UPDATED 01:49 18th August 2014
DUTCH international defender Erik Pieters became Mark Hughes’ first major signing for the Club in June 2013 after agreeing terms on a four-year contract at the Britannia Stadium.
His first season in the Potteries was a fruitful one as he played a crucial role in helping the Club to a first ever Premier League top-ten finish after arriving from Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven in a £3 million deal.
It was during his time in Eindhoven, for whom he represented almost 150 times, that Erik really rose to prominence, having established himself as one of the league’s most impressive defenders and attracting the attention of a host of top European sides including Arsenal and Lyon in the process.
It was with PSV’s Eredivisie rivals FC Utrecht that the Tiel-born star began his professional playing career, agreeing a deal with them in the summer of 2006 after their scouting team spotted his talents early amongst the juvenile ranks of VV Rhelico.
Just 12 days after his 18th birthday Erik was handed his senior debut for his new side in a narrow 2-1 defeat against Willem II, and he followed that up with a further 28 appearances in all competitions in what was his maiden campaign.
A further 35 appearances, and two goals followed during the 2007/08 season as he continued to display the talents that had already impressed scouts from both Ajax Amsterdam and PSV Eindhoven.
A battle for his signature was ultimately won by PSV in July 2008 however, with a deal of around £1.5 million being agreed between the two parties.
The move capped off a wonderful twelve months for the full-back who was named as Utrecht’s Player of the Year, as well as lifting the European Under 21 Championship Trophy after helping his native Holland to success in their homeland.
Ironically, Erik’s PSV debut came against his former employers in an emphatic 5-1 victory, prior to being handed his first taste of Champions League football just three weeks later in the mouth-watering encounter with Athletico Madrid.
In all, Erik made 23 appearances during his inaugural season with PSV, and built upon that figure significantly over the next two seasons (42 appearances in 2009/10 and 48 appearances in 2010/11).
During that time he received the first of his 17 full international caps for Holland in a 1-1 friendly draw with Ukraine, having impressed boss Bert Van Marwijk with his impressive defensive and dangerous attacking attributes.
In 2011/12 Erik’s continued progression was brought to an abrupt halt having suffered a metatarsal fracture in late October, 2011, just 30 minutes into PSV’S victory against FC Utrecht. This setback sidelined him until March 2012.
Having completed a rigorous and thorough rehabilitation programme Erik’s career looked to be firmly back on track as he helped his side to the Dutch Cup in April thanks to a 3-0 final success against Heracles, however, disaster struck two weeks later as he suffered a second major metatarsal injury.
His return to the field nine months later was marred by a controversial red card in a 3-1 home defeat against PEC Zwolle, with Pieters subsequently venting his frustrations by punching a glass window in the tunnel area.
That incident came at a huge cost however, as he required surgery which ruled him out of action for the remainder of the 2012/13 campaign.
In June 2013 the defender played his first competitive football since January, featuring for 45 minutes in each of the Netherlands two international friendly victories against Indonesia and China.
Despite his impressive displays for the Potters during the 2013/14 season, Pieters narrowly missed out on representing his country in the summer at the World Cup Finals in Brazil.