Out of nowhere on a Saturday night, immediately after our elimination from the FA Cup at Brighton, our second signing of the January Transfer Window was announced. Midfielder Kevin Stewart signs for Blackpool on an 18-month contract, having been released in the summer by Hull City upon their relegation from the Championship.
Enfield-born Stewart has good pedigree, having originally come through Tottenham’s youth academy before being snapped up by Liverpool at the age of 21 on the expiry of his contract. Stewart claimed at the time that he’d always been a Liverpool fan, hence making the move there rather than agreeing a new deal with Spurs.
Having previously played four League One games at Crewe during his spell with Spurs, loan spells with Cheltenham Town (4 games, 1 goal), Burton Albion (7 games, 2 goals) and Swindon Town followed. He then returned to Anfield, making 20 senior appearances – 11 of which came in the Premier League. He signed a new four-year deal with the Reds in 2016, but signed for then-Championship side Hull City a year later on a three-year contract for an undisclosed fee – believed to be around £8m at the same time Liverpool were signing Andy Robertson from the Tigers.
77 appearances for the Tigers followed, 70 of which came in the Championship. After a shaky start, he delivered some consistent performances as he became a regular in the side. But last year as they had a horrific second-half of the season and slipped to relegation to League One, Kevin was released in the summer. Given he was one of their highest earners at the club and they needed to slash their wage bill, the departure likely came primarily as a financial decision, rather than anything performance related.
Style of play
Once describer by Jurgen Klopp as Liverpool’s best tackler at the club, Kevin is a box-to-box midfielder who is capable of creating opportunities for others as well as breaking up play.
Given he’s played at Championship and Premier League standard for his career to date, he’ll likely find that he has more time on the ball at this level and can create things on the ball. Neil Critchley has seen him play regularly in close quarters over his three years there, given he was in and around the club for three years at the same time, and will also know his personality and character. He therefore clearly trusts him to come in and make a difference, both on and off the field.
From Stewart’s perspective, moving down to League One at the age of 27 will not have been ideal and he’ll certainly have aspirations to play higher. From when his deal expired at Hull in the summer, he reportedly spent time on trial with Brentford and it’s likely he held out for a deal in the Championship but since that never came, has now opted to move and play under a manager he knows in the third tier.
In the video above, Kevin spoke to Tapinfootball back in May, explaining his contractual situation before it expired in June. He said: “It depends what the offer is. I’m really settled here, we’ve got a really good group and I love playing under the manager now.
“Of course, if we’re going to continue (due to the pandemic) then we might go down. I wouldn’t want to play in League One if I had the chance to play higher. It really depends on the club’s situation; the contract itself.
“I may not have the choice. They might not extend it and I’ll have to find somewhere else. It’s up in the air at the minute.”
What the other side say
It’s another signing of a player with great quality for this level. Having played regularly for Hull for three seasons in the Championship, and also making numerous appearances in the Premier League, it’s clear that he is a good footballer. Critchley will also know his character and likely spoke to staff members at the club for a reference, so there’s minimal risk here too in terms of the fact that if he was a bad egg, he wouldn’t be getting brought in. Given he has a point to prove and will be looking to play at a higher level in 18 months when his contract is up, the onus is on him to prove his capabilities and take games by the scruff of the neck at this level.
The signing will reduce our reliance on Kenny Dougall, who has looked tired in recent weeks but is still consistently our best performer in tangerine. If Stewart can have a similar impact as Dougall, then we’ll surely have one of the best midfields in the Championship. With Ward, Williams, Robson and Virtue all already competing for just two central midfield spots, we’ve got some real quality in there. It’s likely there’ll either be a formational switch – we saw a 5-3-2 for the first time against Brighton – or someone may be on their way out.
In terms of squad size, we’re now up to 22 senior pros so either Keshi Anderson won’t be named for the remainder of the season, or someone will need to depart. Looking further ahead to the summer, we’ll only be able to name 20 players over the age of 20 and therefore it’s looking increasingly likely that MJ Williams’ one-year deal won’t be extended.
The one concern in this signing is that we currently lack creativity in the forward areas – this signing isn’t necessarily going to change that fact. Jay Spearing is a good example of a player with good pedigree who played regularly for Liverpool, then dropped through the leagues and didn’t make it back, so it’s important that Stewart impresses and ensures his next move isn’t to Tranmere Rovers.
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