This past decade has seen players arrive at Home Park and demonstrate the potential to play top flight football – some of which have. Others have left a great impact on the club, as their actions have helped to positively change the club’s future. As 2019 draws to a close, we’ve reviewed the past ten years to pick out the top fifty Pilgrims to have donned our Green and White.
It’s important to note three things: first, this is not a competition of the best players; we have not judged players based purely on their skill, but also their impact. Jake Cole may not be the most able goalkeeper in Plymouth Argyle’s history, but he left a greater impact than most, as his performances were vital in avoiding relegation to the National League for two consecutive seasons. For that, he gets a ranking higher than that of Alex Palmer, who is a better keeper objectively speaking but has had a significantly smaller impact on the club.
Second, players have been judged according to their ability across all the time they were at the club, not just their peak. For example, Conor Hourihane in his first eighteen months wouldn’t get close to this list, but the Hourihane of the final five months before his departure would probably outrank all but a select few individuals in terms of ability. This has been factored into his ranking, instead of merely taking him at his peak.
Finally, this list is not perfect. It is notoriously difficult to rank players, let alone more than 200 of them across a ten year spell. To build this list, we spent hours debating, ranking and re-ranking lists of players until we arrived on a list that we were happy with. There will be players that you believe should be ranked higher, lower, or shouldn’t be on the list at all. You can’t please everyone. Please remember that while you’re complaining on social media having read this list. Otherwise, enjoy…
20: Onismor Bhasera
Clean sheets: 21
Currently: Supersport United, South African Premier Soccer League
Bhasera was part of a lesser seen group of players at Argyle this decade: one who played for the side in both the Championship and League Two. However, the fact he was with the club on the way down is no reflection on his ability. In truth, Bhasera was one of the rare bright sparks in a truly dark time for the club.
He joined the club in traditionally quirky circumstances, failing a medical at Sheffield Wednesday, before having to pass an English exam in order to be given the right to play in England and sign for Argyle. He played 90 minutes against Barnsley on his debut, a matter of 12 hours after arriving in England from South Africa. It was the mark of a player who could combine the right level of commitment with his undoubted technical ability. In truth, he was exactly what the club needed at that moment in time.
The Zimbabwean couldn’t turn the tide at Argyle, as the two following relegations inevitably occurred. However, he did play a key role in ensuring that the Greens didn’t drop yet further down the English football pyramid. Without him, there’s every chance that Argyle wouldn’t have picked up the points they needed to twice survive relegation out of the Football League altogether. His player of the year award in 2013 is testament to how vital he was in those relegation scraps.
It’s a shame he didn’t decide to renew his contract after the summer of 2013, opting instead to move back to South Africa. However, by that stage, he’d done more than enough to leave a positive impression on the Green Army.
19: Ryan Tayor
Currently: Plymouth Argyle, League Two
Ryan Taylor joined Argyle at the end of the January 2017 transfer window, just after his contract at Oxford was mutually terminated. Not getting games in League One, Taylor was brought in with the goal of leading the line in his side’s quest for promotion. Jimmy Spencer, Jake Jervis and Nathan Blissett were all given chances in the role, but it was Taylor who ultimately nailed it down.
His link-up play as a target man was crucial in getting Argyle over the promotion line, and his first half-season was also laced with a few important goals. His goalscoring home debut against Exeter will live long in the memory, as will his last-gasp winner against Crawley to all but secure promotion. But it was perhaps in his second season that we saw Taylor’s biggest power play.
He spent the majority of the first half of the season injured, breaking his ankle in the opening day defeat against Peterborough. In his absence, Argyle were languishing at the bottom of the league, and a relegation battle looked certain. Taylor’s return coincided with an almost unthinkable upturn in form, and Argyle were in the promotion picture in April. Things only fell apart in the final five games, when Taylor was injured again. Coincidence? Hardly.
Injuries are perhaps what has limited Taylor the most throughout his time at the club. They’ve always struck just as he was starting to fire, and that combined with chronic mismanagement meant his 2018/19 season was a dud. He remains at the club now, but with Ryan Lowe’s system not perfect for a player of his talents, it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to hit those heights again whilst in Green.
But does that detract from all of his achievements across the last three years? Not a chance.
