Top 10: Free Agents – Centre Backs

Across the last fortnight, Plymouth Argyle’s summer has sparked into life. We cast our eye over the free agents available to pick up during this transfer window.

It’s widely accepted that, in some capacity, Argyle will have to improve their ranks at centre back this summer. Currently, Argyle’s first-choice back three includes Gary Sawyer, Niall Canavan and Scott Wootton. Even if that’s considered good enough for the start of the season, and that’s very debatable, depth will still be required. It’s a key position, and here are ten centre backs who are available for free.

Krystian Pearce

Club: Mansfield Town
Status: Released
Age: 30
Appearances: 29
Goals: 2
Assists: 1

Depending on what you believe on Twitter, it could well be the case that many League One clubs are interested in Pearce this summer. Even if the sources are questionable, it wouldn’t be a surprise if that were true. He has enjoyed five years at Mansfield Town, where he made over 200 appearances, but after a disappointing season for the club he was let go this summer.

That in no way undermines his talents, however, and he’s likely to have many potential suitors as the summer progresses. His experience and leadership are likely to be key ingredients. He captained Mansfield many times across his spell at the club, and also has over a century of League One appearances to his name. In truth, he’s exactly the sort of noisy defender most clubs would like to have.

So far, at least seven clubs have been linked with Pearce, though could location aid Argyle in their quest? Unlike many, he does have experience in the South West, with his 2-year spell at Torquay from 2013 showing he’s willing to play his football anywhere.

 

Omar Beckles

Club: Shrewsbury Town
Status: Offered new contract
Age: 28
Appearances: 32
Goals: 3
Assists: 1

After his release from Millwall in 2010, Beckles endured a career in non-league football in both Spain and England before he finally made the break at Accrington Stanley in 2015. Beckles quickly impressed as a strong centre-half with an impressive turn of speed. This string of impressive performances resulted in a move to League One Shrewsbury Town in 2017, and he has resided in Shropshire ever since. Beckles has also played his trade at national level for Grenada, where he has featured for the Caribbean side a total of four times.

The right-footed centre-half has surprisingly operated in a number of positions throughout his career. Although he has primarily been deployed as a centre-half, the 28-year-old has shown prowess at right-back during his time at Salop. This year he’s also operated as a both a left sided and right sided midfielder. His ability to play on the left side of defence makes him a strong candidate to act as competition for Plymouth Argyle skipper Gary Sawyer.

Despite being right-footed Beckles has been comfortable playing on the left side of defence, and with his strong foot being his right we can only assume that he must also be comfortable playing on the right. This type of versatility along the backline would be greatly useful to Ryan Lowe and his squad.

 

Josh Emmanuel

Club: Bolton Wanderers
Status: Released
Age: 22
Appearances: 27
Goals: 0
Assists: 0

Josh Emmanuel is the sort of player who fits in as a very specific centre back in Ryan Lowe’s system. He played a significant number of games for Bolton last season, the vast majority of which came at right back. For the majority of clubs in the lower levels of the football league, he ought to be a target to improve the ranks at full back this summer.

However, his defensive talents combined with his ability to bring the ball out from the back makes him the perfect candidate to play as Argyle’s right centre-back. Gary Sawyer has shown on the left that a full back can make a success of themselves in Lowe’s back three, and Emmanuel would be a very shrewd move. He certainly has the potential to be an upgrade on heading back into League One with Scott Wootton as first choice.

Another feather in Emmanuel’s cap? He’s young. Just 22 in fact. And yet he still has decent football league experience at the likes of Ipswich, Bolton and Shrewsbury. He seems like the perfect project for Lowe, particularly coming from the north west, so don’t be surprised to see this deal happen.

Embed from Getty Images

Jordan Spence

Club: ADO Den Haag
Status: Released
Age: 30
Appearances: 4
Goals: 0
Assists: 0

If Argyle were to sign him, Jordan Spence would have the dubious honour of becoming our first player with a spouse more famous than he is. His wife, Naomi Scott, played Princess Jasmine in Disney’s live-action Aladdin remake, and boasts 3.4m Instagram followers compared to Jordan’s mere 43,000.

Released by ADO Den Haag this summer after they dispensed with manager Alan Pardew, he made just four appearances for the club before the pandemic enforced the curtailment of the Eredivisie season.

English fans are likely to know Spence from his spells with Ipswich and Milton Keynes Dons, where he won promotion from League One in 2015. He is a former England youth international who has spent much of his career in the Championship, an ambitious signing for a club coming up from League Two.

A defensive-minded right-back, Spence would likely play on the right of a back three given Ryan Lowe’s preference for attacking wing-backs. Lowe may be reluctant to field him in the same defensive line as converted left-back Gary Sawyer, for fear it would make the team vulnerable to tall, physical attackers. But sorting out a deal in the first place would be no bad thing.

 

Lloyd Jones

Club: Luton Town
Status: Released
Age: 24
Appearances: 15 (8 for Luton, 7 on loan at Northampton)
Goals: 1 (for Luton)
Assists: 0

After finishing last season on loan at Northampton Town, Jones found himself surplus to requirements at Luton Town subsequently resulting in the club deciding against the renewal of the 24-year-old’s contract.

Many will already know of Jones from his part in the 2018/19 squad. The Plymothian arrived during the January transfer window and displayed some tidy attributes but was unfortunately unable to express his full ability as the damage had already been done.

With a total of 73 league appearances to his name some would say that Jones lacks the experience to be thrown into the Greens’ starting line-up. But based on the performances he displayed during his last spell at Argyle, it is apparent that Jones has more than enough ability to merit a position in Ryan Lowe’s 2020/21 squad.

