Crewe Alexandra FC

Key player: Charlie Kirk

I feel like I write the season preview for Crewe every year, and every year I make the same joke about Charlie Kirk sharing a name with an American right-wing ‘activist’ with a tiny tiny face. Has the joke gotten old by now? I’ll let the editors decide. [editor’s note: no.]

Anyway, much like previous campaigns, Kirk remains vital to Crewe’s prospects. He made 53 appearances for the side in all competitions last season, involving himself in 16 goal contributions (7G, 9A). Only striker Mikael Mandron managed more. Argyle fans may also recall that Kirk scored a goal against the Greens in a 2-1 win for Crewe back in December. Others may have put it to the back of their minds to forget about Scott Wootton’s defending for the goal, which is probably the wiser option.

This may well prove to be a ‘shop window’ season for Kirk. He’s only ever played for Crewe, but his contract expires at the end of this year. Still only 23, a good start to the season could see clubs clamouring for his signature, looking to cut a deal before his contract runs down. Should his form see a dip, he may well be playing for his own contract before the season is out.

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Manager: David Artell

Artell comes across as a polarising character. The sort you’d love to have on your side, and could easily grow to hate if he represents a rival. A Luis Suarez type character, perhaps, without the appetite. With that in mind, then, it’s no surprise that the Crewe faithful have come to love their manager since he came into the role in 2017.

Well-travelled Artell played for a number of clubs across England and Wales, and also earned seven caps for Gibraltar having been born in Rotherham. Ah, the joys of dual-nationality rules. As a player he was always looking beyond the end of his career, gaining a degree in forensic biology and taking up a role as operations director at Crewe’s academy whilst still contracted a player at Bala Town. Considering the emphasis Crewe put on their youth squad, it seemed inevitable that a man as switched-on as Artell would work his way up to the top job, even if it did take three years.

Since his appointment, Crewe have made progress every season, culminating in a 12th-place finish in 2020-21. He’s only ever managed one side, and his stock is possibly the highest it’s ever been. In all honesty, Crewe have done well to retain his services for so long.

Rock: Tommie Hoban

It may seem odd listing a new player as a defensive rock so soon after joining. However, 27-year-old centre back Hoban has the potential to make a serious impression at Crewe.

In terms of his natural ability, Hoban ought to be playing well above League One level. He came through the academy at Arsenal, but it was with Watford that he initially burst onto the scene. He made 58 appearances for the Hornets in all, and combined with a loan spell at Blackburn he established himself as a reliable Championship option.

So why isn’t he there anymore? Injuries. He’s been incredibly unlucky in recent years, having his career placed into genuine danger with an anterior cruciate ligament injury. Twice. That put an end to his Watford career, and he’s recently been working his way back to fitness with a sustained spell of football at Aberdeen in the second half of last season.

Signing Hoban is obviously a risk, but if the worst of his injuries is behind him, Crewe could well have a gem on their hands. And with a number of centre backs, including Omar Beckles, leaving the club this summer, they’ll need Hoban to stay fit and perform.

Key departure: Harry Pickering

Much of Crewe’s success this season could come down to how well they deal with the loss of Pickering. Officially, he’s not been a Crewe player since January, having left the Railwaymen for Blackburn in a deal believed to be worth an initial £650,000. However, Artell’s side took him back on loan for the remainder of the campaign, allowing them to defer the trouble of replacing him for a few more months.

That time has arrived now, and what a hole he’s left. He made a name for himself as an aggressive left back, and in recent years has demonstrated his ability to play on the left of midfield and at left centre back. His ability going forward is notable – Argyle fans may recall his wonderful strike in a game back in 2020 perhaps most remembered for Chris Porter’s comical miss. It will be fascinating to see how Crewe’s attack reshapes itself without Pickering as an outlet.

His value to the side was demonstrated by the awarding of Crewe’s captaincy for the second half of last season. He is a big loss, and Crewe supporters will have to hope they cope as well with Pickering’s departure as they did with Perry Ng’s move to Cardiff earlier this year.

Target: Top-half

Crewe’s 12th-place finish last year was their highest placing in the pyramid since their days in the Championship back in 2006. A real testament to the progress the club have made under Artell. That this happened under the shadow of events off the field, which saw chairman John Bowler leave the club, was even more remarkable.

Whether they can go one step further a make a serious promotion push is another matter. There are a number of big clubs who you suspect will be fighting it out at the top of League One, and whilst Crewe have made year-on-year progress under Artell, this could be the toughest step to take of the lot.

Without doubt they’ll give it a good go, but another finish in the top half of the third tier would still go down very nicely.


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League One Season Preview 2021/22