It’s been confirmed today that Yann Songo’o will be leaving Plymouth Argyle this summer. The Cameroonian defender, 27, was offered a new deal at Home Park following the club’s relegation. However, whether it’s due to a desire to play at a higher level, to earn more money, to relocate, or a mixture of those reasons, Songo’o stated on Twitter today that his time with the club had come to an end.
Songo’o has split opinion amongst the Green Army perhaps more than any other player across the last decade. To some, Songo’o deserved credit for trying harder than anybody else, particularly across the last 12 months. To others, he was a complete liability, and having him in midfield was one of the primary reasons for Argyle’s eventual relegation.
Usually, I’d say the truth lies somewhere in between. In this case, however, I think that things are different. When looking at it from a more analytical perspective, it becomes clear that Songo’o was a net negative for Argyle across the 2018/19 season. Let us not forget, this is a man who ends his Plymouth Argyle career with as many goals (3) as own-goals.
That is what I will focus on. Songo’o was of course here for three years, but it was across the most recent campaign where he really came to the fore – for better or worse.
Derek Adams’ insistence on sticking with his failing 4-2-3-1 formation meant Songo’o was often deployed as a defensive midfielder. This was made doubly dire by Adams’ decision to play him alongside David Fox as part of the “2”. As a result, Argyle had a midfield that was all to easy for opponents to overrun across the season.
For a 4-2-3-1 formation to work, the defensive midfield duo need to have skills in a variety of departments. An “all-rounder” such as Jamie Ness may be able to thrive in this position, for instance. Having two defensive midfielders who can do a bit of everything in a 4-2-3-1 means that passing remains on point, mobility is not lost, and tackling remains an option when necessary.
A Songo’o-Fox midfield had the opposite effect. Neither player was mobile, only one could pass and only one could tackle. This meant Argyle struggled to keep the ball, and struggled to win it back when possession was lost. Mobility in particular was an issue for both players – the fact both so regularly found themselves out of position meant opposition players could pass through the gaps they had left with consummate ease.
Songo’o would often be out of position and lose track of his man. This led directly to goals conceded, such as these against Doncaster and Sunderland. In both, Songo’o was far, far too slow to switch on and realise where the danger was, and was therefore beaten to the ball leading to a goal.
Sometimes, Songo’o would be caught out of position and would make a big tackle to make up for it. This got some sections of the Green Army on side. However, it was invariably a tactic only deployed to make up for an error he had already made.
Whilst the midfield was an omnishambles across the year, Songo’o did at least settle in to a defensive position at times during the 2018/19 campaign. Arguably Plymouth Argyle’s best week of the season saw them beat Gillingham 3-1 before winning 4-1 at Scunthorpe a few days later. Songo’o started both games as a right-sided centre back.
Generally, Songo’o was far better in defence than he was in midfield. His man of the match performance in the 0-0 draw with table-topping Luton came at the centre of a back three. Perhaps this is where he may have fitted in to Ryan Lowe’s 3-1-4-2 system. Now we’ll never know.
However, having Songo’o in defence poses another problem: the importance of errors. In a similar way to how errors from goalkeepers always seem more significant than errors from strikers, errors from defenders are always more likely to be fatal than those made from midfield.
In this regard, Songo’o hardly comes out smelling of roses. Quite the opposite. He made more defensive errors than any other player across the last campaign. One of these came on Boxing Day against AFC Wimbledon; it would become a season defining moment.
Less important was his own-goal as part of a shocking display against Chelsea U23s and his red card within minutes of moving to centre-back against Oxford.
And let’s not forget his huge error against Bristol Rovers, which could have been very costly…
…which was of course a carbon-copy of the same mistake he made against Fleetwood last season.
Everybody makes mistakes – errors like this are forgivable. However, when they happen on such a regular basis, one has to wonder whether the player making them is too much of a liability to be trusted. Combine this with the fact that Songo’o was far worse in aerial duels than Niall Canavan and Ryan Edwards last season, a key statistic for any central defender, and it becomes very difficult to justify giving Songo’o a place in the team at all.
Songo’o would have been a decent player to have around last season as backup for the central defensive positions and occasional cover as a destroyer in a 4-3-2-1. But no more than that.
“At least he works hard”
This has perhaps been my biggest bugbear regarding Songo’o during his time at Home Park. His most vociferous supporters appear to accept that he is not a technically competent footballer. However, the claim appears to be that he made up for that by trying harder than anybody else on the pitch. That is complete nonsense.
The claim annoys me for two reasons. First of all, there is no evidence that he was working harder than anybody else. On the contrary, we can pick out examples which appear to suggest other players are working harder than Songo’o. I regularly use this from April’s game against Barnsley when making this point, but there are plenty more examples that can be found from across the season. Keep your eyes on him and notice how hard he works to get back.
At the start of the clip we can see that Songo’o was the deepest of the midfield players in the centre of the park. Fox, Sarcevic, Ness and Carey were ahead of him. However, by the end, Antoni Sarcevic had covered 30 extra yards to nip in and prevent Barnsley scoring a fourth. Songo’o wasn’t even in the picture. If Songo’o really was trying harder than anybody else, why wasn’t he sprinting back to defend like some of his teammates?
Let’s not forget his role against Scunthorpe on the final day either. Watch Plymouth Argyle’s hardest working player try his hardest to keep the ball out of the net in this must-win game.
Another reason this claim annoys me is the apparent inference that effort makes up for ability. If we as fans were on the pitch, there can be no doubt we’d all give 100% for the cause. But we’d achieve 0 points. Even if the claim that Songo’o tried harder than everyone else were true – which it isn’t – it shouldn’t give him a free pass to play as poorly as he did.
Perhaps our insistence to praise a player for perceived effort rather than ability was a contributing factor to Argyle’s eventual relegation.
Songo’o departs amid rumours about his potential suitors. Blackpool have been linked, but we believe this comes from a fake source. Regardless of where he does end up, his new club will have to use him carefully. Play to his strengths in a defensive position, and a League One club could have a very useful squad player on their hands. Force him into midfield, and he may struggle even in League Two.
For Argyle, this is perhaps an indication that Ryan Lowe is looking for a different sort of player this season. Songo’o has shown enough across his three years at the club to suggest he could have done a job as a centre back in League Two. Lining him up in the centre of a back three in Lowe’s 3-1-4-2 would have made sense, especially if we have another restrictive budget. Alas, we’ll never get to see it.
We must thank Yann Songo’o for his three years of service. Will I miss him? No. Not because I didn’t want him to stay, but because of the claims I’ve had to endure that vastly overrate his talents.