During Jones’ loan spell he proved to be composed on the ball and an effective distributor, which is of course integral to a Ryan Lowe system. At 6ft 3 Jones could operate as either the central centre half or the right sided centre half. With Canavan the only option as a central centre half the introduction of Jones could provide the necessary competition to push the Argyle number 6.

Many will look at Jones and say “look forward, not back,” and Jones as an individual will cause some to turn their noses up. That being said, there is little denying that Jones proved to be a tidy centre-half during his spell at Home Park.

 

Tyler Blackett

Club: Reading
Status: Released
Age: 26
Appearances: 22
Goals: 0
Assists: 4

Remember when Tyler Blackett was A Thing. A defender who many people (not entirely unreasonably) believed could be part of Manchester United’s future. He was thrust into the first team by Louis Van Gaal following a spate of injuries in 2014 for the Red Devils, and for the most part, he actually looked alright too.

However, he was prone to the odd error that was naturally magnified under the spotlight that comes with such an enormous club. A high profile sending off in their infamous 5-3 loss to Leicester saw him out of the team for a while. Famously, he played in a back three which gives him some (albeit scant experience) of Argyle’s preferred system.

His career has unfortunately declined since then. A pretty solid first season at Reading, where he made the play-off final, saw him become a regular member of a solid but unspectacular Royals side in the years to come. He was released at the end of this season but if anyone has pedigree for turning around the careers of ex Man Utd youngsters with a flailing career, surely it’s Ryan Lowe?

 

Yoan Zouma

Club: Bolton Wanderers
Status: Released
Age: 22
Appearances: 23
Goals: 0
Assists: 0

Suggest signing Zouma as a centre back this summer and most Argyle fans will assume you’ve gone slightly barmy. But whilst Kurt may be slightly out of the Greens’ price range, his younger brother Yoan could be just the tonic for Lowe’s squad in League One.

Another of the many talents released from Bolton this summer, Zouma has all the hallmarks of an old-school defender. His tough tackling made him a fan favourite with the Trotters, but things took a downturn for him when Keith Hill took the hotseat. Most recent wisdom suggests he was in France just prior to lockdown, and another Bolton contract was never really on the cards.

Could he perhaps stay in France rather than looking for another contract in England? It certainly feels like a possibility. Lowe will be considering whether making such an effort to sign an old-school centre back for his modern-day system would be worthwhile. If Zouma does sign, however, he’ll surely endear himself to the Green Army in no time.

 

Rhys Bennett

Club: Peterborough United
Status: Released
Age: 28
Appearances: 18
Goals: 0
Assists: 2

If Rhys Bennett doesn’t get another club, he could take a second career as a Football Manager player. His twitter feed is full of live streams of his game, where he has taken Dulwich Hamlet from the sixth tier to second in the Premier League. He has, in the words of Jay from The Inbetweeners, “completed it mate”.

The versatile Boltonian can play as a centre-back, right-back or in defensive midfield, but it is the former into which he likely would slot in Ryan Lowe’s 3-1-4-2. He has spent a career bouncing between Leagues One and Two, but his time in the fourth tier has only been through choice – he has never been relegated from League One.

Released by Peterborough in the summer, he may drop down a division again – his hometown Bolton Wanderers are heavily rumoured to be interested. He may also choose to reunite with Steve Evans at Gillingham, who he worked under at both Mansfield and Peterborough.

He has spent most of his career in the north – would he come as far down as Plymouth, especially when he will probably have offers closer to home? It would be a shame if he wasn’t prepared to move, as Argyle could do with a tall, pacey defender with his pedigree.

 

Alan Sheehan

Club: Lincoln City
Status: Released
Age: 33
Appearances: 8 (1 for Lincoln, 7 for Luton)
Goals: 1 (for Luton)
Assists: 1 (for Luton)

Alan Sheehan. A man more indelibly associated with the English Football League than Bovril, rainy Saturdays and Strensham Services. Ok, maybe not quite that last one. Or any of them really. But still, he’s been just about everywhere hasn’t he?

The Irish defender is most recently associated with a long and successful stint at Luton Town where he was instrumental in back to back promotions from League Two to the Championship. He played in a diamond formation at the time, rather than Ryan Lowe’s preferred back three, but it is easier for a defender in a centre back pairing to adapt to a centre back trio than it is for the reverse to occur.

Sheehan is used to playing out from the back in a side that prioritises attack over defence, something Nathan Jones very much shares with Ryan Lowe. There may be questions about how Sheehan’s age will allow him to adapt to a high press system, but it didn’t do Gary Sawyer too much harm last season.

His career has inevitably stalled a little in recent months with a coronavirus-impacted spell at Lincoln seeing him only make one appearance for the Imps, but their loss could be Argyle’s gain as we seek to bolster our defensive ranks.

 

Aaron Martin

Club: Exeter City
Status: Released
Age: 30
Appearances: 45
Goals: 3
Assists: 1

A 30-year-old centre back released by a club in the league below hardly screams “must-sign” at any level. But, as we discussed earlier, Argyle may be after depth as well as first-choice options in this window. In that sense, Martin would certainly fit the bill.

Martin is another with decent experience across the football league. He’s made the majority of his competitive appearances in League One, and was virtually ever-present in Exeter’s run to the League Two play-off final last season. At 6 foot 3, he can be an influence in both boxes, and he certainly showed his technical prowess with a goal against Colchester to take Exeter to Wembley.

At a time like this, shrewd signings may be the order of the day rather than lavish spending. If Argyle are looking for a player who will be relatively cheap, reliable and settled in the area, why wouldn’t they make Martin a target?

 


Top 10: Free Agents – Goalkeepers