This past decade has seen players arrive at Home Park and demonstrate the potential to play top flight football – some of which have. Others have left a great impact on the club, as their actions have helped to positively change the club’s future. As 2019 draws to a close, we’ve reviewed the past ten years to pick out the top fifty Pilgrims to have donned our Green and White.
It’s important to note three things: first, this is not a competition of the best players; we have not judged players based purely on their skill, but also their impact. Jake Cole may not be the most able goalkeeper in Plymouth Argyle’s history, but he left a greater impact than most, as his performances were vital in avoiding relegation to the National League for two consecutive seasons. For that, he gets a ranking higher than that of Alex Palmer, who is a better keeper objectively speaking but has had a significantly smaller impact on the club.
Second, players have been judged according to their ability across all the time they were at the club, not just their peak. For example, Conor Hourihane in his first eighteen months wouldn’t get close to this list, but the Hourihane of the final five months before his departure would probably outrank all but a select few individuals in terms of ability. This has been factored into his ranking, instead of merely taking him at his peak.
Finally, this list is not perfect. It is notoriously difficult to rank players, let alone more than 200 of them across a ten year spell. To build this list, we spent hours debating, ranking and re-ranking lists of players until we arrived on a list that we were happy with. There will be players that you believe should be ranked higher, lower, or shouldn’t be on the list at all. You can’t please everyone. Please remember that while you’re complaining on social media having read this list. Otherwise, enjoy…
30: Maxime Blanchard
Clean sheets: 27
Maxime Blanchard was a fan favourite during his time at Argyle, playing over a hundred games for the Greens. He was used to fill gaps at right back and defensive midfield at times, but was most at home in the centre of defence. “Le Max” formed a formidable partnership with Darren Purse through the 2011/2012 season and would go onto win Argyle’s Player of the Season that year, having a vital role in the league survival of the club.
Blanchard also scored four goals for the club, including a number of thunderous headers, but the pick of the bunch was an acrobatic overhead effort to secure a late draw against Crawley. Comfortable on the ball, Blanchard’s composed performances early on in his Argyle career were what made him such an integral part of Argyles eventual survival.
29: Anthony O’Connor
Currently: Bradford City, League Two
What made Anthony O’Connor so crucial to John Sheridan’s 2014/15 side was his versatility. He could line up on either side as a full back or a wing back, in the centre of defence or the centre of midfield, and still be expected to deliver a stellar performance. No wonder Sheridan described him as his most important player in the early stages of the campaign.
O’Connor initially joined on loan from Blackburn from August until January, and when he returned to his parent club in the winter, he was sorely missed at Home Park. Luckily, Argyle took over O’Connor’s contract on transfer deadline day in February, and from there he went on a surprising run of goalscoring form, notching three between March and April of 2015. It wasn’t enough to take Argyle up in the end, but O’Connor is remembered fondly.
28: Yann Songo’o
Currently: Scunthorpe, League Two
What can you say about this guy? A figure of controversy, for sure. An iconic and eccentric legend to some, a gaffe prone liability to others, but two things cannot be denied. Firstly, he left a firm impression on the fanbase, featuring regularly in a rollercoaster three seasons. Second, he can never be accused of putting in anything less than maximum effort in his time at the club.
He was consistently solid in our promotion season out of League Two, doing a perfectly reasonable job at both centre back and central midfield. When we stepped up to League One, whilst he didn’t offer so much, he was a vital part of our revival in the Autumn of 2017, playing the more defensive style that allowed us to grind out wins before transitioning to a more attractive style of play.
His madcat style of defending, throwing head, leg and body in the way of every clearance, will live long in the memory.
27: Ben Purrington
Clean sheets: 17
Currently: Brighton and Hove Albion, Premier League
Many of Purrington’s years with Argyle were very much in his formative stages. If he’d had more time as the highly impressive Championship full-back that he now is, he’d no doubt rank higher on this list.
However, why he does still rank highly, despite his relative lack of impact compared to others, is he’s the one youth player this decade who we truly saw mature from a boy to a man before leaving us for better things.
In his first season, he did show real signs of promise and composure on the ball, getting an assist on his debut with a cracking whipped cross, and playing his way out of some tough situations. As time went on, he had spells in and out of the team, but he slowly improved and added more to his game as time went on.
His final season for us was his best, consistently performing to a high level of ability and getting himself scouted for a move to then championship Rotherham. Some fans begrudged the manner of his departure, but it’s a short career and who can truly blame him for getting what he believed to be the best deal for himself?
26: Jake Cole
Clean sheets: 22
Currently: Maidstone United, National League South
Jake Cole was the second reason Argyle stayed up in the 2012/2013 season. While Jason Banton was firing in the goals at one end, Cole was keeping them out at the other which meant Argyle survived by a point. Joining the club on a free, Cole would go on to play just over a hundred games for Argyle in three seasons until he left for Woking at the end of the 2013/2014 season.
