It’s been a few days now since Argyle announced their retained list and, given the status of a new division, fans are already building excitement at the thought of new players. Given how good recruitment has been in recent years it’s going to be particularly intriguing to watch just how good some of next season’s newbies will be with the additional factor that Plymouth Argyle are now also a Championship club.
The retained list provided few shocks. Many assumed Danny Mayor would be returning to the north and he has duly obliged, while Conor Grant’s injuries have presumably contributed to the decision to let him go. Both are sorry departures given their contributions in recent seasons and in fact Grant’s departure means that there are now no remaining players signed by the pre-Lowe era. James Bolton and Luke Jephcott, who both played during the season, were more expected releases due to injuries and a drop-off respectively.
In terms of those offered deals, there were few surprises. Gone are the days where 80% of the squad is out of contract at the end of every season, after all. Dan Scarr, Ryan Hardie and Niall Ennis were always all likely to receive new deals. While opinion was more split on Jordan Houghton and Jams Wilson, you’d be hard-pushed to admit the decision to offer the two a new deal was a surprise. Rate them or not (and many don’t if you scroll through social media for a short while), they have both played substantial minutes in a title winning campaign and were, in reality, always likely to be offered something.
Of course, what happens next sort of hinges on those five first. If Hardie and Ennis decide they would rather move on to pastures new then the club is going to end up needing at least three new strikers. Should they both decide to stay, realistically it’s just the one you’re looking at wanting to bring in. It’s still, for me, a priority area regardless. For the club that might also depend on just how highly they rate young Kiwi Ben Waine.
I think most would agree that Ennis is the pick of the two to be a genuine Championship quality striker but even then there are question marks. Top quality strikers – especially in this league – are extremely hard to find. You either show off your scouting department’s ability to spot talent from abroad, pay a free agent a lot of money (nobody mention Emile Mpenza) or fork out a premium on a successful striker from the lower leagues.
While the striker department might need some patience, what can Argyle crack on with in the meantime? Well, with Mayor gone and Azaz’s loan ending the club is going to need at least a couple new attacking midfielders. That should be a priority position straight away, we know Schuey likes a lot of depth and rotation in that position after all.
In central midfield things are a little less secure, the fact Houghton has been offered a contract suggests he is rated at least as a squad player next season and with both Randell and Butcher still contracted the club already has three central midfielders for two spots in the formation (assuming that Houghton re-signs). The club rolled with just four central midfielders for most of last season so it will be interesting to see whether they do the same again next year.
Jay Matete’s return to Sunderland leaves them at least one short and I wouldn’t bank on him returning given the decreased playing time as the season finished. So the club may want to look to sign one central midfielder as a heightened priority. Given the quality of some Championship midfielders I would not be surprised to see a big name (at least by our standards) slot in. Whether that be the club paying out on a fee or a loan from a top Premier League club I wouldn’t like to see. It’s certainly a key area for the club to get right.
The wing-back positions are probably a little bit more simple. At left-wing-back the club have lost Bali Mumba (who will not be returning as Norwich want him around the first team) which leaves them with Joe Edwards, Mickel Miller and Saxon Earley. Miller’s injury issues might see them wish to recruit a player on either side. Earley has played well when chosen but the Championship is another step up and his selection in the team was never consistent.
Edwards has been a fantastic servant to the club but I doubt I am alone in my concern for him, now at age 32, to realistically start for a Championship club. Or a successful one, anyway. Tyreik Wright played unconvincingly at wing-back from January onwards but I would not think that is likely to continue much. A loan for Wright might be more beneficial for his development right now. Expect a new right-wing-back and a new left-wing-back to be areas the club strengthens in.
Across the back three it will be interesting to see what happens. The club have lost Nigel Lonwijk and James Bolton (return to parent club and released) while offering a new deal to James Wilson. Brendan Galloway has had an extension triggered. Across the backline this leaves them with Galloway, Gillsephey, Scarr and potentially Wilson. Realistically that means at least two new centre backs arriving, with RCB probably the highest priority. Gillesphey and Scarr both had very strong seasons but could use depth to support and it would be fair to say that Galloway’s health is not the most consistent.
Despite many Argyle fans clamouring for the move, I do not see Sonny Bradley as a particularly likely option to sign. He is primarily a CCB and unlikely to displace Scarr and at his age now unlikely to be an especially successful LCB. I loved him as a player for us and have enjoyed the success he has had since leaving, but I don’t expect him to return and am unsold on the fit right now even if he did. I don’t feel confident predicting any signings this summer but if it’s a Luton defender you want then Dan Potts would be a more natural fit at LCB if they decided to move on from him.
The last slot is the one the club needs to be careful with. They have released third-choice goalkeeper Adam Parkes and are left with two senior goalkeepers: Mike Cooper and Callum Burton. Cooper appears unlikely to return for the start of the season (though I would love to be wrong there) and while he has at times performed admirably (even if we’ve all tried to purge Wembley from our minds) I would go on record as to say I do not want Callum Burton ever starting a match for this club in the Championship. Some may call that harsh but if you want to survive in that league there’s no room to carry anyone – especially a goalkeeper.
I would expect the club to feel the same and to sign a goalkeeper who is a more secure candidate to support and challenge Cooper. This might be an older, more experienced keeper (this is where I would look if recruiting for the club) or a stronger League 1 or 2 keeper who might fancy their chances at a Championship starting spot if it looks like Cooper could be out for some time longer. I wouldn’t say for sure what the club would do, but I do think they’ll assess it as more of a key area than fans might perceive it to be right now.
So, what next? A lot, apparently. Players in every position. Loan FC have to adapt and survive in a new league, now. Expect Dewsnip’s contacts to link us with some high profile or hot prospect loans from some top clubs. After all, even if the Loan FC slander was accurate we are now clearly a top club for elite teams to develop their youngsters at. The success of Mumba alone will be enough to encourage Premier League teams.
With the budget now three times larger than the season just gone (finally putting us level with this season’s self-crowned ‘best team in League 1 history’ Ipswich Town) expect some bigger names, some exciting loan deals and a lot of action. The team needs strengthening all over and, given how well they have done recruitment in the last couple years, I for one am desperately excited to see it.