Schuey is no longer at the wheel – and that kills me to say.
Stoke City co-chairmen John and Peter Coates left Plymouth by helicopter on Saturday night, and in the intervening three days proceeded to torture the Plymouth Argyle fanbase over the future of Steven Schumacher. At 6.30pm on Tuesday evening, both Argyle and Stoke announced his decision to leave the Pilgrims for the Potters.
The immediate reaction to the news was one of fury – Argyle are above Stoke in the Championship, and seemingly a lot more stable a club. Since dropping into the second tier in 2018, Stoke have had four high-profile managers, all tasked with leading them back to the Premier League. Evidently, all four have failed. So why on earth would Schumacher take on this poisoned chalice?
Schumacher’s departure seems all too familiar, but there’s one more poignant to Argyle fans in this instance. When Ian Holloway left for Leicester City in November 2007, the grass seemed greener for the West Country manager. A decade later, he called it “the biggest mistake of my life”. Schumacher will hope he doesn’t reflect on his decision in the same way.
What’s more, Schumacher is only 39-years-old and with all the time in the world to build his profile to take that next step, possibly as a Premier League boss. But football waits for no man, and this could be his only opportunity to move to a “bigger club” in his career (Stoke are bigger, I just despise the phrase).
When taking a step back, taking my Plymouth Argyle-biased glasses off and thinking objectively about the decision, I can’t really blame him.
Just over a decade ago, Stoke City were playing in the Europa League, having reached the FA Cup final in 2010; Plymouth Argyle were battling for their Football League status after going into administration. Stoke’s potential, whether Greens fans like to admit it or not, simply has a higher ceiling in the long-term.
Even in the here and now, the two clubs are worlds apart, despite their on-pitch performances. Stoke’s Clayton Wood training ground is undeniably better than Harpers Park, which sits in the shadow of Argyle’s Home Park stadium. The budget difference is incomparable, too – Stoke spent close to £15m in the summer transfer window, while Plymouth forked out a little over £2m. It’s sustainable, but that isn’t necessarily appealing for a manager aware of their shelf life. Especially for someone who, as a player, never managed to reach the Championship.
Schumacher captained an Everton U18 team containing Wayne Rooney in the FA Youth Cup 20 years ago, but had to make a living in Leagues One and Two at clubs such as Bury, Fleetwood Town and Stevenage. Stoke will offer him the money and security for his family that his playing career never did, and for that I can’t begrudge anyone.
And who knows, maybe he recognised the need for a change. Schumacher managed the club over two brilliant but intense years, which culminated in winning League One with 101 points in 2022/23. But they were pushed all the way by more-heavily fancied Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday teams. Yes Argyle pulled through, but the mental toil might have had a greater impact than anyone might’ve realised.
A fresh voice in the dressing room, therefore, could be exactly what Plymouth Argyle needs to kick on to the next level. Plus, it hasn’t always been perfect.
Argyle haven’t been able to buy an away win for love nor money under Schumacher. Returning to the Championship has yielded just four points, all from draws in away games, while the team hasn’t won an away game at 3pm on a Saturday since beating MK Dons 4-1 on October 15, 2022. Ridiculous when you comprehend the fact they still managed to top the table last term.
Plymouth fans needn’t be angry, either. The board has proven time and again that they’re trusted to make the right decisions, and on this occasion I have complete faith that the right successor to Steven Schumacher will be appointed.
It’s been a long road back to the Championship, via the doldrums of near-extinction and last day survivals in League Two, but Argyle are finally there, and for that I’ll be eternally grateful to Schumacher and the job he has achieved at Home Park in his four-and-a-half years – as assistant manager and manager.
So maybe it’s not all doom and gloom. Schumacher certainly won’t have made the choice on a whim, make no mistake. But when there’s that much on the line, he’s made the right one for him and his family.
Anger isn’t necessary, in my opinion. Standing in the Port Vale away end on the last day of 2022/23, with 4,000 Argyle fans, life couldn’t get much sweeter.
So, many fans might not see it now, but in a few years time, when the dust has settled, we’ll all look back on Steven Schumacher as one of the greatest managers to grace the dugout at Home Park.
Good luck, Schuey.
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