The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Or so the poem goes.
Despite preparing diligently for a summer of recruitment activity at Home Park, Director of Football Neil Dewsnip admits that the backroom staff at Argyle are having to play the waiting game as the EFL lays out the roadmap for the immediate future.
He said: “It’s very difficult. We’ve done our research, and we kind of know the squad that we’d like to take forward, as well as the players we’d like to attract to make us competitive next year.
“We have planned on the basis that we’re going to be in League One, although we are not absolutely sure. We are waiting, obviously, for direction.”
It is not just knowing which division the Greens will be competing in that is holding contract offers back, though, with the football industry still reeling from the financial implications of revenues completely drying up.
“It is very difficult for us, but equally difficult for the Board. They don’t have the answers, either, and they need guidance from the league,” said Dewsnip, who joined the Pilgrims in the summer of 2019. “There’s talk of a salary cap, which will point us in a certain direction and, I suspect, a year of transition before every club can truly be on the same page.”
With direction of travel expected to become clearer in the coming weeks, Argyle are holding back on announcing their retained list for the 20/21 season, making full use of the EFL’s decision to extend the deadline into June.
“I think everything is up in the air at the moment – but that’s across football, it isn’t unique to Plymouth Argyle. Every day, in the media, there’s a story about a different club in financial difficulty,” said Neil.
“I know, for our club, having been in financial difficulty in the recent past, the Board and Simon [Hallett], as the owner, are loathed to go anywhere near that again – so we need to proceed with great caution, that’s a footballing reality right now.”
It is clear that the football industry, particularly in the lower leagues, will have to respond quickly to adapt to the situation it finds itself in. One such solution, which has been met with broad approval by lower league clubs, is a salary cap, which could be implemented as early as next season.
With Argyle awaiting news on whether they are promoted to League One, it could make for an interesting campaign next time out, with high-spending clubs likely to go full-tilt for promotion to the Championship before the cap comes into force.
When asked whether this would make it difficult for Argyle to compete at the higher level next season, Neil said: “Potentially, it could do. We still don’t know what the landscape may look like for a year of transition – if there is one.
“What I think is fair to say is that there are some really big football clubs in League One next year, whose expectations are almost Premier League expectations – I’m thinking of Sunderland, Ipswich, and so on.”
“I think I would remind everyone associated with the club that we are on a journey which has only just started. We have hopefully got ourselves out of League Two and into League One, and started to get some good momentum going forwards as a football club. We know what our aspirations are – we’re desperate, if we can, to achieve Championship status.
“But, we need to do that in a sustainable way. In the current climate, we need to do proceed with great caution. We don’t want to become one of those clubs that you read about in the news because of financial difficulty.”
While Neil warns of challenging times in the coming months, he was also keen to express his delight for the Pilgrims’ coaching team, who may finally get the opportunity to manage in League One after back-to-back successes with Bury and Argyle.
“I’m so pleased for Ryan [Lowe, First-Team Manager] and for Schuey [Steven Schumacher, Assistant Manager], and I’m going to add John Lucas [Head of Fitness and Conditioning] and Jimmy Dickinson [Performance Analyst] into that, as well.
“I’m so pleased for the four of them, because they were obviously promoted with Bury, and circumstances led to them being unable to enjoy that success. They have found a way to do that with Plymouth Argyle, and I am really pleased for them on that basis.
“Their learning, enthusiasm and commitment will be maintained. It will be a really exciting challenge to go to those teams and see how we go against clubs at a higher level. It’s really exciting for us, and I hope the supporters are really excited, too.
“I bet they can’t wait to get back inside Home Park to enjoy the games that, hopefully, we will be having next year.”