Last time out, we smashed the playoffs and won promotion back to the SkyBet Championship after spending 11 years away from our traditional home. If you wanted to find out how we got here, you can catch up here.
The last echoes of ‘We’re on our way, we’re on our way’ flittered out of London as the [now defunct] Target Travel-sponsored team bus left Wembley. The players were joyous: they’d won promotion to the Championship and were off on their holidays the next day. For me, it would be a solid two days off with my family before heading back to work and getting ready for next season.
The aim was survival, and so we had to recruit sensibly to stand a chance at achieving our ambitions. My signings in this amazing promotion-winning season were mixed, with many impressing far more than I’d expect, and some barely featuring at all. We had to be more dilligent – and as a result – I had my targets listed for [Paul] Sturrock to try and bring in to the club straight away on the morning of Tuesday 25th May.
A major overhaul was required.
Many of our permanent signings – including players who had only joined this season – would be released in the summer, and along with the losses of our talented loanees we are left looking for a whopping 14 players at least (if I keep to my ‘two players per position’ rule). Taylor, Grant and McFadzean simply weren’t up to the standard of our squad anymore and seemed almost permanently in the injury room; Edwards and Songo’o could do a job but I couldn’t afford to give them a wage hike for the level of player they both are; and despite Edun, Cameron and Mills only joining last summer, none of them stood out to me as being capable enough for the step up in quality.
As stated above, we would also lose our loanees that had been amazing this season. Scott Wharton, in particular, was an absolute rock in defence and I would love to get him back on loan or sign him permanently. Adam Lewis, in his short time at Argyle, had the second-most assists in the whole season from left wing-back and looked the steadiest in his position (despite competition from the more experienced McFadzean and Grant). Up front, Sam Smith was our saviour – alongside Danny Mayor – during the playoffs and we wouldn’t be promoted if it wasn’t for his 15 goals throughout the season. These three players would be targets for next season.
Sturrock, who had been a great Director of Football since joining the club again in 2019, agreed with me that there should be a limit of approx. £10k a week on wages for players in the squad. The reason for this was that while we are now in the Championship, we do not want to be stuck living beyond our means should we get relegated again at the end of the season. Being stuck with players on over £10k a week in League One reminds me far too much of teams like Sunderland and Portsmouth; not teams I would like to replicate.
Tuesday 1st June 2021
New contracts were given to Perry Ng, Adam Randell and Dominic Telford (as theirs didn’t have long to run) and Argyle’s retained list was announced not long after this.
Tuesday 15th June 2021
It wasn’t long before the first #incoming cropped up on Twitter.
The prodigal son returns! Zak Vyner, a 24-year-old centre-back, comes back to the Theatre of Greens after recently relegated Premier League side Bristol City sold him to us for an initial fee of £350k. Vyner had previously appeared in the green and white while on loan from The Robins back in the 2017/18 season in League One, where he would make 17 league appearances and score a single goal. I brought Zak in because I know from real life – as well as in the game – that he is a very talented ball-playing centre-back at this level and I would have expected to pay much more than the fee we settled for his services. An RPW DNA score of 58 is very good for his age.
Wednesday 16th February 2021
As we have an affiliate link with Manchester City, we often find out earlier than most about youngsters that have expiring contracts. Joel Latibeaudiere was one of these players. The Armthorpe-born centre-back was a player I decided to quickly sign up as he is a young player with a lot of potential who could take up a rotation/back-up option this season. He fits the role of ball-playing defender very well and despite only having a lowly RPW DNA score of 39, Latibeaudiere is the sort of player that could be sold on for a profit in the future – something that the board want to see me doing.
Friday 18th June 2021
Now, this is an exciting signing! Young Portuguese ball-playing defender Pedro Ganchas is a player that my scouting team at Home Park have been tracking for a while. Having been in the Benfica academy for the past three years, Ganchas hasn’t made a single appearance for their first team and thus wanted a move away to get more experience. The talented centre-back is also open to a permanent move to Plymouth in the future. The downside of this though is that it would probably be for a fee that could be as much as £2m: an amount that we probably wouldn’t be able to afford until we are a high-end, established Championship team.
