Across the last fortnight, Plymouth Argyle’s summer has sparked into life. We cast our eye over the free agents available to pick up during this transfer window.
In Lowe’s system, the defensive midfield position can often be key. Whilst the Argyle manager loves to attack, the man sitting just behind the creative midfield players offers solidity in front of the back three, as well as a link to the attackers when playing out of the back. Despite that, with Joe Edwards seemingly preferred at wing back, there’s no obvious candidate in the squad at the moment to play a full season in the position. Here are ten free agents who could rectify that issue.
Club: Bradford City
Three years ago, Bradford spent £150,000 to bring Jake Reeves to Valley Parade. After playing 109 times for AFC Wimbledon in his three seasons there, he made just 43 appearances in the claret and amber – working out at more than £3,000 for every game he took part.
The Londoner’s spell in Yorkshire was ruined by injury, missing nearly two years with a groin issue. Any team that was interested in signing him would have to conduct a robust medical – it is understandable why many teams would prefer someone whose fitness is proven.
Reeves mostly played as a defensive midfielder under Gary Bowyer, but was moved further forward by Stuart McCall when he took over in February. If he was to join Argyle, he would likely play as the link between Danny Mayor and a sitting midfielder, where his calm manner in possession would be most useful.
Argyle fans should remember Conor Grant when thinking about Reeves’ injury-proneness – last season he mostly stayed fit and was an important member of Ryan Lowe’s squad. Maybe the same could happen with Reeves.
Club: Lincoln City
Lee Frecklington is in the unusual position of being a cult hero among fans of two different clubs. 169 appearances over two spells with his hometown Lincoln City is a record to be proud of, but his five-year spell at Rotherham is where most supporters will remember him.
He has a knack for scoring goals from midfield, notching 26 in his 157 Rotherham matches. He is a leader, too, having been made club captain at both of the aforementioned clubs. Argyle’s young squad could benefit from the 34-year-old’s leadership experience.
His body is, unfortunately, on the decline. A complex groin injury ensured he only played one game for the Imps last season, and he’s 35 in September. Could he manage another season, especially in a team that plays up-tempo football like Ryan Lowe’s Argyle? It’s hard to doubt his talent – he has spent much of his career in the second tier, where he has been a popular figure with supporters. The concern surrounds his fitness. He may have to find another club, who play football at a slower pace, if he is to survive a full 46-game season.
Club: Bradford City
Hope Akpan would be another one of those signings who, as well as being a potentially tidy option for Argyle, would also be a signal of intent to the rest of the league that we’re in League One to compete rather than simply make up the numbers. Akpam came through the famed Everton academy and whilst he wasn’t quite good enough to make it for the Toffees, he’s enjoyed a career at (mostly) higher levels than the one Argyle are playing at now.
A promising start to his career at Crawley saw him go on to feature prominently for a few Championship clubs, Blackburn most notably. As with many players on this list, his career has taken a bit of a stall in more recent years, being relegated from this league with Bradford in 2018/19. That said, man for man it wasn’t a relegation side and he was proving more than competent in their bid for promotion this season before the lockdown stopped football.
It’s notable too that he played for Nigeria four times. Taribo West was the last Nigerian international to don the green shirt and if nothing else, we’re sure Akpan would do a far better job…
Club: Fleetwood Town
Despite featuring 21 times for Joey Barton’s Fleetwood last season, Dempsey was deemed surplus to requirements for 2020/21.
After progressing through the Carlisle United academy, Dempsey earned himself a place in the Cumbrians’ starting line-up. After featuring 47 times and amassing 10 goals, he then secured a step up to then Championship side Huddersfield Town. After 21 appearances in two years the Terriers opted to loan the out of favour Dempsey out to League 1 club Fleetwood Town before he made the move permanent the year after. Dempsey made himself a steady figure in the Cod Army’s squad before he was loaned out to Peterborough in January of this year.
It’s fair say that, with 232 appearances to his name, Dempsey has plenty of Football League experience despite only being 24 years of age.
Dempsey operates as a box to box midfielder and is very comfortable with the ball at his feet. A quick turn of pace and neat ball control allows him to turn quickly and dart upfield with the ball. Equally equipped at playing the killer ball and providing a lethal finish, Kyle Dempsey is the perfect all-rounder of the lower leagues.
Although Dempsey may operate better further afield, or in a two there, is no questioning that he would give a different edge to the Argyle midfield.
Club: Blackburn Rovers
Championship stalwart Richard Smallwood is another possible signing for this role and in theory he’d be something of a marquee acquisition were he to come to Home Park. Smallwood has spent his career almost exclusively in the Championship (bar a couple of loan spells) and entirely in the North of England. Doubtless, he would be a coup if he were to drop down to this level and relocate to the far south west.
He has just been let go following two years at Blackburn Rovers but he is perhaps best known for his spell with Rotherham United where he famously scored the penalty that promoted them to the Championship with the first spot kick of his entire career. He is a tough tackling player for whom shielding the defence is of paramount importance.
There is perhaps one area of doubt. Smallwood is not the most sophisticated of passers of the ball and Argyle’s fortunes last season improved when we moved Joe Edwards out of that CDM position and put more technical passers like Josh Grant (and to an extent, Tyreeq Bakinson) into the deepest lying role. Nonetheless, we’d be foolish to deny that he’d offer something.
