Thursday 18 January 2018

Mark Hughes plays down rumours linking Asmir Begovic with Real Madrid move

Stoke boss Mark Hughes, pictured, has dismissed the latest reports linking Asmir Begovic with a move away
Stoke boss Mark Hughes, pictured, has dismissed the latest reports linking Asmir Begovic with a move away

Phil Medlicott

Stoke boss Mark Hughes has dismissed the latest reports linking Asmir Begovic with a move away from the Britannia Stadium.

There has been fresh talk this week of Real Madrid being interested in the goalkeeper, with it even being suggested in Spain that talks had opened between the club, Begovic's representatives and his current employers.

But, at his press conference to preview Saturday's Barclays Premier League home clash with Southampton, Hughes said: "There will be a lot of stories bandied about, but I would take that one with a pinch of salt to be perfectly honest. I don't think that is true."

Begovic is out of contract in 2016 and Hughes has repeatedly emphasised his optimism the 27-year-old Bosnia international will sign a new deal with Stoke this summer.

"We are scheduled to have talks with Asmir's people in the next few weeks I think," the manager said on Friday.

"I think both parties have stated that probably at the end of the season those talks will come to a conclusion, and we are very hopeful Asmir will stay here.

"There will be speculation around better players at football clubs, and we are no different. He has attracted attention because he is an outstanding goalkeeper."

In terms of other potential items of summer business, Hughes is also hopeful Stoke will wrap up the signing of teenage winger Moha El Ouriachi from Barcelona.

It was reported earlier this week that the 19-year-old Moroccan-born player was bound for the Potters this summer after deciding joining them was a better option than accepting the new contract offer made to him by Barca.

And Hughes said on Friday: "There is a hope that we will be able to conclude that deal."

The Welshman, who is a former Barcelona striker and who has previously signed forward Bojan Krkic and defender Marc Muniesa for Stoke from the Catalan outfit, added: "We are trying to improve the quality of the Under-21 group and he (El Ouriachi) is a good young player.

"He is one we think we can bring to the club, so we will try to pursue that one and it looks very hopeful.

"He is predominantly left-footed, has good ability one on one and has good pace. He ticks a lot of the boxes in terms of what we are looking for in young players.

"If we can get it concluded, once he is here then we hope to develop him and push him towards the first team if we can.

"He is not one that is going to go straight into my team, but it is with a view that in the future it will happen."

Stoke will be without Muniesa and winger Victor Moses for Saturday's contest.

Muniesa misses out due to a slight hamstring strain, while on-loan Moses has returned to parent club Chelsea because of a hamstring problem of his own that is expected to keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.

Defenders Marc Wilson and Erik Pieters are both nursing knocks to the wrist but Hughes feels the pair should be available for the visit of the Saints.

Meanwhile, Potters forward Peter Odemwingie returned to full training on Thursday as his recovery from the knee injury that has kept him sidelined since August goes on, with a return to first-team action before the end of the campaign his target.

As a club, 10th-placed Stoke are continuing to work towards the goal of bettering their record Premier League haul of 50 points achieved last season when Hughes guided them to their best finish in the division of ninth.

They currently have 43 points and the game against sixth-placed Southampton is the first of six more games they have left to play this term.

Hughes' men have not won in their last four matches but picked up their first point in that sequence last time out with a 1-1 draw at West Ham, and he is adamant the campaign is not petering out.

"We have our own things we want to chase and achieve this year," Hughes said.

"They are still very much there for us, so the challenge is to keep our focus.

"I was really pleased with the performance at West Ham. If we were a team looking ahead to the summer break, we wouldn't have been able to score as late as we did (stoppage time)."

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