Walters wants to continue progress at Stoke

Walters wants to continue progress at Stoke

FOR Jonathan Walters, this isn't just about the money, it is about something a whole lot deeper than that: his self-respect.

Approaching his fifth anniversary as a Stoke City player, he has entered contract talks with the club looking for a deal that will bring him up towards retirement and leave him and his family financially secure for the rest of their lives.

Ordinarily when people first hear of a club versus player contract dispute, the sympathy, in its entirety, rarely stays sits with the player.

Yet Walters isn't a money-grabber. Earlier in his career, when his daughter Scarlett was born, he left his well-paid job with upwardly mobile Hull City to relocate to the north-west to sign for Wrexham, taking a 300 per cent pay-cut in the process.

He felt he had no choice. Born with her intestines outside her body, Scarlett was seriously ill for the first two years of her young life and isolated in Hull, away from the support network of family and friends, Walters made career sacrifices for the sake of his wife and his daughter.

Mercifully Scarlett's health recovered and so did Walters' career. He'd move from Wrexham to Chester, then onto Ipswich Town, where he'd catch Tony Pulis' eye. "Right place, right time," he'd say.

Pulis has since moved on - but after taking a while to win over his successor, Mark Hughes, Walters has cemented his place in Hughes' team, averaging 36 games for the Welshman over the last two seasons, a statistic only four Stoke players can better.

So there hasn't been a pressing need to go knocking on his manager's door. He's happy playing for Hughes and isn't itching for a move.

He does want a new contract. He's entering the final year of his existing one next month and is fully aware of his place on the Stoke payroll.

“I have a year left and talks are ongoing, but we are not where I want to be in terms of the length of the contract that has been offered. I am realistic. I know there will always be players out there who can take your place. I am nowhere the top earners at the club or anything like that.

“But look at 31, I look after myself on the pitch pretty well. I probably have the lowest body fat of anyone in our squad. Stats wise, I am the fittest player. I have got a good few years yet in the game. So we will see what happens. It is early days yet in the talks, but I want to get this sorted.

"I am not the type who wants this sort of thing hanging over me. I have done well enough over the last few years to be able to earn (a new deal).

“From the right wing, I have scored the most Premier League goals for Stoke, have been top scorer in two of the five years I have been here, and but for the last game, would have been top scorer again this season. I have been good enough to be in the team, but I am not near the top earner."

Earning around £20,000-a-week, what he wants is security not a massive pay-rise. “I have a year left and probably a year on top of that, but I am after something in stone rather than options and things like that. If you left it six months, if you went to another club in the summer, you are not going to sign a one-year-deal, are you? You are going to sign a two or three year deal."

Firmly believing the issue can be addressed, Walters is determined to complete some unfinished business with Stoke.

In his five years with the club, he has seen them improve incrementally season after season. Ninth last season, they now harbour fresh ambitions, having seen Southampton make a genuine, although, ultimately unsuccessful attempt to break into the top six.

"It is a big ask for a club like Stoke to get there because in many ways we have overachieved over the last few years. To get into the top six, you have to knock one of Chelsea, Arsenal, Man United, Manchester City, Liverpool or Tottenham off their perch.

"Southampton made a good fist of it this year and you have to want to achieve. You have to have that desire in you to improve. But even getting into the top 10 is difficult because you have Swansea and Everton there alongside you and then you have teams pushing to get into the top half too.

“It is hard, the competition in the Premier League is fierce. But our finishing positions are not pre-determined. Our aim is to come on year on year, to improve gradually but it is not right either for clubs to spend a fortune and put the future of their club at risk. We’ve seen that happen with other clubs and seen them get relegated.

"So we are never going to spend £100 million. That is not our style. We want to get better players in, add them to the group, and do things gradually.

"Look, that policy has worked thus far. We had a great finish to the year. We beat Liverpool, and before that Tottenham, and while all the talk was about how bad they played, we did very, very well in those games.

“We finished with 50 points last year and got 54 this year. We got our most ever home wins, our most away wins, scored the most goals, conceded the least since we became a Premier League club.

“Every year we are setting little targets for ourselves. And we have met them. If we can keep doing that and keep improving each year, then who knows where we will end up?”

Which is why he wants to be a part of it and not end up somewhere else. "I'm happy here," he says. But he'd be a lot happier if a two-year-contract was turned into a three-season one.