Last time in The Pilgrimage, Plymouth Argyle completed their 3rd season in the Premier League, and it went pretty well. We secured Champions League football for the 2025/26 season and even appeared in a cup final. Can The Pilgrims keep their positive momentum going into the new season?
As was mentioned at the end of Part 21, we had three main aims going into the 2025/26 season:
- Keep Alan Carlos
- Don’t make fools of ourselves in Europe
- Keep the core of the squad, only making improvements where necessary – midfield is our main concern, as well as depth on the right wing
So, going into the summer transfer window, was it possible to stay true to our objectives?
9th June 2025 – IN – Adrian Fein – FC Bayern München – £22m
First through the door was one of last season’s loanees, Adrian Fein, joining The Pilgrims permanently for a fee of £22m. Adrian did very well in his short time on loan last season, showing great ability in both the defensive midfield and central midfield roles while players such as Didier Ndong were out injured and following the sale of Luke Amos. I aim to use the former Germany U21 international as my first choice box-to-box midfielder, although his versatility could help us out as the season rolls on.
9th June 2025 – IN – Stephen Eustáquio – Cruz Azul – £12.25m (£13.75m)
Our second signing of the summer window was Canadian international Stephen Eustáquio from Mexican top-flight side Cruz Azul. Although Stephen is Portuguese born and represented them at youth level, he qualifies for Canadian nationality as well and has represented them 63 times on the international stage, scoring on 9 of those occasions. Eustáquio should add a fair bit of defensive strength to our midfield and will most likely be our first choice defensive midfielder.
15th June 2025 – IN – Murphy Kalonji – Atlético Madrid – £8.5m
The signings kept coming in, as next up was the excellently named newgen Murphy Kalonji from Spanish giants Atlético Madrid for a fee of just £8.5m – a bargain! The DRC Congolese international started his career off at his native TP Mazembe before moving to the Spanish capital in 2023. The right-winger then spent 2 seasons out on loan at Eibar and Espanyol – scoring 7 goals and creating 7 more in 48 collective appearances – before Atlético denied to give him a chance in the first team. I happily snapped Kalonji off of their hands as this signing should hopefully keep pushing Jordan Teze to keep up his stellar performances of last season.
23rd June 2025 – OUT – Gábor Bánhegyi – Újpest FC – £375k (£475k)
I get a bit sentimental seeing the young players I bought as a bit of an investment project early in the save leaving. Last season we had quite a few of those, and now it was the turn of Gábor Bánhegyi. Out of the three youth players I brought in after my very first season at Argyle, Bánhegyi seemed like one that would ‘get lost in the shuffle’ a little bit. However, in the past couple of seasons the once-capped Hungarian international has progressed well and made it to what seems like his full potential. It is unfortunate, then, that his top level is not quite good enough to make it at Home Park.
30th June 2025 – OUT – Didier Ndong – Free Transfer
This transfer felt less sentimental, especially in comparison to a young favourite at the club. Didier Ndong joined us back in our first season in the Premier League, and the fact that the Gabonese international only made 52 appearances over 3 seasons at the club tells you the story of how in favour he was with my management team. Ndong just never really got going, and apart from the odd screamer he scored once a season, his time at Home Park was largely forgettable. Ndong has now signed for SkyBet Championship side Swansea City.
1st July 2025 – OUT – Romain Fuchs – Celtic – Free
The free transfer of Romain Fuchs to Celtic (who have won every single league title since 2012) is one I’m still scratching my head about. Fuchs joined Argyle from our French affiliate club Sedan Ardennes for a tiny fee of £2.5k in 2023, mainly for the reason that he was a very cheap player who may have a lot of potential. Unfortunately, due to my changes in system around that time and a couple of poor loan spells out in the Football League, Fuchs never made the progress necessary to make it at Argyle or found a position that would fit my system. Therefore, I could not justify offering him a new contract (on very high wages, may I add) just for the sake of making a profit on the French youngster. Hopefully, this decision does not bite me in the bum later on down the line.
1st July 2025 – OUT – Iñigo Lekue – Granada – Free
Iñigo Lekue was a player that I always admired in his time in a green shirt: the Spanish right wing-back always gave 100% and I will always be grateful that he gave the last of his prime years at the top of the game to the Pilgrims. Like Ndong, Iñigo joined Argyle at the start of our time in the Premier League and was the first choice in his position for two seasons, even after a formation change. Now at 32 years old and having been ousted from the top of the right-wing pecking order by Jordan Teze last season, I decided it was time to let Lekue move onto ventures new. The ex-Athletic Club defender decided to move back home to Spain and signed for La Liga side Granada.
1st July 2025 – IN – Luciano Rossato – Frosinone Calcio – £15.75m (£19m)
In comparison to last summer, this window was to be a lot quieter for The Pilgrims, following on from our ‘build, not radically re-shape’ objectives. The missing piece of the puzzle was another player to offer depth and competition in defensive midfield, and my scouts identified Italian U21 international Luciano Rossato as that player. As opposed to the more experienced signing of Eustáquio, the aim of securing the signing of Rossato was to develop him and eventually have him be the first choice in his position. With a very solid foundation of attributes to build on, I hope Luciano can learn from the experienced heads around him and improve lots in the future.
