Plymouth Argyle are massive. I know that, you know that, but now the evidence is even more empirical. Because on Sunday night, arguably the world’s most prominent journalist covering football transfers felt it necessary to tweet news of Argyle’s ninth summer signing to his 17.6 million followers. And here we go.
Argyle have completed the signing of Luke Cundle. He becomes the fourth player to join Argyle on loan this summer, and follows in the footsteps of Nigel Lonwijk in joining on a season-long deal from Wolverhampton Wanderers. Cundle isn’t Dutch, nor does he look like Virgil van Dijk, but don’t let the lack of exoticism fool you. He possesses a great degree of technical flair, and should prove to be an exciting player to watch.
Aged just 21, Cundle brings a blend of youth and experience that Argyle have been targeting right across the window. He won’t bring up the average age of Argyle’s squad but his development last season, combined with his natural talents, could make him the ideal pickup as Steven Schumacher looks to finalise his squad.
Versatility across his career
Cundle’s senior career has been short, even when you take his fledgling age into account. His appearances have mainly come at youth level, first at Burnley and then at current parent club Wolves. But 2022 was a breakout year. Cundle made his Premier League debut from the bench in January of that year against Southampton, and started his first game away at Tottenham Hotspur. He ended up playing 84 minutes as Wolves excellently dispatched Spurs 2-0.
Those performances put him on Swansea’s radar, and he joined Russell Martin’s side on loan in the final week of the summer transfer window. And it didn’t take long for Cundle to make an impression. He scored his first professional goal in just his second game with the Swans. Am I only showing it so we can marvel at the Hull City defensive calamity? No comment.
When we combine last year’s spell with Swansea with his 2021/22 breakthrough year at Wolves, his versatility becomes very apparent. Cundle has demonstrated an ability to play in any central midfield position, be it as a classic number 10, in a holding role, or something in between.
I’ve taken Transfermarkt’s data for the last two years to show the sort of variation Cundle offers. I should mention that the data isn’t necessarily 100% accurate – Transfermarkt won’t always pick up the exact formation a team plays, and may therefore err on a player’s position. But it’s worth presenting anyway, because even if the numbers are slightly out, it still demonstrates how Cundle has no problem adapting across the central midfield areas.
|Luke Cundle (2021-2023)
That versatility will be vital. Cundle can fit into whichever formation Schumacher wants to deploy, and expands the number of shapes available. He could slot directly into the system Argyle used to sweep Huddersfield Town aside on Saturday, but he’d also be comfortable in many areas of last season’s 3-4-2-1. And if Schumacher wants to change the shape mid-game, as we know he loved to last year, he can build any adjustment around Cundle to make it successful.
An outstanding passer
Considering the signings Argyle have made this summer, it will not surprise you at all that Cundle is incredibly comfortable on the ball. In fact, when looking at his statistics, his passing ability stood out to me quicker than I think it has for any Argyle player I’ve ever analysed, at least in recent years.
The headline figure from last season was his 89% pass success rate. That’s better than any other Argyle player last season aside from Finley Craske, who regular readers of these pieces will know has his figure skewed by attempting (and completing) one solitary pass across the campaign. Cundle’s number is not skewed by a smaller sample size – quite the opposite.
He completed 876 passes last season, with only seven Argyle players completing more. Every single one of those players played more minutes than Cundle; if we consider the regularity of their passing, Macauley Gillesphey is the only one of those seven to complete more per 90 minutes than Cundle (47.04 vs 44.04). And have a look at the success rates – Cundle’s pass success isn’t just higher than every Argyle player who completed more passes last season, it dwarfs their figures.
Cundle’s passing hasn’t just been for the sake of it, because he can also be threatening in attack. His long pass success of 59% last season beat everybody else in Argyle’s ranks, his figure of 31 key passes was solid, and he created as many big chances (three) as Danny Mayor. So as well as keeping play flowing, he can take the initiative in attack when required.