Club: Carlisle United
After graduating from the Manchester City academy in 2006, Etuhu had a bright start to life in football. With one assist and goal to his name at the Etihad Stadium, he seemed likely to progress into quite the player. The Citizens deemed Etuhu not quite ready to be a feature in their squad and subsequently sent him on loan to Rochdale, Leicester and finally Cardiff. Perhaps Manchester City would have kept Etuhu without his 8-month jail sentence for assault. We’ll never know.
After suffering relegation with a cash strapped Portsmouth, it seemed likely that Etuhu would remain at Fratton Park. Ge expressed his desire to remain on the south coast and then manager Michael Appleton was confident that the Nigerian would stay. However, I wasn’t to be, and the Nigerian traded life at Fratton Park for that a new chapter at Oakwell with Barnsley.
It was with Barnsley that Etuhu made the transition from forward to midfield, as David Flitcroft deemed Etuhu’s attributes suitable for the middle of the park. After his release from Barnsley Etuhu moved back to Greater Manchester with Bury, playing alongside a certain Mr Ryan Lowe.
Although Etuhu is one of the lower quality players on the list, he has demonstrated a number of attributes which could make him a useful addition to Lowe’s side. His strong stature allows him to be a presence in both penalty areas, and alongside this he also demonstrates an ability to play effective long balls forwards as well as sideways. At 32 years of age, it might be a little too late for him to have a significant impact, but his experience may be an attribute Lowe values.
Club: Northampton Town
Was experienced just mentioned there as a positive factor in a potential deal for Etuhu? Well, box that up, shake it around and multiply it, and you may come out with Alan McCormack. He’ll turn 37 in January, and there are surely very few players out there with more worthy football league experience than the Irishman.
But just because we talk about experience, we shouldn’t detract from his abilities as a player. Having delivered over the years for the likes of Southend, Brentford and Swindon, this season at Northampton has shown McCormack demonstrating his prowess at both ends of the field. Strong in the tackle and not afraid of letting rip with a long shot or two, he could certainly be an influence for Lowe right across the pitch. He was particularly impressive in Northampton’s second leg victory over Cheltenham in the play-offs.
In addition to his experience and ability, McCormack brings versatility. He’s mainly a defensive midfielder, but across his career he has also played further upfield, as well as filling in at centre back and on both flanks. Oh, and he’s also got experience of playing in front of a back three under Keith Curle. Honestly, there are so many little plus points that could make this a very clever signing for the Greens.
Club: Hull City
We’ve had a few on the list so far who would be ideal cheap options for Argyle. So how about this for a bit of ambition? Kevin Stewart started off at Tottenham, but is best known for coming through the ranks at Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp. Klopp liked him, but there was never likely to be a place for him in Liverpool’s eventual world-conquering midfield.
In the summer of 2017, he was sold to Hull City for a fee that, whilst undisclosed, was believed to be in the region of £4 million. Despite that fairly hefty price tag, it’s not exactly been a happy marriage. Hull have, of course, struggled in that time, and had their relegation to League One recently confirmed. Stewart, for his part, has failed to really put a run of games together across the last three years, with injuries and occasional poor form meaning he never really settled.
But despite all of that, he’s still likely to be a coveted prize this summer. It’s likely Hull would have kept him if they managed to survive in the Championship, and there’s every chance that he’ll pick up another contract in the second tier across the next month. And yet, Argyle may feel they could make a move happen.
No matter how good they are, every free agent will feel a little uncertain in these tough times, and the offer of guaranteed income may be too good to turn down. Add in the fact he came through at Liverpool, a club Lowe knows all too well, and there may just be a chance of this one happening.
Club: AFC Wimbledon
Perhaps less impressive than some of the names on this list, there is still a chance that Anthony Wordsworth could revive his career in the South West. He still has a chance to fulfil some of the early promise that he showed glimpses of when his career began at Colchester.
Although primarily a deeper midfielder, Wordsworth gained something of a reputation in his youth for appearing in goal of the month competitions with surprising regularity. A free kick specialist who was by no means shabby from open play, Wordsworth also took penalties. He was a key part of a successful era for Colchester United where they competed towards the top end of League One for spells (that saw manager Paul Lambert poached). His good form was rewarded with a big move to local rivals Ipswich Town in 2013.
There, his career never really took off and after a few loans he had a solid but unspectacular spell at Southend United. Whilst he didn’t exactly pull up any trees, the Shrimpers were a lot worse without him over the last two seasons. Two years at Wimbledon saw him leave at the end of the most recent campaign. Could we see a return to Carey style stunners if he makes the move west?
Club: Southend United
Sam Mantom is a player released by Southend United following their horrendous relegation season in League One last season. Surely not somebody Argyle should be targeting as they prepare for their own campaign at the same level, right?
Well, some of those concerns may be justified, but Mantom is talented. Whilst the last twelve months haven’t been the kindest, his football league pedigree speaks for itself. He’s had good spells in the past with Scunthorpe and particularly Walsall, and he’s made just shy of 250 appearances at League One level. One suspects he will make more, and that his release from Southend was more down to Mantom’s desire not to drop down a level, rather than the club wishing to be rid of him.
Everyone had a terrible time at Southend last season, but Mantom at least had some crumbs of comfort to take away. He got to captain the side on a few occasions, and getting even six assists from midfield in a team like that is miraculous. Leadership? A little creativity? He’d be a more than acceptable choice for this position in Lowe’s side.