IN new Director of Football Neil Dewsnip, Argyle have acquired one of English football’s highest regarded Academy coaches, who has experience in working with some of the world’s biggest names, including Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard.
A former Everton and England coach at youth level, Dewsnip originally joined the club in the summer in a technical consultancy role, providing experienced guidance for Argyle manager Ryan Lowe and his assistant manager, Steven Schumacher – a former protégé of Dewsnip.
However, after lengthy discussions with the Home Park decision-makers, the club has made moves to secure Neil’s qualities on a more permanent basis, applying his experience and knowledge to the project of outlining our future footballing blueprint.
“It’s about long-term planning for the football club,” said Dewsnip. “It has come about from conversations with Simon [Hallett, Chairman and majority shareholder], obviously, with Andrew Parkinson [chief executive] and with Ryan.
“My role will encompass overlooking the Academy; overlooking the talent identification and recruitment structure; overlooking the performance; and liaising with Ryan around the first-team, so hopefully we’ll build a better Plymouth Argyle going forwards.
“It’ll be about long-term planning and it will also free Ryan up to concentrate completely on the first-team.”
Having been invited to provide Lowe and Schumacher some sage wisdom in trying times at Bury last season, the Pilgrims’ managerial duo made contact with Dewsnip again in the summer, hoping that his decades in the football machine could provide some additional expertise and perspective to complement their youthful ambition.
Gigg Lane was not where Dewsnip first crossed paths with Lowe and Schumacher, though. In fact, it was at Everton where the Pilgrims’ Director of Football first met a primary school-aged Schuey – a relationship that has blossomed over time.
“I came across Steven Schumacher when he would have been seven or eight, back at the start of his Everton journey,” recalls Dewsnip. “We formed a really good, and strong, relationship. He always said: ‘If ever I got into coaching or management, would you help?’ You always say: ‘Yeah, yeah, of course I will’. So, here we are.
“At the back end of last season, they were having a really tough time at Bury; he asked if I could do some work on and off the field for Ryan and Steven. When they came to Argyle, they asked: ‘Would you like to come in, in a more constructive role?’ The timing was right, I was just about to leave the [English] FA and I thought: ‘Yeah, why not?’”
With his coaching career never quite carrying him as far south as Plymouth, Dewsnip did not know what to expect at the Theatre of Greens. Like many, he was stunned by the scale of the set-up he found deep in Devon and is excited by the challenge of replicating his career’s successes in senior football.
He said: “I didn’t know anything, really with respects to Plymouth Argyle. I was absolutely, and still am, blown away by the club, the size; the Green Army are unbelievable – the passion they have for a good football team is obvious. In my own little way, I am delighted to play my own part in helping Ryan and Steven to give the football club and the supporters that, if we can.”
One thing that Neil is clear to point out, though, is that he has not been brought in over the top of Lowe, but, instead, to work alongside him.
“Ryan is very, very much in charge of the first-team,” he said. “My responsibilities lie within the other arms of the football environment in the club, which we both report into Andrew.”
The early signs of the working relationship are extremely positive, with foundations already beginning to be laid on the club’s footballing vision, which will attempt to incorporate the Lowe style of play – possession-based, attacking football.
He said: “Simon, Andrew, Steven, Ryan and myself are now in regular dialogue in creating a football philosophy for Argyle.
“That isn’t just about us, a group of five people; ideally, it will be about the longer term. As all those people move on, for whatever reason, then the philosophy would remain and Argyle would still have a consistent footballing philosophy forever, in theory – unless somebody wants to change it one day.
“We are just at the start of that; we are having discussions around what that looks like. An example would be that Ryan believes passionately in possession-based football, so we would want to write that in. Not only would the first-team live that – we would filter that right through the football club and through the Academy.
“The idea of this role is that now it’s connected all the way through the age groups. So our own Academy players would start learning those principles of play at a much earlier age, which, in theory, will give them a must better chance of getting in Ryan’s team one day.”
While the result of this change in role means a slight shift in focus for Neil, the hope is that the Director of Football position will provide a consistency throughout the club, ensuring that the first-team, right the way down to the younger age groups of the Academy, are all developing under the same objectives and philosophies.
If that were not enough, Neil will also have a significant hand in trying to implement best practice across the football club – with a specific focus on the emerging field of data and analysis.
Following the innovative lead of a number of Premier League clubs, including Manchester City and Liverpool, the club is currently in discussion with a number of data vendors, including Opta and StatsBomb, to ensure that decisions are better informed by data. The hope is that this will provide a better return on the pitch, as well as in the transfer market.
“We think the use of data analytics is going to be quite important going forward, the major clubs are already involved,” said Dewsnip, who has managed England at Under-17, 18 and 20 level.
“We’re just in preliminary discussions with one or two data vendors such to find out what the best product for Argyle is, because our needs are obviously different to Manchester City’s right now. Maybe, in the future, they might be similar, so we are just doing the research.”
For all the talk of data analysis and footballing philosophies, though, Neil is clear that he wants to ensure that the team continues to build a rapport with the club’s most important stakeholder – the fans – as it attempts to climb back up the EFL pyramid.
He said: “This is a football club that has the potential to go upwards; if we obviously get the right structures in place, it can do that.
“The Green Army is as powerful an entity as anything I’ve ever come across. It’s absolutely fantastic to see those supporters filling the grounds up and down the country - and if that can’t inspire the staff and the players, I’ll be amazed.”