Another day passes, another former shaker joins Plymouth Argyle. This time it was Callum McFadzean, a key player for Bury at left wing-back last season, and – if rumours are to be believed – there are still a couple more who can be expected to follow him.
It would not be unfair to label McFadzean as journeyman, given Argyle are now his ninth club since he became a professional seven years ago.
He first emerged from Sheffield United’s youth academy in 2012 having been a part of the team that reached the final of the 2011 FA Youth Cup, scoring in the first leg. That game also featured the likes of Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Michael Keane and Harry Maguire, but also Jordan Slew (who scored Sheffield’s second).
McFadzean made his professional debut in the first game of the 2012/13 season against Burton Albion in a League Cup match, winning the penalty for the Blades’ second equaliser. From then on he was a marginal figure, but he started the final two games of the season before coming off the bench to score the winner in the first leg of their play-off semi-final against Yeovil.
He then started the second leg, but United lost 2-0 as Yeovil stole their place at the Wembley final on their way to winning promotion to the Championship. McFadzean followed on this strong end to the campaign by starting four of the first seven games of the new season, but soon lost his place and, by November, had taken the first step to journeyman status by joining Chesterfield on loan for a month.
The loan was not that successful as he was unable to force his way into a team competing for promotion, though he was part of the team that beat Argyle. In March he was loaned out again, this time to Burton, with better results. He started twelve games of fourteen, including their play-off final defeat to Fleetwood, and also beat Argyle again, scoring this time:
McFadzean rejoined Burton on loan the next year, but broke his metatarsal in October and had to return to Sheffield. He had to wait more than twelve-months for another opportunity, this time on a one-month loan at Stevenage. However, by the end of the 2015/16 season – four years after making his debut – he was released by the Blades. Kilmarnock snapped him up, but he only made five appearances before moving permanently to Alfreton Town in the National League North during March 2017. He made a handful of appearances there before being released at the end of the season.
Next up was National League side Guiseley following a successful trial. He started sixteen league matches, scoring one and assisting none. He was released again, for the fourth time in 24 months. It wouldn’t have been unfair to expect him to fall to a level lower on the English footballing pyramid, but that was the moment when his career finally turned around. After a successful trial at Bury in the summer, he was offered a six-month contract. He took the opportunity and soon had his contract extended until the end of the season.
Only four players accumulated more minutes than McFadzean last season as he transformed himself into a vital cog in Ryan Lowe’s goal-scoring machine, and he has now linked up with that man one again.
Style of play
As a player who has spent the majority of his career as a winger, a left-winger in particular, McFadzean’s skills are mostly concentrated in his crossing. If you look through any highlights reels from his past season, you’ll find that the majority of his assists came from attacking the full-back and whipping a cross in from near the by-line.
His ability to run at or beyond the full-back made him a threat for Bury, one that regularly looked to attack the spaces behind their defence and inside their full-back. Working in tandem with their central-midfielders, he was often able to work his way into the penalty area before picking out a teammate:
Indeed, one of the most exciting aspects of McFadzean arrival is the relationship he was able to strike up with Danny Mayor. The two regularly worked together, the former drawing in teammates before releasing the latter into space to create chances for the strikers. Mayor’s serenity in possession meant that he was able to dribble at the right-flank of the opposition, manipulate the positioning of their right full-back and central-midfielder or defender, and feed the ball to McFadzean in and around the edge of the area.
Aside from his movement with and without the ball, McFadzean also presented a threat from deeper, wider positions. His general crossing was good enough that he could whip the ball into dangerous areas for Bury’s two strikers to attack, putting the opposition defence under pressure.
However, his strength also proved to be his weakness last season. While his play on the left-wing was very good, he also operated in a way that was too traditional. Think back to Gregg Wylde, particularly in his first six months at Argyle, when he would hug the touchline but rarely venture into the centre of the pitch.
