Last time, we fluked our way through the Sky Bet Championship play-off semi-finals and sh*thoused Crystal Palace at Wembley to win promotion to the most famous league in the world, the Premier League.
After the dust had settled, I had to make some difficult decisions. As we were not expecting to stay up in the Championship this season, let alone win promotion from it, my squad was nowhere near ready for the Premier League. With a transfer budget of £30.59m and a wage budget of £375k a week available for the next season, I asked myself several questions: Should I go all out and ‘do a Fulham’, buying lots of decent players that ultimately may not gel and then have to deal with an inflated budget in the Championship? Or do I splash out on a single marquee signing that could lead us to Premier League safety on his own? Alternatively, do I keep the lads who ultimately performed way above the expectations I had of them and won promotion for us? Many sleepless nights were had.
In a dream, it came to me; if you took a surface-level view of my transfer plans, you may be naive and compare it to the failures of Slaviša Jokanović. The idea was to make improvements in a lot of areas and attempt to use all of our transfer budget. We would look to improve the first team in some key areas (wing-backs/central midfielders/strikers) while also buying some talented prospects for the future. No single signing would exceed the poultry fee of £3m and we would try to plan for the (almost inevitable) future by inserted relegation clauses and making sure our squad is capable of dominating the Championship next season when we probably go straight back down again. #parachutepayments
So, first things first – let’s see who in the current squad needed moving out to achieve our goals this season.
In the first team squad, Mayor, Rose, Grant and Shephard depart. Mayor and Grant had been on our journey from the start and had never been anything short of incredible in a green shirt. Unfortunately, Mayor picked up too many injuries in his final season with the Argyle and declined rapidly and Conor Grant just wasn’t good enough for the Premier League, to put it simply. Shephard and Rose had been with us for two seasons, and both seemed to appear infrequently but popped up in the big moments.
Out of all of the departing loan players, I would love to bring in Jan Mlakar again next season and if Lewis becomes available, he could be a great back-up option at left wing-back.
We also have quite a few players who are in contract that will be surplus to requirements next season: Matt Butcher, Carlton Morris, Dom Telford, Adam Randell, Jacob Maddox and Brandon Austin are not good enough for the step up in quality and I will look to transfer/loan list a lot of them. Any that I fail to sell can act as a bit of a contingency plan should we be relegated at the end of our first season in the Premier League.
Now that we have looked at who has left and some potential departures, let’s do a whistle-stop tour of our #incomings.
15th June 2022 – Connor Ronan – £950k (£1.1m) from AS Monaco
Our first signing of the Premier League era at Home Park was Irish attacking midfielder Connor Ronan. Currently IRL he is in the reserves squad at Wolves but was bought in save by Ligue 1 rich kids AS Monaco for a cheap £375k in 2020. Ronan had loan spells at Cercle Brugge in the Belgian top flight and spent last season on loan at Hull City as the relegated club’s best player: he scored 4 and created 2 goals in 15 league appearances with an average rating of 7.03. Ronan is hopefully going to be a player that picks up where Danny Mayor left off while also adding to our homegrown contingent.
21st June 2022 – Jonathan – £725k (£850k) from UD Almeria
Second through the doors of the executive lounge in the Mayflower Stand was Brazilian left wing-back and thumbs-up aficionado Jonathan. I have to admit, this one is a bit of a risk as the defender has only played 10 league matches at the age of 24, but I think that his attributes should make him a very capable player in the green and white. A product of the Botafogo academy, Jonathan’s physicals and crossing should make him an attacking threat on the left wing.
23rd June 2022 – Gustavo Gomez – £2.8m (£2.9m) from OGC Nice
We smashed our record transfer fee on Paraguayan international Gustavo Gomez, who comes in from Ligue 1 side OGC Nice. The 29-year-old’s heading, marking and tackling attributes are exceptional in comparison to the rest of our centre-back options and he should fit nicely in the centre of our back three. The 51-time international joined Nice from Italian giants AC Milan in 2020 for a fee of £3.5m and had two steady seasons with Les Aiglons.
