Plymouth Argyle are starting to piece their squad together for the 2021-22 season. It’s therefore time for us to start looking at the free agents who may be available to sign during this summer transfer window.
Centre back is set to be a key position for Argyle and Ryan Lowe in this window. Aside from youth prospects, all of Argyle’s defenders of last season have since departed. The Greens have already added James Wilson, Dan Scarr and Macaulay Gillesphey to their ranks, but there is still work to be done. Will Lowe still poised to utilise the transfer market, here are ten available centre backs who could be of use to his side.
Club: Wycombe Wanderers
Ryan Lowe made no pretence of one thing as last season came to its miserable end. He was fed up of Argyle’s pack of ‘waifs and strays’ defenders. The experiment of chucking Will Aimson in with a plethora of loanees and kids did not end well. Lowe made it very clear Argyle were going to go for experienced pros: for want of a better term, men who know how to play the game even if they might not be perfect technicians.
Who sums that up quite like Darius Charles. To say that he’s a “safety-first” defender is an understatement. He’s most associated with Graham Westley’s Stevenage, Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe and Neil Ardley’s Wimbledon. All sides that play primarily a counter-attacking game. I hope Lowe won’t abandon his possession-based principles entirely. Charles would need to show he could ‘play a bit’ too. Yet if nothing else, he certainly would personify a summer in which the main shift is one to reliability and solidity in the back three.
Club: Bristol City
Mariappa is the sort of player who may be available due to the stage of his career. He’s got great pedigree, having played in the Premier League across two spells at Watford whilst making an impression at Reading and Crystal Palace in between. His 51 international caps for Jamaica show how highly he has been valued across a significant period of time.
But it’s not that time right now. He turns 35 in October, and only got a contract last season due to an injury crisis at Bristol City. He did well enough to earn a contract extension until the end of the campaign, but the Robins have released him now, suggesting beyond all doubt he certainly isn’t the player he once was.
But whilst that may be true, you don’t lose all of your ability overnight. Mariappa would still be a coup for Argyle, and Argyle may suit Mariappa. You’d imagine Lowe has at least a passing interest in making Mariappa the latest in a long line of players to swap Ashton Gate for Home Park.
Cards on the table, this one’s a bit of an unknown quantity. Wakely’s only senior experience came a few seasons ago with a loan at Basingstoke, and this season he’s appeared exclusively in Premier League 2 for Chelsea’s youth side. The Blues kept 2 clean sheets in his 14 appearances, which is hardly ideal, but of course a whole team’s level of defending can’t be pinned on one individual.
He may be inexperienced at League One level, but that’s not to say a move should be ruled out. He has the ability to play in any position across the back three, which would be a huge asset to Lowe in the current system. And time is on his side – as one Chelsea fan site put it, “the market for tall, physical and versatile 20-year-old English centre backs will never die down.”
You’d probably want him to play alongside more of a “leader” figure at the back, but if he does, Wakely could well be a gamble worth taking.
Club: Bradford City
Ok, it seems like a lazy choice. If any of you are members of Argyle Facebook groups, you’ll have seen that it’s become a bit of a meme to link Argyle with every former player to be let go or to reject a contract from their previous club. It’s been going on since the end of the season.
That said, there are many reasons why O’Connor is a legitimate choice. He’s primarily a centre-back; he combines leadership ability with perfectly competent defending. These are both things we badly missed last season.
Furthermore, he’s versatile which is especially useful for a 3-5-2 system. As well as centre-back, he could also cover the role of the deepest CM or even the right-wing-back. Released by Bradford, you might say? Well, that’s true but ultimately they let a lot of players go who might be of use. They’re appointing a new manager and wanted a fresh start. O’Connor could easily be the squad player to offer Argyle a fresh start by going back to the future.
Status: Offered new contract
Danny Mayor. Byron Moore. Dominic Telford. The list goes on. One thing for certain since Argyle appointed Ryan Lowe in 2019 is that he’s always liked to look to familiar faces, especially those from his days at Bury.
Eoghan O’Connell was part of Lowe’s 2018/19 promotion winning side at Bury that kept 13 clean sheets in the process. The Irishman joined Rochdale in 2019 and despite their relegation to League Two last season, conceding 78 goals, the 25-year-old is the perfect signing on paper for the Pilgrims. The former Celtic man utilises his ability on the ball, making runs through the middle (77% dribbling success rate) to progress the play, whilst also boasting an impressive 87% passing success rate. Such attributes meant that occasionally he was deployed as a central midfielder for Dale.
