Key player: Charlie Kirk
There’s certainly an argument to suggest that Crewe did very well to keep hold of their academy graduate this summer. Charlie Kirk – the footballer, not the tiny-faced founder of Turning Point USA – reached double figures in both goals and assists in 2018/19. Last season, he was agonisingly close to achieving that feat again. He ended up with 9 goals and 15 assists, and would surely have reached the 10-goal landmark without the season’s curtailment.
Combine those figures with the fact Kirk is still only 22, and you begin to see exactly why Kirk looks a fine prospect for many sides above League One level. However, Kirk signed on for his boyhood club once more with a two-year deal this summer. Going forward, there’s no doubt he’ll be their key man again. If he hits similar figures for goal contributions at a higher level, he’ll make the Railwaymen an awful lot of cash next year. With an assist already in the cup at the weekend, he’s on the right track.
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Manager: David Artell
David Artell is a quirky character. Rotherham-born, he won seven caps for Gibraltar as a player, and he once assured his players and the assembled media that he’s “not Idi Amin or Pol Pot” when discussing Crewe’s expected progress. As we saw with Derek Adams, a quirky demeanour in the press feels great when things are going well, and embarrassing when they’re not. Luckily, Artell has had the results to back himself across his three years in charge of the Railwaymen.
When he took over, the club were staring relegation from League Two in the face. They survived, after Artell told his players that relegation would mean “they’ll end up in the Conference North on £200 a week with a job as a milkman.” He’s slowly turned things around, and eventually won a deserved promotion from League Two last season. He’s well liked by Crewe fans, and his FA warnings and touchline bans will only have improved his bond with Alex’s more passionate support.
Still only 39, Artell now has his first shot at League One. Should he impress again, don’t be surprised to see a few Championship sides sniffing around.
Captain: Perry NG
The man with the shortest surname in the Football League will be vital for Crewe once again. Another in the line of the seemingly endless academy graduates at Artell’s disposal, Ng seems to have improved at around the same pace of his club across the last few seasons. He was voted the club’s player of the year in 2018/19, and was a part of the League Two team of the year last term due to his vital role in the Railwaymen’s successful promotion push.
The Liverpool-born defender, who is eligible for the Singapore national side, was second in Crewe’s ranks in terms of minutes played last year. And with 2 goals and 6 assists in 45 appearances, he showed how much of an attacking threat he can be from right back. Galloping down the wing, he and the other full-back offer a great amount of width that allows the likes of Kirk to encroach in the box to dangerous effect. Ng captained the side against Lincoln at the weekend in the League Cup and the Railwaymen will be hoping for a big season from him as they reacquaint themselves with League One.
Last season: 2nd in League Two
Crewe’s season got off to a disastrous start – they were bottom of the league on day one following a 3-0 reverse to a certain team in Green. Luckily, they were able to turn things around fairly quickly – three successive victories saw them reach the summit of the League Two table by the end of August, and they stayed in promotion contention throughout.
The Railwaymen were in fact top of the league before the season’s eventual curtailment, but ended up having to settle for second place on points per game. Nonetheless, the season will go down as a success for all associated with the club, and a first season back in League One since 2015/16 awaits. It’ll be fascinating to see how they go.
Key transfer: Omar Beckles
With no disrespect intended, Omar Beckles feels like quite the coup for a club of Crewe’s stature. He left Shrewsbury this summer, and was listed in our free agents series as a potential centre back for Argyle to chase in the transfer window. The 6 ft 3 centre back, who has 4 caps for Grenada, was offered a new deal in Shropshire and it’s fair to say not many expected him to end up at Gresty Road.
Beckles looks like just the sort of versatile defender Crewe needed to bolster their back four ahead of a spell at a higher level. Yes, he is primarily a centre back, but he’s a solid choice for right back should the side need cover for Ng. He’s also lined up in midfield from time to time. In all honestly, he’d have been the perfect addition to Argyle’s fluid back line under Ryan Lowe. Alas, we’ll have to see him turn out for Artell’s men; he’s likely to be a success.
Crewe aren’t exactly the biggest club at League One level – you’d be hard pressed to find even the most ardent supporter who believes that. They’ve spent a few seasons in the second tier in their history, but the fourth tier has generally felt like their natural level since its inception. When clubs like that win promotion to League One, they either make an immediate impression and challenge to go up again, or end up getting engulfed and eventually sent back down to the basement.
There’s every reason, therefore, to expect that Crewe will attack the new season with intent. Combine that with what Artell stands to gain personally if he gets his side off to a good start, and there’s no reason why Crewe cannot survive with absolute comfort this year. If anything, they look best set out of all the promoted sides to kick-on in League One, with the probable exception of Argyle. Their exciting brand of football combined with yet another string of talented players, including the thus far unmentioned Ryan Wintle and Tom Lowery, should earn them a few headlines.
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