9th July 2025 – OUT – Tom Trybull – Preußen Münster – Free
Again, just like Ndong and Lekue, Tom Trybull joined the club just as we were promoted to the Premier League and mainly played as a backup/rotation option in the central midfield and defensive midfield positions. Much like Ndong, he didn’t really have the chance to make a lasting impression in the squad (apart from his two absolute screamers to beat Liverpool two seasons ago). Trybull spent the majority of last season out injured, and so despite having a year left on his contract, I offered the German midfielder out on a free and 2. Bundesliga side Preußen Münster offered to take Trybull off my hands (and off the wage bill).
30th July 2025 – OUT – Gustavo Gomez – Free Transfer
I probably could have made an independent post all about the departures of players that joined us when we were promoted to the Premier League! Just before the transfer window slammed shut, Paraguayan international (and 6th choice centre-back) Gustavo Gomez came to have a word with me. With just one year left on his contract, he was worried that he would not be granted a new work permit (as he had not been called up for his national side in a while) and therefore wanted to leave. I was happy to oblige, and decided the best course of action was a clean break for both of us. Gomez left on a free, and has since joined Greek giants Olympiakos. I thought he was going to go back to Paraguay, but whatever…
As usual, a bevy of young players left to go out on loan to get Football League experience. The big difference this time though was the amount of players on loan at SkyBet Championship clubs: 50% of the players that went out on loan joined clubs in the second tier of English football. This is a huge increase on previous years and shows how many of the youth products are very close to first team action in the Premier League with Argyle. Following the departure of Gustavo Gomez, I did decide to bring Enrico Ambrosious back to the club to become our 6th-choice centre back.
Pre-season was the same as usual – no matter how big a club you play in pre-season, you normally end up winning! This summer, we went on a training camp in South Africa, while big games against teams such as Lokomotiv Moscow, Fenerbahçe and Inter Milan at Home Park drew large crowds. A couple of the more interesting tidbits that popped into my inbox during pre-season included the news that Alan Carlos was actually the top goalscorer in the entirety of Europe last year, and that he was now being considered as the 2nd favourite to win the Premier League Golden Boot again this season.
We had to wait a little longer than usual for our first game of the season as our home fixture against Leeds was the featured game on the first Monday Night Football of 2025/26. Our Pilgrims side was relatively unchanged from previous seasons: The back line was imperious last year and so there was no need to make any changes; our midfield looked a little different, with Murphy Kalonji and Stephen Eustáquio making their debuts; while an Alan Carlos injury means that Hwang Hee-Chan takes his place alongside Rob Down at the top of the pitch.
You may also notice on the brand new kits that a lot of the squad numbers have changed – this is due to the fact that with a lot of experienced members of the squad leaving, a lot of players’ favourite numbers were free so we had a wee reshuffle.
We got off to the perfect start against a Leeds United side that were pushing for top-six last season, with Connor Ronan getting both of the goals – the first being a standard Connor Ronan banger and the second a well-taken penalty after getting scythed down in the box. It was an easy 2-0 win which took us straight up the table.
The rest of the opening month was…mixed. In my opinion, we were given a relatively easy first four fixtures that I really would have expected 12 points from. However, one of these was against Southampton, who are always a tricky team to break down (especially without Alan Carlos), we shockingly lost to newly promoted West Brom after dominating the game, hitting the woodwork a million times, etc. It was a classic FMing. They scored late on and that was it. Luckily, we turned things around against another of the newly promoted sides, beating Burnley 4-1, where a dominant performance from Murphy Kalonji saw the young winger bag his first two goals in a green shirt.
The Champions League Draw
It was just after the shocking West Brom defeat that we were invited to the Champions League draw for the group stages. At a time where I wasn’t exactly full of confidence, I really did not fancy my chances against any of the best of Europe at that moment. Despite this, I was jumping for joy after fourth-seeded Argyle were drawn against Valencia, Porto and Galatasaray. Compared to what we could have had (with the exception of Liverpool and Wolves’ groups), we were very lucky. The hardest opponents would arguably be Valencia, but I would hope to at least pick up points in our fixtures against Porto and Galatasaray. Even if we do not qualify from the group, I will happily take Europa League football as we should not be finishing bottom of this group.
For a bit of context, here are the other groups where England is being represented in the Champions League:
Group A: Manchester City, Barcelona, AEK Athens, Roma
Group C: Liverpool, Celtic, RB Leipzig, Club Brugge
Group D: Juventus, Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax
Group F: Wolves, Freiburg, Lyon, Basel
Next time, we hope to return to last season’s form as we continue our march on the Premier League; we play Plymouth Argyle’s first-ever matches in the UEFA Champions League and we assess the squad ahead of next year. Thank you again for taking the time to read The Pilgrimage.