24th June 2022 – Pedro Diaz – £750k (£800k) from Sporting de Gijón
We replaced Mayor with Ronan, however we weren’t planning on keeping Jacob Maddox so needed another aggressive attacking midfielder as a rotation option. Pedro Diaz comes in from Gijón in the Spanish second division, where he had only made 3 appearances for the first team. (There’s a bit of a theme here…) Despite this, Pedro’s excellent technical attributes and set piece prowess should add another dimension to our attacks from midfield.
28th June 2022 – Josep Martinez – £525k (£575k) from UD Las Palmas
Brandon Austin had always been a safe backup between the sticks but I knew that he would not cut the mustard in the Premier League should Mike Cooper pick up an injury. Josep Martinez joins Pedro Diaz in coming to Home Park from the Spanish second division after initially coming through Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy. With monstrous aerial reach, reflexes and mental attributes, Josep looks to be the perfect competition for Cooper throughout this season.
1st July 2022 – Tom Trybull – Free from Norwich City
As July appeared, a couple of free transfers came in. Tom Trybull was the first of these players, with the German defensive midfielder joining from recently relegated Norwich City. Trybull offers an improvement in the deep-lying playmaker position and should be the first choice ahead of Luke Amos. Trybull spent part of last season on loan at Heerenveen where he would finish with an average rating of 7.23 at the Eredivisie club. The German midfielder brings a wealth of Premier League experience, which is very similar to our next signing…
1st July 2022 – Aboubakar Kamara – Free from Fulham
…Abou Kamara! The once-capped Senegal international joins from Championship rivals Fulham where he made 78 appearances and scored 19 goals (including 3 in the Premier League). Although Kamar is an improvement on the young starlet Janis Antiste in the role of advanced forward, he should mainly be used as a rotational option while we bed the French striker into the top flight.
1st July 2022 – Dider Ndong – £2.6m (£2.9m) from Dijon FCO
Another player with some Premier League experience is Didier Ndong. The Gabonese international came in to fill the space in midfield left by Conor Grant and Matt Butcher and also provides us with the versatility of a number of roles in midfield. After leaving Sunderland in 2018, Ndong played for Guingamp and Dijon in France. Ndong is my most risky signing, with the fee paid not reflective of the player’s quality, in my opinion. Unfortunately, options were limited and I’m sure he will prove me wrong throughout the season.
1st July 2022 – Iñigo Lekue – £1.9m from Athletic Bilbao
We bring a Basque flavour to our squad with the signing of Iñigo Lekue from La Liga side Athletic Bilbao. The experienced Spanish wing-back fills one of the right wing-back slots in the squad, where his 107 first team appearances in the top flight should bring some level-headed quality to our young team. Lekue is likely to be a rotation option this season due to his poor injury record in the past – he played a similar role in the squad for Bilbao last season.
7th July 2022 – Conor Gallagher – Loan from Chelsea
The first of our loan signings this season is Conor Gallagher, a product of the Chelsea youth academy. Another versatile midfielder, Gallagher will probably be the first choice box-to-box midfielder ahead of Didier Ndong. If Gallagher has a successful season, his potential ability makes him a fine prospect for a permanent transfer should he not make the grade at high-flying Chelsea.
9th July 2022 – Joel Andersson – Loan from Manchester United
Another international joins, with Joel Andersson coming in from Manchester United. The Swedish international signs on for the season for a fee of just £1m and he should easily be our first choice right wing-back. Manchester United bought Andersson from Danish side Midtjylland and after loan spells at Astana and Feyenoord, Andersson has his first taste of the Premier League at Home Park.
9th July 2022 – Adam Lewis – £325k from Liverpool
Adam Lewis knows his way around Home Park more than many experienced members of our squad! The ex-Liverpool left wing-back finally joins on a permanent transfer after two seasons on loan with Argyle, after the Reds transfer listed him at the end of the season. Lewis will fight it out for the starting spot on the left wing with Jonathan in what should be a battle of two very talented young players.