Whereas Nicky Adams – a player used to playing in a central attacking-midfield position as much as on the wing – scored four goals from the right wing-back position for Bury last season, McFadzean scored none from the left.
Indeed, Joe Murphy (the goalkeeper) aside, McFadzean was one of only two players to play more than 1,000 minutes for Bury last season and not score. That’s quite embarrassing for an attacker in a team that found the back of the net more than 100 times…
Throughout a season’s worth of highlights packages, McFadzean only had two notable highlights from central positions. The first was when he came into the central-midfield position to slide this pass through a crowd of players to create this late winner for Maynard:
Second, this was the only highlight that featured McFadzean going close to scoring – if my memory serves me correctly, it might be the only highlight of him shooting from inside the box.
Otherwise, McFadzean played too wide, meaning he was never in goal-scoring positions to take advantage of all of Bury’s creativity. His rigidity meant that he was unable to fully exploit all the space created by Bury’s – and Mayor’s – passing and dribbling.
Then there’s his other weakness: defending. As a wing-back, he was required to do a lot of defending last season, and though he had played as a left-back on a number of occasions earlier in his career, he is by no means a specialist in the position.
There were sloppy mistakes, the top three would look something like this: third was his failed back-header to allow Swindon to open the scoring in their 3-1 defeat.
Second was the time he misread a long-pass, positioned himself terribly to allow the opposition attacker to run past him, and then fouled him when clean through before being promptly given his marching orders.
First, and worst of all, was a clear sign of his defensive immaturity. From a corner into the box, he senselessly stuck a hand up and gave away a penalty. Had it not been for a shocking effort by Jon Stead, it would have cost McFadzean and his team a point in the last minutes of the match.
There were other mistakes too, such as this occasion when his lack of defensive awareness led him to cease marking a striker positioned centrally and instead charge towards the wing, allowing the now unmarked striker a clean shot at goal from inside the box.
McFadzean did seem to grow into the position, reducing errors as the season went by and he learned what was expected of him. This montage, created by his agency firm, shows a series of defensive highlights, the majority of which took place in the second half of the season.
He will no doubt still have more to learn, but with a years worth of knowledge in the position already accumulated, he will be more ready than any other wing-back contender to meet Lowe’s demands.
Until now, Ryan Lowe has opted to use traditional full-backs in the wing-back position during pre-season friendlies. Joe Riley and Tafari Moore have played at right wing-back, Ashley Smith-Brown and Ryan Law on the left. However, it is quite likely that this has been a result of necessity. In order to provide each player with opportunities to get minutes, he’s had to play full-backs at wing-back and move wingers like Joel Grant into central-midfield.
McFadzean’s arrival reaffirms that Lowe is still most likely to retain last season’s style and opt to use wingers as first choice wing-back throughout the season. Though he started last season at Bury with full-backs Tom Miller and Chris Stokes in the wing-back slots, this placed too much creative strain on the central-midfielders, like Mayor, making it easy to man-mark them and stifle Bury.
As we get closer to the start of the season, it’s likely that Smith-Brown and Riley will be relegated to the bench, with wingers McFadzean and Joel Grant taking their places in the line-up.
For McFadzean, his role will be the same as last season. He’ll be expected to act as a winger in attack and a deep-lying full-back in defence. His relationship with Mayor should allow him to pick up where he left off last season, and his ability when crossing the ball should help create chances for Argyle’s strikers. With two of them in the box, his crosses will always posed a threat if they can beat the first-man.
Finally, Lowe should work with McFadzean to improve his positional play, encouraging him to swap with Mayor more and take up positions in central midfield. His movement, dribbling and awareness of his teammates suggest that he can post a threat once in these positions, he just needs to occupy these spaces more.
Even more importantly, if he can find a balance between his work on the wing and making late bursts into the box then he can hope to add a few goals to his game. Given that he has only scored four professional goals in his career, that would no doubt come as a massive relief to the man, while adding another weapon to Lowe’s impressive attacking arsenal.