A Football Journey - with Alex Grant (Part 2)

In the second instalment of a series of articles, Grant discusses his eye-opening stint with Premier League club, Stoke City.

With his enjoyable and character-building time at Portsmouth having come to an abrupt and surprising end, Grant was on the hunt for his next football destination.

The young centre-half had received offers from various lower league clubs in the UK, but when Premier League outfit Stoke City came calling, the opportunity to train alongside the likes of veteran England international Peter Crouch and the supremely talented Austrian Marko Arnautovic, was one one he couldn't resist. In hindsight, however, it's a move Grant concedes may not have been the correct one at the time.

"Maybe I should've taken a step back and assessed my next move more carefully after getting let go by Portsmouth," he said.

"To be honest, looking back at it, I don't regret going to Stoke, I loved it there. But maybe I did rush into it, maybe I did hit the panic button too soon."

The defender was signed by the experienced Tony Pulis, but the Welshman's tenure at the club didn't last too much longer after the 20-year-old arrived.

"After meeting Pulis I went back to Australia for my off-season break," said Grant.

"I was on Fox Sports News and read that Pulis had left the club, then a week later they've signed Mark Hughes for the job.

"So I get back to the club with a new manager straight away. Seeing the manager who signed you leave and a brand new one coming in so quickly after signing does throw you about, but there's nowhere to go; you've got to crack on."

 

Grantie

Grant had thus already faced some unwanted challenges before even kicking a ball for the club, but after his experiences on the south coast, it wasn't anything that he couldn't handle.

He made 18 appearances for the reserve side in his first year, scoring twice in a disappointing campaign for the Potters that saw them finish in 19th place and suffer relegation to the U-21 Premier League Division 2.

Week in, week out, he was competing against some of the brightest young talents in the world, which, combined with training with the first team, meant that it was a very educational and beneficial period for his overall game.

Although they only picked up six wins, Grant insisted it was an invaluable season that confirmed his opinion on reserve-level football.

"As a young kid coming up, you've got to get first team opportunities," he said.

"Some of the players I played against [including former Manchester United and current Crystal Palace winger, Wilfred Zaha] were just unbelievable, but they're wasted because they don't get that exposure due to not playing for the first team."

After his first full season with Stoke, the youngster was then sent out on loan to continue his football education in a very different environment.

"In my second year at Stoke," he said, "they told me that they were going to loan me to Macclesfield Town of the Conference Premier [now the National League, England's fifth tier competition]. "It's close by Stoke, just south of Manchester, so it's a really nice spot."

And it was during his spell with the Silkmen that Grant was exposed to the opposite ends of the footballing spectrum on a weekly basis, as we'll discover in Part 3 of his footballing journey series.

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