It’s the middle of July and Plymouth Argyle haven’t signed a single player for the forthcoming season. In times even remotely resembling the norm, that would be a cause for concern, and perhaps an indication that a squad would be bungled together once all of the big prizes have gone elsewhere. We saw alarm bells ring in 2016, with the squad that lost at Wembley dismantled and few new faces through the door straight away. Blind panic ensued in the ranks.
Of course, what we are experiencing at the moment is far from normal. It’s not as if Argyle are preparing for the forthcoming pre-season friendlies against the likes of St Blazey, Tavistock and Elburton Villa. It’s not even as if the fixtures for the new season have been released to give the Green Army something to look forward to, and dates to mark in their diaries. Aside from the kits released, there has been absolutely nothing to whet the 2020/21 appetite.
But whilst that is the case for Argyle, the same can’t necessarily be said for other clubs. Salford and Bolton, for instance, have already been making moves for former Argyle midfielder Antoni Sarcevic, according to fairly reliable journalistic sources. Mansfield are another club who have already been conducting transfer business in this window.
But Argyle have stated on multiple occasions that in this transfer window that they will be taking things slowly, in contrast to the aforementioned trio of League Two clubs. Is that the right approach?
Well, first and foremost, we have to consider whether the statement is true at all. Ryan Lowe himself mentioned that Argyle were taking a cautious approach in a recent press conference, but let’s consider exactly what he is saying.
In implying that there will be no signings through the door immediately, he’s keeping any Green Army’s expectations to a minimum. A lack of supporter impatience will mean that, if a new signing does suddenly arrive, it’ll be a pleasant surprise rather than an expected arrival. In a sense, it’s a win-win for Lowe.
With that in mind, there’s every chance that the statements from Argyle personalities on this summer’s transfer window are simply false. Indeed, actions speak louder than words, and Lowe himself appeared to contradict things slightly at the start of this month, mentioning that Argyle had already entered talks about bringing Ryan Hardie back to the club from Blackpool.
Argyle could well be working on many deals, but not be willing to talk openly about them. That would make absolute logistical sense.
However, let’s give Lowe the benefit of the doubt and assume that what he is saying is completely true. If that is the case, and Argyle are indeed taking their time in this window, that would also be a completely acceptable route to take.
That would be due to the circumstances we currently find ourselves in. The most recent wisdom would suggest that 12 September has been earmarked for the potential commencement of the EFL season, but we simply don’t know for sure. If that date proves to be accurate, we’re still two months away from the season getting underway. That would be the start of June in ‘normal’ terms, or just around the time some of the clubs in the play-offs would be finalising their retained lists.
It’s not a time when teams would be expected to go all out in the transfer market. But there are far more issues at play here than the passage of time.
When the return of EFL football is confirmed for next season, it should bring with it more news about the viability of some supporters attending games, and other potential revenue streams for clubs. That’ll allow them to budget far more accurately. At that point, yes, one would anticipate that the transfer window will become slightly crazy.
An unprecedented number of players will be out of contract, and a sizeable number of clubs will be looking to pick up those signings in a short period of time. That would be the ideal time for Argyle to get involved, and take advantage of their relatively secure financial situation. It may seem foolish to enter the market at such a hysterical time, but the alternative would be far worse.
Put simply, Argyle are going to need to dip into the transfer market in order to compete after promotion. The only choice is to either make numerous signings immediately, or to wait. But there are two main reasons why making many signings now would be an error.
First, with many players now officially out of contract, Argyle would be paying any player they sign now for perhaps a month longer than required. At an already precarious time, those financial considerations are vital. Furthermore, if Argyle do sign a player now, they may be left ruing their decision if a better player becomes available. Some clubs will not be able to hold onto their gems once they have budgeted this summer, and Argyle need to be in a position to swoop without stretching their own budget.
Ultimately, Argyle are in a smart situation as things stand. Lowe may be telling the truth about taking things slowly, or he may not. It could be a mixture of the two, with the club chasing some deals for players Lowe knows (such as Hardie) and waiting for the right time to pounce for others. Regardless, combining Lowe’s words with the actions so far, it’s hard to deny that Argyle have handled the transfer window well in recent weeks.
Whatever the case may be, if Argyle continue to play their cards right, they’ll find themselves in an excellent position on the eventual opening day.