Ganchas wasn’t the only signing to be made that day.
Luke Amos is the first of a number of our summer signings that I have signed in previous iterations of Football Manager (and signed for Argyle, too). A versatile midfielder, Amos is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, master of none; Luke is very talented across the board but doesn’t have a single attribute that he stands out in. This will be handy in terms of covering multiple positions, although I hope to use the former Spurs academy graduate as competition for Adam Randell in the role of a deep-lying playmaker. Amos has spent the past two seasons in the Championship with QPR and Reading so he will be ready to come straight into a team new to the second division.
Saturday 19th June 2021
Both wing-back positions have been very difficult to find ways to improve. I’d toyed with the idea of bringing in a young winger with a lot of potential that I could convert to wing-back but there were little options in the market. Instead, I opted to sign Jordan Cousins on loan from Stoke. Another player with enormous versatility, Jordan is a very similar player to Joe Edwards (who had recently been released). Although a natural in the centre of the pitch, Cousins’ fantastic physical attributes make him a formidable opponent on the wings to fit the physicality of the Championship.
Sunday 20th June 2021
We brought in Cousins for the right wing-back role, and we brought in Johann Obiang on loan from FC Lorient to protect the very sparse left wing-back position. A Gabonese international on 40 occasions, Obiang is another player that I signed for Argyle while in the Championship in previous iterations of FM. Johann is more of a defensive wing-back than one that will bomb forwards and constantly attack; yet despite this, Obiang can do both if needed. I don’t plan on opting to keep Obiang permanently at the end of the season unless he really impresses and performs to a higher level than his attributes may suggest.
Following the departure of Ryan Taylor and the very low chance of signing Sam Smith permanently, I wanted to get at least one pressing forward in permanently to act as a bit of a backup to the first choice striker. Carlton Morris, a product of the Norwich City youth academy, is another player that I have signed previously for Argyle on different versions of Football Manager. An incredible lower-league striker, Morris didn’t play any first-team football at all last year but the year before that he scored a mammoth 22 goals on loan at Rotherham in League One. Morris should give us the option of a frontman with a bit of speed and physicality to disrupt difficult opposition defences.
Finally, the last bit of good news on this day was that Adam Lewis decided to renew his loan with Argyle until the end of the 2021/22 season. Lewis was a fantastic asset at the end of last season and should give us a bit of attacking intent at left wing-back.
Monday 21st June 2021
The following day, a marquee signing joined from Premier League Brighton & Hove Albion, a striker that had been rumoured on popular fan forum PASOTI.co.uk for weeks:
Slovenian forward Jan Mlakar joins The Pilgrims on loan for the season. Mlakar had signed for Brighton from Slovenian giants Maribor for a fee of £2.6m a couple of years ago but had only achieved 5 league goals since, in two spells on loan at Maribor and QPR. A natural in both of our striker roles (advanced forward and pressing forward), Mlakar should be in the starting lineup for a lot of games – as long as he can find the back of the net more than he previously has done.
Another signing in the same vein as Joel Latibeaudiere, Boris Moltenis comes in from French side FC Sochaux-Montbéliard. The young centre-back will probably act as my sixth choice option, although his age and potential could see him improve with more game time. Boris could certainly be another player that we could turn a profit on in the future should he not live up our usual high expectations.
Thursday 24th June 2021
Guess who’s back? Back again? Josh Grant’s back – tell a friend.Eminem, probably
Mr Versatility is back! With just a year left on his Chelsea contract, Josh Grant wanted a move away from the London club and enjoyed his time so much here on loan a couple of years ago that he decided to sign up permanently for a fee of just £250k. Able to cover any position along the defence as well as in defensive and central midfield, Josh allows us to be fluid in terms of tactic while also being a very good defender in his natural centre-back position.
