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 Luke McCormick and Mike Cooper, Argyle already have two goalkeepers heading into the 2020/21 campaign. That may seem like enough, but circumstances can change quickly. After all, the Greens went in to the 2018/19 season thinking Harry Burgoyne would be their first-choice custodian. If Argyle do decide to dip into the market, here are ten goalkeepers who will be available.
Club: Bolton Wanderers
Clean sheets: 8
An obvious one to kick us off. The vast majority of Argyle fans will have fond memories of Matthews from his time at the club during the 2017/18 campaign. He was a cut above anything Argyle had experienced in many years prior, and arguably since. Considering the outcome in 2018/19, it’s highly unfortunate that Matthews wasn’t around for another year.
Since his Home Park experience, Matthews has had a fairly unsuccessful time of it at Bolton. Many may recoil in horror at the sheer amount of goals he conceded last term, but it’s important to note the circumstances in which he was playing. Financial problems ravaged Bolton to the extent that Matthews’ move almost collapsed last January, and he spent the start of last season playing behind a defence consisting mainly of children.
Realistically, it’s best for both parties that Matthews and Bolton have parted ways. One would suspect that he won’t be short of options, but who knows for sure given the current circumstances? Argyle, perhaps more than most, are well aware of Matthews’ talents, and the player himself experienced his most successful spell at Home Park. Looking at the situation from the outside, this transfer would seem to make perfect sense.
Club: Salford City
Clean sheets: 4
With two goalkeepers already signed on for next season, it may well be the case that Argyle are not exactly looking for a first choice, as Matthews would undoubtedly expect. If Lowe is indeed looking to strengthen the ranks with another backup option, he could do far worse than the experienced Chris Neal.
Argyle fans may well be familiar with him – back in 2014 it was he who saved Reuben Reid’s penalty as Argyle somehow contrived to lose to Port Vale and miss out on the fourth round of the FA Cup. But Neal has done far more than that – whilst Vale are the club at which he’s made the most appearances, he’s been trusted between the sticks elsewhere. Most recently, he was starting regularly for Salford before the COVID crisis put an end to his club’s campaign.
Location may be an issue with this one. The closest he’s ever been to Plymouth was a spell with Shrewsbury back in 2012, and the vast majority of his clubs have been in the North West. One suspects that, in an ideal world, he’d like to stay in that part of the country. However, if Argyle want to make a move at a time like this, the offer of guaranteed income may be too good to turn down.
Clean sheets: 0
Perhaps an option if Argyle are looking for a little more potential rather than shelling out for the finished article, Shamal George was released by Liverpool at the end of June. He didn’t make a single appearance for the Premier League champions, though he has been in and around the first team squad in pre-season campaigns. Back in 2016 he was forced to play up front in a friendly against Huddersfield after Jurgen Klopp had used all of his substitutions – and he nearly scored.
In competitive action, George’s career has been far less exciting. His four football league appearances to date came in a loan spell with Carlisle, whilst he’s also had spells with Tranmere and, most recently, Northern Premier side Marine. Clearly, George’s career has not flourished in the way his illustrious former employers would have desired, but 22 is still very young for a goalkeeper, and he at least has time on his side.
We know Ryan Lowe has strong ties with Liverpool, so he will know all about George’s development. If he’s looking for a cheap option who can develop and eventually challenge at Home Park, George may well be the man.
Club: Bolton Wanderers
Clean sheets: 0
Ben Alnwick is a player who will be available this summer, and has in fact been available since January. Having spent the start of the season behind a certain Remi Matthews in the pecking order at Bolton, his contract was mutually terminated at the end of 2019. Given the lack of income since, the pandemic could hardly have come at a worse time for Alnwick.
However, don’t let his lack of game time fool you. Alnwick is a talented goalkeeper who will generate interest this summer. After coming through at Sunderland, Tottenham saw enough to take a punt on him back in 2007. Umpteen loan spells meant he never seemed settled, but he did manage to eventually find a home at Peterborough, before making 95 appearances for the Trotters.
As mentioned, he came through the ranks at Sunderland, and it would appear that the Black Cats are interested in his signature this summer. Phil Parkinson, now manager at everyone’s favourite Netflix sob story, knows all about Alnwick having managed him whilst at Bolton. Argyle would face competition if they make a move – it may not even be worthwhile – but his talent cannot be denied.
Club: Birmingham City
Appearances: 3 (2 for Wycombe, 1 for Birmingham)
Conceded: 6 (3 Wycombe, 3 Birmingham)
Clean sheets: 0
The second ex-Argyle man to feature on this list, David Stockdale has spent the last month celebrating following his promotion from League One with Wycombe. Now the dust has settled, however, he finds himself released from parent club Birmingham City at 34 years of age, and looking for a new club in the most challenging of circumstances.
It’s fair to say his career has taken a nosedive in recent years. Since playing an integral role in Brighton’s promotion to the Premier League, he’s had spells at Birmingham, Southend, Coventry and Wycombe. In the last couple of years at least, he hasn’t really tasted regular action at any of those clubs. However, that’s not to say he has nothing to offer – Gareth Ainsworth showered him in praise for his off-field influence following Wycombe’s play-off victory.