21st July 2022 – Jesús Garcia – £16.5k from Talavera
The 21st of July brought the very early transfer deadline day (due to strange fixture dates as a result of the impending 2022 World Cup in Qatar) and Jesús Garcia was the first of a whopping 7 players to join on deadline day. The Spanish defensive midfielder comes in from third division Talavera and will join our U18 squad.
21st July 2022 – Enrico Ambrosious – £84k from Mérida
Another talented young player for a very cheap fee, Enrico Ambrosious joins from another Spanish third division side in Mérida. The Austrian centre-back already has some excellent mental attributes and will join Garcia in our U18 squad.
21st July 2022 – Jaume Jardi – £775k from Barcelona B
Our final signing of many from Spain is talented attacker Jaume Jardi. Barcelona B decided to cash in on Jardi as he neared the end of his contract and the La Masia graduate should have a very bright future in Plymouth. Although his preferred and completely natural position is in the attacking midfield positions, I will be training the Spaniard as a pressing forward to join our U23 squad.
21st July 2022 – Josh Foster – £375k from Scunthorpe United
Only our second English signing of the window, young midfielder Josh Foster joins from League Two side Scunthorpe United. A tricky attacking midfielder, Foster should excel in scoring and creating goals from midfield as a part of our U23 squad.
21st July 2022 – Diogo Gama – Loan from AC Milan
The day before deadline day I had only just realised that we had very limited quality options at the top end of the pitch. A failed deadline day attempt of signing Albian Ajeti from West Ham led us to agreeing to Diogo Gama joining Argyle from AC Milan for a loan fee of just £205k. The Portuguese striker joined Milan from Vitória de Guimarães last season and he offers us a number of options up front.
21st July 2022 – Phil Jezeph – £160k (£200k) from Larne
Phil Jezeph is our final youth signing of the window, with the young English winger joining from Northern Irish side Larne. This guy is a hell of a prospect, and I’ve decided to re-train him as an attacking left wing-back where his excellent attributes bode well for the future. For now, he will play with the U23 squad.
21st July 2022 – Sori Bari – Loan from AC Milan
And FINALLY our last signing of deadline day is another loanee from AC Milan. Sori Bari joins for a loan fee of £700k and we are also given an optional fee of £7m should we want to sign the Portuguese striker permanently at the end of the season. Much like his compatriot Diogo Gama, Bari offers us some versatility at the spearhead of our attacks.
In terms of the first team, Adam Randell made the smallest jump back down to the Championship to help QPR stay up while Butcher, Morris, Telford and Austin made the bigger drop to League One to play for Hull, Wigan, Bristol Rovers and Wimbledon respectively on loan. I struggled to find a destination for Maddox and deals fell through a number of times, but eventually Portland Timbers in the MLS came in to loan him until the end of the season.
Dario Milic, Kyle Horne, Noah Delap and Gábor Bánhegyi went back out on loan to get more Football League experience and Miguel Arias left Argyle for the first time to be Newport’s first choice ‘keeper for the season. There were three permanent departures: while Eddie Barry-Murphy looked a fantastic prospect at left wing-back in the past, now that we are in the Premier League he will never make it and therefore we sold him to MK Dons for £55k. We’d receive bigger fees for younger youth players with Cameron Johnstone joining Burnley for £1.4m and Geoff Gritt joining Blackburn for £300k. While both of the players looked like brilliant prospects, I would have bitten Burnley and Blackburn’s hands off for the fees they were offering for what will probably be below-par professionals at best.
After what I thought may be a tricky (and ridiculously early) pre-season schedule, we won every match – including difficult games against RB Leipzig, Saint-Étienne and Feyenoord.
