Potters owner Peter Coates today appeared to open the way for City chief Glenn Roeder to renew his interest in Shola Ameobi after insisting there was no binding, transfer deal in place this summer.
It was a stance supported by the back page headline of tonight's Stoke Sentinel newspaper: 'Sho Long Ameobi!' – the clearest indication yet that Stoke have decided not to pursue their interest in the on-loan Newcastle United striker any further; that he will be returned to sender over the summer.
The 26-year-old hardly set the world on fire in his late, loan switch to the Britannia Stadium – supporting Roeder's claim that the 6ft 2in striker was desperately short of match fitness.
He made just three starts for Tony Pulis' Premiership-bound Potters and made three more appearances as a substitute – the last of which came in the form of an 11-minute run out in the 1-0 away win at long-doomed Colchester United. Time enough to be the only player to be booked that afternoon at Layer Road.
A week later and as the Potters geared up for the biggest game in a generation and the home clash with Leicester City that booked their place back into the big-time and Ameobi was nowhere to be seen.
Hence the suggestion that his switch to the Britannia Ground might not have panned out as everyone had planned – even if Stoke finished the season clutching that second, automatic promotion place.
Quizzed about 'What next?' this summer as Pulis' troops desperately look to avoid being next season's Derby County, bet365 founder Coates insisted that reports of an automatic, full-time ?4 million transfer fee should Stoke be promoted were wide of the mark; that Stoke could yet opt out of any deal.
“It is my understanding that the deal was never binding in the first place,” said Coates, who claimed to be unaware of reports in both the North-East and East Anglia that the player's loan switch was but a fore-runner to a full-time deal.
“I am not aware of this development being reported, but from our point of view, whether we still want him or not is clearly a footballing decision for the manager to make,” added Coates, who left the ball firmly in Pulis' court.
“Whether the manager remains particularly smitten by a player that figured so little in the promotion run-in must be something of a moot-point; ditto, whether Ameobi is that smitten with life under Pulis – from a distance, it doesn't appear to have been a dream move.
He was hardly blasting them into the top flight with an 89th minute winner against Leicester. Do that and it's a done deal; to not be involved at all might suggest all concerned now have doubts.
With his own, long-standing relationship with the player on his side – plus the even deeper friendship that exists between both Ameobi and City No2 Lee Clark and his one-time Geordie team-mate Matty Pattison – Norwich could now return to the box seat for his signature. The beauty now is, of course, that the Canaries could have the whole of pre-season to work on Ameobi's match fitness. He is, apparently, due to get married this summer.
Certainly, Roeder was hanging on the end of a telephone somewhere as news of Stoke's dramatic loan swoop broke. Clearly disappointed by the manner in which Pulis, Coates and Co managed to steal in ahead of the Canaries, Roeder was at least right in one respect – Ameobi wasn't about to fire on all cylinders after so long on the sidelines at St James'.
The City manager's reported conversation with Newcastle's transfer chief Dennis Wise made for fascinating reading the day after Ameobi's switch.
“He [Wise] is telling me that it's attached to potentially a ?5 million transfer deal. And I've got to take him for his word,” said Roeder at the time, as the London-based Wise wheels and deals whilst Kevin Keegan keeps his eye on events on the pitch.
“I know Dennis reasonably well and that's what he was telling me. I'm not obliged to say what Stoke's business is with Newcastle, but it's mind-boggling the amount of money he's told me that Stoke have gambled on Shola to get them in the Premiership.”
That gamble came off – albeit without too much help from their ?575,000 loan signing. Not that that would have come as any great surprise to Roeder, who cast doubt from the start on Ameobi's likely impact.
Read between the lines of his remarks and it is clear that the interest in the player continues – he just needs a full summer running up and down the Colney equivalent of Mousehold Heath.
“This is only a personal opinion and I know Shola extremely well – I know his character; he's a top man; a fantastic goal-scorer – but he has got a history of injuries,” said Roeder, speaking at a Colney Press conference a day later.
“He's had a really nasty hip operation and to be gambling ?5 million – and I don't know the deal exactly – but if that's a guaranteed ?5 million, that's some gamble that Pulis has taken on someone who has seemed to have recovered from major surgery on his hip.
“And it hasn't really yet been tested because he's wasted a year. The two managers that Newcastle have had this year have chosen not to use him. So knowing Shola like I do, he'll be amazingly unfit as well. He takes a bit of getting fit.”
If nothing else, however, the whole episode has, at least, proved one thing – that Magpies boss Kevin Keegan doesn't see a long-term future for the player at St James, particularly if a full-time transfer 'understanding' was put in place with Stoke.
The term 'gentleman's agreement' was in the air the day that Potters chief executive Tony Scholes dismissed Roeder's claim of a ?5 million switch being an all-but done deal.
“There is the possibility of a permanent deal, but not at the numbers being quoted,” Scholes told the Sentinel at the end of March, as the dust started to settle on Ameobi's dramatic switch on the final, emergency loan deadline of the season.
“We are not going to discuss the terms of any future deal except to say I don't know where Glenn Roeder has got his numbers from. They are not the numbers we have talked about and are certainly not what we will be paying,” added Scholes.
Pulis, likewise, insisted nothing was set in stone for either Ameobi and or, ironically, one of Peter Grant's long-time transfer targets, the Derby midfielder Stephen Pearson who joined Ameobi at the Britannia for the final weeks of the season.
“We've now got a couple of months to work together and see how they go,” Pulis told the Sentinel. “It's an ideal opportunity for us to get to know them and vice-versa, but obviously the main task is to help us get the results we want over these last six games.”