hour against Bosnia and one of our leading lights, he is almost guaranteed a regular 90 minute spot in the Stoke team.

With the likes of the more technical or expansive Afellay, Charlie Adam (whose pass length is a full six metres longer on average in comparison to Whelan)  and Marko Van Ginkel, Whelan can thrive in a role where he is expected to keep it simple as the holder.

The stat which shows that he has only three shots all season highlights how he has been allowed to delegate those duties and concentrate on his strongest points, while his 87 per cent passing rate has been simple and effective.

For example against his former club Manchester City when Stoke impressed in a 2-0 win, fewer than 10 per cent of his attempted passes were in the attacking third, with his square passes effective and 100 per cent accurate. 

Defensively his interceptions rate of 2.1 per game and 1.9 tackles is an eminently healthy figure for a player not necessarily charging headlong around the pitch. 

Of course, with few expansive players available to Ireland with the exception of Wes Hoolahan, the limitations in his game are highlighted more due to the lack of players to take up the progressive midfield mantle.

And perhaps the fact that our Euro 2016 group features teams teams that will dominate overall play like Italy and Belgium make him among the first names on the teamsheet for those games, while the Sweden game could provide more leeway to chop and change if Martin O'Neill intends to be more expansive in that fixture. 

But first off, the 31-year-old does deserve more recognition for his work this season.