This is possibly one Argyle may have pursued had Luke McCormick not joined up with the Greens last week. However, as we’ve mentioned, circumstances can change, so don’t be surprised if Ryan Lowe does end up making this move happen.
Club: Blackburn Rovers
Clean sheets: 0
Jayson Leutwiler came through the ranks at FC Basel in Switzerland, but his career really kicked off in the 2014-15 season. Signing for Shrewsbury, he immediately became their number one, and was part of the best defence in League Two as Salop won promotion. He continued to appear regularly in Shropshire before making what would appear to be a natural step up to Blackburn in 2017.
Unfortunately, whilst the move may have aided Leutwiler’s bank balance, it’s not had the same effect on his career development. He holds Canadian citizenship, and has now made three appearances for Canada, but his club game time has not reflected what he’s achieved on the international stage. His only appearances last season came in the cups, and he’s now out of contract following his release from Ewood Park.
Leutwiler is the sort of player who Derek Adams would have loved to have signed. He has great pedigree in the lower leagues, but has undoubtedly lost his way across the last few years. If it’s a shrewd signing Lowe is looking for this summer, he ought to look no further.
Appearances: 3 (on loan at AFC Fylde)
Clean sheets: 2
Josh Lillis has served Rochdale with distinction over the last eight years. Since joining from Scunthorpe back in 2012, he’s made 291 appearances for Dale, clocking up 90 clean sheets in the process. His time at the club has coincided with promotion to League One in 2014, Rochdale’s first appearance in the third tier since the early 70s. He’s also been a part of several great escapes along the way to help Dale maintain their League One status.
He’s another who has seen his career take a slight downturn over recent years. Many Argyle fans may remember the part he played in a comical own goal back in 2018, which saw the Greens claim a 2-1 victory at Spotland. Rochdale ended up replacing him between the sticks, and when the season was suspended, Lillis had just started a loan spell with AFC Fylde in the National League.
Much like Stockdale, Lillis is the sort of player you’d expect Argyle to have been interested in before McCormick joined. He’d be an underwhelming signing as first choice to say the least, but as somebody able to provide guidance and experience when required, there may not be many better still out there.
Club: Peterborough United
Appearances: 9 (on loan at Tranmere)
Clean sheets: 2
As with many on this list, Chapman has experienced success in the past, but a misguided move has seen his career grind to a halt. He was a late bloomer, starting his career with non-league Belper Town, and his best spell came between 2016-18 at Accrington. He was virtually ever-present during the 2017/18 season as Stanley were promoted to League One as champions.
From there, he made what many would consider a sensible step forward, joining Peterborough in the summer of 2018. He started well enough, making 22 consecutive appearances as Steve Evans’ side made a flying start, but as form dipped, he began to fall out of favour. For the 2019/20 season, he was replaced at Peterborough by Christy Pym, and his only appearances came during a short loan spell with League One strugglers Tranmere.
There is undoubtedly a player there, and should Argyle decide to sign a first-choice keeper ahead of Mike Cooper he’d certainly fit the bill. He’d arguably be one of the better custodians in the division if he could recapture his Accrington form.
Club: Lincoln City
Clean sheets: 10
Josh Vickers is one of the players on this list who has very recent and very real League One experience. He was ever-present in the league for Lincoln last season, keeping ten clean sheets in the process. He even saved a late penalty against Burton in the final game he played before the season’s suspension to secure the Imps a 3-2 win.
Vickers has done well to build his career across many leagues. He started off in the academy at Arsenal, before spending two full seasons on loan in non-league football with Canvey Island and Concord Rangers. His first football league appearances came in unfortunate circumstances at Barnet, as they were relegated at the end of the 2016/17 campaign, but better times were to come at Lincoln. The last three years have undoubtedly been the pinnacle of his career to date.
Lincoln are an ambitious club, and appear to be restructuring their side after a 16th-place finish last term. Vickers has become a victim of that, but he shouldn’t have any trouble finding another club. He’s only 24, and Argyle could have a gem on their hands if they decide to make a move.
Clean sheets: 0
Right, you’ll have to hear me out on this one. Joe Hart, with his Premier League pedigree, league titles and 75 England caps really needs no introduction. A hugely successful career at Manchester City saw him make 348 appearances, before the arrival of Pep Guardiola ultimately spelt the end for him. With the greatest of respect, that’s quite a bit different to a career at a club being ended by the likes of Tony Mowbray and Keith Hill.
That could perhaps suggest that Hart is far beyond Argyle’s level, even with his downturn in recent seasons taken into account. That’s probably correct, but we are at the very least able to clutch at a single straw. It was reported last month that Shrewsbury were looking to set up a sensational return for Hart to his boyhood club, and if they believe they have the financial power to sign him, surely Argyle would also. And if Shrewsbury believe they could tempt Hart to League One, Argyle could too, right?
Probably not. Indeed, despite all of my hopes, Hart probably has his sights far beyond the third tier. If recent reports are anything to go by, Celtic would probably be the favourites to secure a deal. But let a man dream.