Our first game of the season came in the form of a difficult away trip to Tottenham Hotspur. Mike Cooper, Perry Ng, Joel Latibeaudiere and Janis Antiste continued from the playoff final of last season, while debuts would be had by Joel Andersson, Gustavo Gomez, Tom Trybull, Conor Gallagher, Connor Ronan and Aboubakar Kamara. I was determined to keep to my ultimately quite-successful 5-1-2-2 formation, but it’s safe to say I was found out by Spurs: we would lose comprehensively 5-0 with Moussa Dembélé grabbing a hattrick as well as goals coming from Sander Berge and Dele Alli. We didn’t play particularly badly, it was more that Spurs played very, very well.
Our second match in the top flight would be against another difficult team in Chelsea. We lost, again, 3-0, even with Chelsea going down to 9 men by the end of the match. Our first steps in the Premier League were dangerous, and the step-up in quality instantly showed as for the first time in this save, we slumped to the bottom of the league.
Despite being completely outclassed in our first two games in the Premier League, we soon started picking up some points! We were unlucky to draw against Southampton at St. Mary’s, where Abou Kamara would get his first goal for Argyle, and we picked up a good point away to fellow strugglers West Ham through a Diogo Gama goal. We understandably lost to Arsenal 3-1 as the Gunners’ quality shone through, although our loss to Bournemouth hurt the most: we completely dominated the game but tripped up to an early Callum Wilson goal. In the Carabao Cup, we’d blood a lot of youth against Stevenage in the 2nd round and then had an incredible win against (if I’m being honest, a second-string) Manchester United side in the 3rd round where Janis Antiste and Conor Gallagher would bag the goals. Kamara seemed to be our main threat up front, while the performances of Joel Latibeaudiere were pivotal to our few wins this month.
In September, we finally picked up our first win! We stole all 3 points at Goodison Park as Adam Lewis would open the scoring against his hometown club’s rivals; another win would follow soon after as we beat Huddersfield Town comprehensively as our captain Perry Ng scored twice. We would still go looking for a win at home though, as we bottled our first appearance on ‘Super Sunday’ against Brighton. Our Carabao Cup run continued following an incredible match and penalty win at Southampton, where the goalkeeping heroics of Josep Martinez made him an instant cult hero amongst the Green Army. I was rewarded for our string of decent results by receiving a new contract from Mr Hallett.
Sky, BT and Amazon clearly enjoyed the underdog nature of our Premier League story, as a massive FOUR of our games were shown on TV this month. The first result of October also posed the question: Are we United’s bogey team? We put in a hell of a shift against the Red Devils at Home Park, hanging on after a Diogo Gama goal and Gallagher red card to pick up a massive 3 points. We took a trip around Europe during the international break before picking up 4 more points during the rest of the month: We were unlucky to draw away to Wolves, we (luckily) completely dominated fellow relegation candidates Watford and then completely bottled it against local rivals Bristol City in the final game of October. A Han-Noah Masengo goal for the Robins late in the game did not vindicate the quality of our play. Despite this, I was overjoyed that we moved all the way up to 13th in the table by the end of the month, a massive 7 places above the media prediction of 20th. Another massive positive was that our finances had improved MASSIVELY: we had gone from £4m in the red to a cracking £14m in the black; mainly due to the massive fees provided for TV coverage in the Premier League.
As October ended, we prepared for a weird sort of pre-season part two due to the scheduling of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. We’d have no competitive fixtures in the Premier League until mid-December, so in our next edition we will follow how the Three Lions do in the middle-east.
After I received this notification, it gave me even more reason to be invested in the World Cup! Our vice-captain, Josh Grant, made the cut for the final Jamaica squad. The rest of the Green Army would be honorary Reggae Boys when England inevitably crash out during the group stages.
Next time: we see the return of the Minto and Holloway dream team as they visit Qatar as part of the coverage of the 2022 World Cup; we follow Josh Grant as he attempts to bring glory to Jamaica and we find out if football truly is coming home!