It’s all a bit surreal in the bottom half of League One at the moment, with just two points separating the teams in 13th and 21st places. Everyone below 12th placed Argyle (apart from Bristol Rovers and Accrington) has eight games left, so the relegation battle is still wide open. As for the Pilgrims, that league position would look comfortable if they were more than three points above the drop zone and didn’t have what looks like the toughest run-in of all the teams around them.
The dust may be far from settled on the current season, but we’re already starting to look forward to the summer and the 2019-20 campaign (hopefully as a League One club). Last week, Derek Adams commented on two critical aspects of the preparation for next year; the pre-season friendlies and negotiations with current squad members whose contracts are expiring.
Last summer’s pre-season friendlies left a lot to be desired in terms of preparing the squad for the rigours of a League One campaign and the talk was of a tougher schedule against better teams this year. However, the names mentioned so far – Tavistock, Truro and Torquay– hardly fit the bill, though there are some obligations to be met. Tavistock provide training facilities for the Argyle Academy while the regular player loans to Truro justifies the trip to Cornwall.
To be fair, the club is ‘hoping to host two friendlies against sides from superior leagues’ as well as an overseas trip, with the Netherlands being the front-runner again. There’s still plenty of time to line up some Championship or Premier League opposition for July. It’s clear that supporters will be watching pre-season plans closely to see what club is doing differently to avoid repeating the dreadful start to the last two seasons.
As for the squad members with expiring contracts, the club’s line is that the board will be meeting in the next couple of weeks to agree a budget for 2019-20. That will presumably provide an indication to the manager of what the likes of Lameiras and Carey could be offered to re-sign. Which seems perfectly reasonable.
However, as he is wont to do, the manager appears to have gone off-script with a couple of less than subtle comments about the money available to him. When asked about contract negotiations, he told the Herald: “I can’t do that to any player at this moment in time. I don’t have a budget to work with so I can’t go into any details with any players for next year…We would have hoped that we would have had a budget before now.” That complaint about a supposed delay in the process, when presumably he would have known the proposed timetable, seems unnecessary and won’t please the board.
It was also interesting to note that when Adams mentioned arranging friendlies against stronger teams, he didn’t frame it in terms of preparing the team for next season, but in terms of finances. “We’re obviously wanting to play here on the 20th and the 27th [of July] against opposition who are in a higher league than we are, to generate extra money for the playing budget.”
You don’t have to be a Kremlinologist to discern an emerging tussle over the 2019-20 budget. And while it’s no doubt the same story at many other clubs, you’d expect it to be played out behind closed doors rather than in the local media. This is particularly important since, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Argyle is in a limbo period before the income from the new banqueting, conference and events facilities at Home Park kick in. The club is quite rightly focused on sustainability and that means playing budgets will continue to be constrained for a year or two yet. Derek Adams is probably the right man for Argyle in those circumstances, but he knows the financial score and should be expected to play the PR game rather than airing his grievances in the Plymouth Herald.
This is especially important as it will soon be time to start advertising season tickets for 2019-20 (‘early bird’ season tickets went on sale on 13th March last year). With a bigger stadium to fill next year and a bit of fan-fatigue setting in after two seasons which were battling relegation for at least part of the campaign, the club can’t afford to present anything other than a united front to the supporters. Any hint that a third season of poor August to December football lies ahead will surely make it more difficult to shift those season tickets.