O’Connell doesn’t score many, unlike Argyle’s other defensive signings who are likely to chip in with a few, but in true Conor Grant style, when he does score it’s well worth the wait. Long-range efforts against Gillingham last season, and another for Bury against Stevenage back in 2018 are well worth a watch! As it is, I can only find this pixelated version of a pre-season goal for Celtic against Leicester to show here.
Club: Shrewsbury Town
Playing alongside the likes of Mason Greenwood, Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong at reserve team level, Ro-Shaun Williams followed in the steps of many before him as the then 19-year-old left boyhood club Manchester United in search of first-team experience in January 2019.
Two-and-a-half years and 81 appearances later, the now 22-year-old is set to leave fellow League One side Shrewsbury upon the expiry of his contract. Like many of Ryan Lowe’s previous recruits at Home Park, the Englishman is versatile, also able to operate at right-back or right midfield. Such is his pace getting forward and his ball playing ability that he could be an ideal alternative option at RWB, providing a slightly different skillset to Joe Edwards. As a central defender in a back three, his pace could prove vital, something that is generally uncharacteristic for a player in his position.
Williams made 40 appearances last season as Shrewsbury finished 17th, a point and a place above Argyle. There was a feeling amongst the Salop fanbase that he perhaps should’ve pushed on further after clocking up 25 appearances in his breakthrough season in 2019/20. Nonetheless, his talent is still raw and under the right guidance, he could be a shrewd signing.
Club: Bristol City
Former England youth international Nathan Baker was released by Bristol City this summer, after making 87 appearances for the Robins in four years.
The left-footed centre-back is not the most elegant or modern defender. Those who have managed him praise his defensive acumen and commitment. His skills with the ball leave much to be desired, however, making him an imperfect solution for a manager who likes to build from the back.
Baker’s all-action style has had a toll on his body. He missed all but the final three games of last season with an injury, which has been a theme of his career. Baker would make a decent signing, but Argyle would require a lot of cover just in case Baker was once again stricken.
Coventry have been linked with a move for Baker. It ostensibly makes sense. Coventry gain a defender with Premier League experience and Baker gets to stay on Championship wages while moving back nearer his home in the Midlands. It seems improbable that Argyle will make a move for him. But who knows?
Appearances: 31 (14 on loan at Southend United, 17 on loan at Scunthorpe United)
Goals: 2 (1 Southend, 1 Scunthorpe)
Assists: 1 (at Scunthorpe)
You know, not every player on this list, or indeed on Argyle’s radar, is set to be a sure-fire starter. Indeed, with three centre backs already signed this summer, there’s every chance the Argyle management may be searching for a cheaper option to provide adequate backup when required. Cordner may well be that option.
Indeed, signing him as a starter would be fairly underwhelming. He spent the first half of last season on loan at League Two Scunthorpe, and the second half on loan at Southend who were relegated from the same division. He’s now being linked with both a return to Southend and a move to Weymouth, and none of that seems to suggest any League One quality.
But time is on his side. Aged 22 and released from a relatively local parent club in Bournemouth, signing Cordner may make more sense than it initially appears.
Club: Huddersfield Town
Tommy Elphick certainly has one characteristic Ryan Lowe is looking for in his defence: experience. The 33-year-old has made over 300 appearances in League football, most of them at Championship level.
Elphick played in midfield earlier in his career, but as he’s aged, he’s moved into the centre of defence. He has a lot of admirable qualities – a defender adept on the ground, in the air thanks to his heigh,t and a reasonable passer because of his training as a midfielder.
However, there is one thing Elphick lacks – pace. He’s never been the quickest, but age and a spate of knee injuries have diminished him further. His lack of pace means he’d struggle to cover the spaces behind the wing-backs in Ryan Lowe’s 3-1-4-2. He would have to play in the middle of the back three if he were to join.
Elphick is coming towards the twilight of his career. If he fancies one last challenge, he could be useful in lifting an inexperienced defensive line out of the League One doldrums.
Appearances: 42 (on loan at Fleetwood Town)
6 ft 1 inch Callum Connolly feels as though he’s the sort of player Lowe will be after. That may well be down to the fact he hails from Merseyside, and has just been released by Everton, but he has a number of eye-catching talents that would appeal to Argyle at this moment in time.
Most significantly, perhaps, would be his leadership. Connolly played 3,775 minutes of football on loan at Fleetwood, bettered only by one player in the squad, and he clearly made an impression. He was trusted to captain the side on a number of occasions, particularly during the second half of the campaign and including the Cod Army’s 5-1 win over Argyle back in November.
He also brings versatility. He spent much of last season at centre back, but has been known to cover at both right back and particularly defensive midfield. The right sided centre back role feels as though it would be ideal for him in Argyle’s season. And thus, of course Lowe ought to be interested. But expect some competition for his signature.