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…
2: Bradley Wright-Phillips
Currently: Free agent
It could well be a trivia question in the United States one day: MLS legend Bradley Wright-Phillips played for which club based in a city linked to early colonial US history?
Nobody, and I mean nobody, would have predicted BWP would have become the highest scoring European in MLS history. Many would have backed his teammate Thierry Henry, or Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Villa, maybe even Sebastian Giovinco, but not Wright-Phillips.
Until then, BWP had never manged to reach ten goals in a season at Championship level, let alone the Premier League. It was only at Home Park that he first reached double figures in a single season for the first time, before going on to repeat that in six of the next seven seasons.
Indeed, it was his time with Argyle the turned his entire career around. He arrived at PL2 with his career trending downward, before reversing that momentum so drastically that he may well have earned himself his own statue in New York.
But this list is not about what players achieved before or after their time with Plymouth Argyle. The biggest question in our mind was whether the obvious talent he displayed this decade was sufficiently matched by his impact. After all, the rest of the top four have all made at least twice as many appearances (two have made more than five-times as many).
Nevertheless, in the end we agreed that BWP was definitely one of the two most talented individuals to don the Green and White this decade and reflected positively on the impact he made to the club. Had it not been for mis-management – both tactical and financial – he could have quite possibly led the club away from relegation in the Championship or towards promotion from League One.
Wright-Phillips was only afforded 29 league starts in his time with the club but scored 17 goals. That broke down into four goals in 12 starts in the Championship – a strong return for a club that had an obvious lack of quality and deserved to be relegated – and 13 in 17 in League One.
Indeed, that he ended the 2009/10 Championship season having only scored fewer goals than Jamie Mackie (eight goals in 44 appearances), Rory Fallon (five goals in 36 appearances) and Alan Judge (five goals in 40 appearances) says a lot. He even scored two winning goals – only Jamie Mackie scored more winners. This, even though he only made three substitute appearances totalling 66 minutes and made his first start in March.
Memorably, he netted an overhead-kick against Bristol City (one of the goals of the season) in a 3-2 win, the opening goal away to Ipswich and then a last-minute winner away at Doncaster, as Argyle gave us all hope of an improbable rescue from relegation.
It was not to be, but then BWP took like a duck to water upon arriving in League One. Despite demonstrating himself to be the best striker at the club – and Reid’s constant use of a two-striker formation – it took until September 18th before he was afforded his first league start.
At that point, Argyle were a point from the bottom four. BWP would go on to score 10 in 10. After his first start against Sheffield Wednesday, Wright-Phillips started every match until his enforced departure, apart from a single Johnstone’s Paint Trophy game when he came off the bench.
Unlike other high-scoring strikers, his finishing was supreme. He scored a goal every 113 minutes in the league, far superior to Argyle’s goalscoring strikers of the decade. Freddie Ladapo managed one every 206 minutes, Reuben Reid struck once every 190 in 2015 and once every 221 in 2014. Unsurprisingly, Wright-Phillips’ conversion rate of 35% was double that of Ladapo and Reid in those seasons.
When it came to finishing, he truly was in a league of his own.
His goals also carried great weight. In 2010/11 alone, they brought in 16 points, just over half of the points earned prior to his departure. Ladapo’s goals only brought in 17 points, despite starting more than twice as many games. Likewise, Reid’s goals were only worth 20 points in 2013/14 and 11 in 2014/15.
Furthermore, when he was on the pitch, he accounted for more than half the goals scored by the team (13/25). Wright-Phillips was not the hardest worker off the ball, that’s for sure, but he was talented on the ball and a lethal finisher, which is exactly what the team needed during his time at the club. When any player scores in virtually half the games he’s started, that tells you something about their ability to get in the right positions and finish chances off.
His goalscoring is even more impressive when you consider that three of his goals came when Argyle had at least one player sent off (against Oldham he scored when the team were down to 9!).
His 13 league goals in the first half of 2010/11 are comparable to the 11 Sylvan Ebanks-Blake scored before moving to Wolves in January 2008, though SEB started 2 more games as well as making a further six substitute appearances. Interestingly, both players would lead their teams to promotion the season after departing Home Park, scoring more than 20 goals in the process.
It’s also worth remembering that BWP did this while playing in a team that was constantly being changed as Peter Reid searched for his best eleven. The striker had 25 different teammates start alongside him across the 19 league and cup starts after his introduction against Wednesday; there were 20 defensive changes in that time too, while his strike partner was changed (or removed) 12 times.
In short, Wright-Phillips achieved all he did despite the lack of cohesion around him, with the fear of administration growing on a weekly basis. As good as his haul of 13 in 17 starts seems, it could have been even more.
Ultimately, Bradley Wright-Phillips was one of the most talented players to feature for Argyle this decade, and definitely the most talented striker. His impact, though restricted by factors outside of his control, was also great during the time he stayed with the club. He deserves to take the second spot in our list of the best 50 players of the decade.