I think my favourite stat of all though relates to how often Cundle lost possession last season. Comparatively, it was remarkably rare. Only Luke Jephcott lost possession fewer times per 90 minutes than Cundle, and it’s fair to say he didn’t have the ball enough for his figure to be at all relevant. Against the rest of Argyle’s regular midfield, Cundle’s figure demonstrates an outstanding level of effectiveness.
|Possession Lost per 90
How much do we want to read into all of this? I’ll leave you to make up your own minds. It must be conceded that there are a couple of caveats attached. For example, Cundle spent last season being managed by Russell Martin, who we know favours a heavy passing game. Anyone who watched his Southampton side take on Sheffield Wednesday on Friday night will vouch for the fact. And when such a substantial number of passes are completed, we shouldn’t really be surprised to see them lose the ball less regularly, or to see a high pass success rate.
Nonetheless, it’s a potent weapon for Schumacher to deploy. If he wants to expand his side’s passing game, Cundle is the perfect player. If he wants someone who can complete tidy passes to allow those further upfield to take more risks, Cundle is his man. Combine that with all of the positions Cundle is comfortable in, and you can understand why Argyle were so keen to secure his services.
Better suited to the attack?
I’ve mentioned previously that Cundle is a versatile midfield option. That is undoubtedly the case, and I’m sure it’ll prove extremely useful for Argyle across the rest of the season. But if I’m looking to get the absolute best out of the player in his own right, I’d say he’s much more suited to an attacking, rather than a defensive, midfield position.
To my eye, nothing demonstrates this more than Cundle’s duel proficiency, or lack thereof. We’ll use his ground duels as the first example. Cundle won 42% of his ground duels last season, which is far from terrific. In fact, 22 Argyle players had a better success rate. But have a look at the comparison with Argyle’s midfield – his figure looks much more at home amongst the attacking midfielders than those more defensive.
|Ground Duel Success Rate
It’s a similar story when looking at aerial duels. Cundle’s success rate of 15% last season was actually pretty appalling – no Argyle player who won even a single aerial duel had a worse success rate. But again, have a look at that figure compared to just the midfield. Whilst it’s obviously still rock bottom, you’ll see that his figure once more doesn’t look nearly as bad compared to the more attacking players.
|Aerial Duel Success Rate
All of that demonstrates why I believe he’d be best suited to an attacking role. A poor duel success would be exposed much more in a defensive position. If you were to start Cundle as a defensive midfielder regularly, you’d probably have to do so in a David Fox-style role, and Fox always needed sufficient protection in front of him to make everything work. Argyle could probably replicate that a few times this season, but could they afford to do it every week? I’m honestly not so sure.
Playing him in a more advanced role would eliminate the problem. He wouldn’t be expected to win as many duels, and it wouldn’t be as much of a disaster if he didn’t. But he’d still be able to utilise his strengths, and place himself at the heart of intricate move in the opposition’s penalty area. We saw as much when he scored his second goal of last season in the reverse fixture against Hull.
Cundle’s signing is one I like. He’ll give Argyle the option of playing a plethora of midfield shapes. And of those shapes, the best ones will probably see Cundle in an advanced position.
It seems a strange thing to say about a 21-year-old, but Cundle brings a level of experience to Argyle’s squad that could prove crucial as the season progresses.
Before Saturday’s game, only eight Argyle players had previously played in the Championship. Cundle now makes that nine, and as we know they’ve been far from token appearances. In fact, only Morgan Whittaker and Joe Edwards had made more appearances in England’s second tier than Cundle prior to the start of this season, and all of the latter’s occurred over nine years ago.
|Rest of squad
Still only 21, Cundle already accounts for over 15% of the total Championship appearances in Argyle’s ranks, at least when you exclude the win over Huddersfield. And that excites me; he’ll be available for the League Cup tie with Leyton Orient, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was dropped straight into the side for the Watford fixture. To use a doomed political analogy, he’s oven ready.
Argyle’s squad will naturally accrue Championship experience as the season progresses. But at the start, Cundle’s knowledge could go a long way. Use him right, get the most out of his strengths and tap into his experience, and Argyle may just have pulled off another gem of a signing this summer.