Cole beat out club legend Romain Larrieu and Rene Gilmartin for the gloves in his first two years, and had a huge role in the survival of the club. An excellent shot stopper and distributor, Cole put in some superb performances to end the 2012/2013 season.
25: Yala Bolasie
Currently: Sporting CP, Portuguese Primeira Liga
At the start of the decade, the name ‘Yala Bolasie’ was something of a running joke amongst Argyle fans. He was the signing who never played. Like Gyorgy Sandor and Larys Mabiala before him, he hadn’t featured at all, save for friendlies, in his 18 months at the club.
That all changed on a blustery afternoon in Barnsley in February 2010. Argyle went in at half-time 1-0 down and were staring down the relegation barrel. A lanky Congolese winger was brought on early in the second half and he changed the game beyond recognition.
Bolasie soon grew into a fan favourite, with his fantastic dribbling ability complimenting his attacking intent and willingness to take a risk on the pitch.
His defending was a lot better than it was given credit for too, and whilst he was lively in the Championship, he thrived in League One. Had he had a little more luck with injuries, Argyle may have had just enough to stay up that year despite a points deduction. As with Joe Mason, his sale gave us the necessary money to survive as a club until James Brent saved the club.
24: Reda Johnson
Clean sheets: 8
Currently: Eastleigh, National League
Johnson was a solid defender at the start of the decade for Argyle, earning a reputation for being strong in the air and composed at the back, particularly when considering the performances of those around him.
Just a promising 21-year-old when he arrived, he matured quickly in the pressure of a relegation campaign during his first season, kicking on as Argyle adjusted to life in League One. He was one of three key players to leave in January 2011 – alongside Craig Noone and Bradley Wright-Phillips – as administration hit and Argyle went from potential play-off candidates to favourites for relegation.
His ability to win headers was pretty much unparalleled within the team. He was a virtual beanpole at the back for Argyle, combining his height, muscular strength and sense of when to jump to win aerial duels better than virtually anyone else. That, combined with his electric (by the standards of a centre back) pace meant that he rightly earned a big money move to Hillsborough.
Was he perfect? No. He was prone to the odd brain fart every now and again. But overall, on pure ability, he’d be a very good shout for team of the decade.
23: Freddie Ladapo
Currently: Rotherham United, League One
Possibly the best frustrating player Argyle had all decade. Freddie Ladapo was very good at scoring goals, which you’d think would be the benchmark for any striker. In Ryan Lowe’s current system, he’d be absolutely lethal. The problem he, and the side, had last season was the fact that Derek Adams’ system required a target man to operate effectively. Ladapo was not one of those.
Watching him try to hold up the ball last season was painful. For every occasion when he put lesser opponents to the sword with a regular brace, there was another where he was totally anonymous. It was enough to make any member of the Green Army want to tear their hair out. That being said, it wasn’t Ladapo’s fault that Adams built a system around him without taking his strengths and weaknesses into account, and a player of his goalscoring talent certainly couldn’t miss out on this list entirely.
22: Peter Hartley
Clean sheets: 35
Currently: Motherwell, Scottish Premiership
‘Yard dog’ was one of the players inherited by Derek Adams after the John Sheridan era. Hartley saw success in Sheridan’s style, but really started to excel under Adams. Arriving on a free after being released by Stevenage, the Hartlepool-born defender made 81 appearances in Green, notching 6 goals. No prizes for guessing the 6th one.
Hartley was known for his somewhat old-school style defending as he was more of a brute than his skilful partner Curtis Nelson. Pompey midfielder Gary Roberts was one to point this out after being on the end of a flailing Hartley elbow at Fratton Parlk. It was against Roberts’ side that Hartley hit his Argyle peak. His 91st minute header somehow found its way into the net to take the Greens to Wembley.
21: Oscar Threlkeld
Clean sheets: 34
Currently: Salford City, League Two
25-year-old Oscar Threlkeld first joined the Greens as a utility youngster on a loan spell from Bolton Wanderers. Threlkeld quickly became a fan favourite due to his robust style and stylistic challenges. Deployed in the centre of midfield and also as a right-back, Threlkeld was vital to Adams’ often depleted squad.
Part of the promotion season and a key component of Argyle’s first year back in League One, Threlkeld left Home Park in the search of a new challenge in Belgium. However, he returned from Europe just six months later. That wasn’t the finest spell of the four he had at the club, perhaps hampered by the disfunctional style utilised by Adams in his final season. It did not, however, cast a shadow over the effect he had on the club in the seasons prior.