Friday 25th June 2021
Our first departure came in the form of centre-back Nathan Cameron. Nathan joined last year from League Two strugglers Macclesfield Town on a two-year contract as a backup option with a lot of experience and excellent attributes to come into the team whenever necessary and shore up our defence. Unfortunately, he never really seemed to get going in a green shirt so I decided to transfer list him at the end of the season. League One QPR were the only team interested and offered £75k up front for the powerful centre-back.
With £68k of the £75k received from Cameron’s transfer, we signed our final striker to contest with Telford and Rose as an advanced forward. 18-year-old Janis Antiste signs on from Ligue 1 side Toulouse on a three-year contract and I couldn’t be happier with the terms of the deal. The young French striker already has incredible attributes at this level and still has a lot of potential to build upon in the future. The only risk with this signing is that he’s never really played any first-team football, so I hope that the step up to the Championship isn’t too much for him.
Thursday 1st July 2021
Our final signing for the first team this summer is Jacob Maddox. Another youth player released by a Premier League club (this time, Chelsea), Maddox is a very good attacking midfielder that should be able to challenge Danny Mayor in the advanced playmaker role in midfield. Maddox still has a bit of potential to improve, so I can see the 22-year-old being another youngster that could be sold for a profit in the future if he performs well.
Wednesday 7th July 2021
A little gem brought in from Northern Irish top division side Glenavon, Craig Boyle is a prospect that we signed for £74k to boost the numbers in our U23/U18 sides and is another versatile player for the future. Proficient at both centre-back and in defensive midfield, Boyle is one to watch for the future; whether that be at Argyle or out on loan at a lower-league side.
Saturday 10th July 2021
One of the key reasons why we decided to bring Jacob Maddox in as the competition for Danny Mayor as an advanced playmaker is because I looked to get rid of Tayo Edun. Although Edun had turned up in big games last season and was versatile enough to fill in at wing-back during crises of suspension and injury, he just wasn’t quite good enough for the step-up to Championship football. Despite being transfer listed, there was little interest from other teams. Eventually, League Two Scunthorpe United put in an offer to loan him until the end of the season, which we accepted.
Other youth loans
Near the end of the transfer window, we decided to loan out some of our youngsters to get some first-team experience lower down the pyramid:
- Kyle Horne – The 17-year-old midfielder was ready for League Two football according to my scouts, so he has joined Port Vale until the end of the season.
- Eddie Barry-Murphy – The 18-year-old left wing-back was supposedly only ready for National League football; however when Port Vale guaranteed him first team football alongside Horne I could not refuse.
- Noah Delap – The 18-year-old centre-back joins the Class of 92’s passion project Salford City until the end of the season.
For the first time on this game, we were offered a training camp during pre-season in the sunny climbs of the Scottish highlands. Throughout all of the pre-season friendlies, we showed great attacking intent and only really let ourselves down defensively in our away game at Bath City. Getting lots of wins before the start of the actual season was so important this year as if the media’s prediction was correct, we could be in for a long season…
The other big change at the club was that Perry Ng would be our new club captain, with Conor Grant becoming his deputy.
Finally, before we start the season, I thought it would be good to share this season’s new kit designs as you can see below.
First Game of the Season – Hull City (H)
To finish up this first update of our 2021/22 season, I thought I’d let you all know how the first game of the season went. A lot of debuts were had in our opening day fixture against Hull, with Ganchas, Obiang, Amos, Mlakar and Antiste appearing in the green and white for the first time. I was expecting an edgy match, with the most likely result being a Hull City win. However, I was completely surprised by the game’s conclusion:
It was an outstanding result. Debutant Pedro Ganchas would get two goals from centre-back; fellow centre-back Zak Vyner would get his 2nd goal for the club and Jan Mlakar would blow supporters away with an outstanding hat-trick on his debut for Argyle. Wow. I don’t want us to get ahead of ourselves, but surely we won’t surpass expectations again this season?
Next time, we continue our season in the Championship and see if our opening day form carries us further than anything we could have possibly dreamed of…