18: Remi Matthews
Clean sheets: 10
Currently: Bolton Wanderers, League One
Unlike the rest of the players in this particular section, Matthews was only at Home Park for a short period of time. Less than a single season, in fact. However, it’s testament to just how good a goalkeeper he was that he features so highly in this list.
Matthews first came to the club in 2017 in the midst of a goalkeeping crisis, with Luke McCormick, Robbert te Loeke and Kyle Letheren all sidelined with injury. Matthews arrived on an emergency loan from Norwich, and immediately showed his credentials by keeping a clean sheet away at AFC Wimbledon, helping to secure just Argyle’s second league win of the season. His stock was boosted yet further with another superb away performance shortly afterwards against Bradford City, when he saved a penalty to preserve Argyle’s 1-0 lead.
It wasn’t all perfect – a glaring error against Portsmouth consigned Argyle to a 1-0 defeat at the end of November 2017. But Matthews was certainly a net positive for the club before, as luck would have it, he too found himself on the treatment table. That led to Will Mannion and Kelle Roos becoming the 6th and 7th Argyle goalkeepers of the season, but Matthews returned once he had recovered from his knock in January 2018.
In the second half of the season, it became clear that Matthews was a key figure in Argyle’s promotion push. On good days, his superb distribution was on show, helping to set up many an Argyle attack. On poor days, his sublime shot stopping would keep Argyle in games, and could keep the score respectable if things got particularly hairy.
On ability alone, he’s surely up there as one of the best goalkeepers to play for Argyle this decade, perhaps alongside David Stockdale. His performance last month when the Greens played Bolton in the FA Cup showed the Green Army exactly what they were missing.
17: Kari Arnason
Currently: Víkingur Gøta, Faroe Islands Premier League
Two seasons. Two relegations…cult hero status? Those three phrases are unlikely combinations, all things considered. A player whose tenure at the club exclusively saw a drop from England’s second tier to their fourth could justifiably be included with Chris Clark and Karl Duguid in the realms of ignimony. Unlike contemporaries Marcel Seip and Kristian Timar, Arnason doesn’t even have the upside of being around for the good times either. So, why then is he so well liked?
The decade began with Arnason having extended his contract after making a very positive impression in the first half of the 09/10 season. Whilst his second half of the season wasn’t quite as good as the first, the big Icelandic still managed to endear himself to the fans. Playing at centre-back, far from his natural position, he managed to combine aerial strength with fleetness of foot along the ground and was in close contention with Carl Fletcher and Jamie Mackie for the title of player of the season.
He really excelled in his second term with the greens. He played more games in his natural position of central midfield and as such showed his dynamism and creative capacity in the role. Peter Reid got a lot wrong as Argyle manager but moving Arnason to the centre of the park was one of his masterstrokes. Finally, who can forget his spectacular strike at Milton Keynes to ensure the win in January 2011.
The utility man sadly left that summer, quite understandably activating a release clause having gone many months without pay. The only player on this list to go onto play at a World Cup, Argyle acted as a springboard for a fantastic career.
16: Antoni Sarcevic
Currently: Plymouth Argyle, League Two
‘Sarce’ has had a mixed time across his three years at Argyle. Playing an important role in a promotion campaign, a play-off chasing campaign and a relegation campaign, he really has been through it all this decade. And at the end of it, he’s just about emerged with ‘cult hero’ status.
The ex-Fleetwood man first joined Argyle in January 2017, following his release from Shrewsbury a month prior. There was no doubt in the minds of Argyle fans that they’d signed a talented player, particularly from his time with the Cod Army, but there were perhaps questions about his match fitness. He put those questions to one side very quickly, however, scoring the winner against Cambridge during his first month with the club. He hit the ground running from there.
During the 2017/18 season, it was clear that he was struggling to play an attacking midfield role with the step up in quality to League One. However, when he dropped back into a central midfield role, he shone. His pressing from midfield was a constant nuisance for opponents, and defenders were troubled by his late runs into the penalty area. It’s what makes it all the more baffling that he was moved back into attacking midfield for the 2018/19 campaign.
Since Ryan Lowe arrived, the 27-year-old has thrived. Perhaps surprisingly, considering Lowe’s style initially appeared not to be suited to Sarcevic’s talents. But his transition to a territorial style has worked wonders for Sarce at least – he’s able to run onto the ball more often, rather than being expected to create chances. Who knows how much further he can go with the Greens?