Embedding 8 New Signings
Deadly Submarine assesses the latest additions to the Tranmere squad
With eight days until the kick-off of the 2018-19 League Two campaign, we are back with the latest in our countdown series. After exploring the ten best managers in Rovers' history, and addressing the number nine issue, we now turn our attentions to the eight new arrivals at Prenton Park.
For the purposes of this countdown, we are not including Manny Monthè, as he played in Tranmere's most recent competitive fixture and climbed the steps of Wembley as one of the Wembley Warriors. Yes, he signed a new, permanent deal this summer, but his signing was more akin to a contract extension.
Aside from Manny, and six new contracts, eight new faces have been recruited to the Tranmere squad. Admittedly, a couple of them are familiar to the SWA, but those players are still returning after a period away.
How will the players fit into the Rovers machine? What do they bring? We provide our best attempt at answering questions such as those below:
Ollie Banks (From Oldham Athletic)
The first of two returning players, Ollie was on loan at Prenton Park during 2017-18. Signed on loan from Oldham Athletic on 17th November 2017, he was drafted in to provide midfield cover to a Tranmere squad decimated by suspensions and injuries during the autumn of last season. Making his debut on the 18th in a 0-1 defeat, he went on to make a further seven appearances, of which Tranmere lost just once.
He was also a key component of the team that produced a five-match winning run between a 4-0 demolition of Maidstone United on 25th November and a 4-0 thumping of Guiseley on 30th December. In total, in the eight matches Banks played, Rovers scored an astonishing twenty-two goals.
A classy midfielder with an eye for a pass, he spent the latter part of the 2017-18 campaign on loan at League Two Swindon Town, making seventeen appearances and scoring three goals.
Taking everything into consideration, Ollie has experience of most of the Tranmere Rovers squad, the EFL (most recently League Two, but League One as well) and of providing service to Paul Mullin, whom he played alongside whilst at Swindon.
Verdict Seamless transition.
Mark Ellis (From Carlisle United)
Defender Mark Ellis signed from Carlisle United on 21st May 2018. A vastly experienced defender, he has won three promotions in his career, with Torquay United, Shrewsbury Town and most recently Forest Green Rovers.
In 2017-18, he made twenty-nine League Two and cup appearances for Carlisle United, plus five appearances for Leyton Orient in the National League, where he briefly played with fellow new signing Jake Caprice. He therefore brings with him a wealth of recent knowledge of the level Rovers will be playing at in 2018-19.
Furthermore, Ellis made thirty-five appearances and scored three goals in Shrewsbury's 2014-15 League Two promotion campaign, significant because it means there should be a working knowledge between Ellis and his then Shrewsbury, now Tranmere manager Micky Mellon.
He also played alongside fellow new teammate Manny Monthè for Forest Green Rovers in the 2017 National League Play-off final, meaning he should be familiar with at least two of his fellow defenders.
A proven winner with plenty of experience, his pre-season performances to date suggest he will be an excellent, reliable acquisition.
Verdict: Fits like a glove.
Paul Mullin (From Swindon Town)
On 25th June 2018, Tranmere signed Swindon Town forward Paul Mullin. The twenty-three-year-old brings ample experience of League Two football, having played one hundred and eighty-seven times in his four-year professional career — all in the EFL and associated cup competitions.
In the second-half of 2017-18, Paul played alongside fellow new signing Ollie Banks, meaning he has at least limited experience of one of his new teammates. However, as we covered yesterday in our piece The Number 9 Issue, it takes time for any player, but especially a striker, to acclimatise to their new surroundings, their new teammates and new patterns of play.
Perhaps the signing under the most pressure to perform instantaneously, it is important to remember Paul is not Andy Cook and he should therefore not be compared to him. They are individual people who have their own style of play. Mullin has hit double figures in each of the last three seasons, meaning he can certainly contribute to the cause if he is afforded the time to settle in — by everybody.
A solid signing whose pre-season exploits have been harshly criticised in some quarters, he has had a decent pre-season so far and has more than shown enough to suggest he will be comfortable at League Two level.
Verdict: Patience required, should come good once settled.
Jake Caprice (From Leyton Orient)
It is probably not unfair to describe Jake as the most unlikely transfer of the summer. Signed from Leyton Orient on 28th June 2018, Caprice is a player about whom Micky Mellon has placed on record his admiration.
Impressing the Rovers manager when he has played against the Club in the National League, he has now been given the opportunity to impress the SWA with his performances for the Club. An attacking defender whose main attribute appears to be pace, Jake will likely be busy in the opening period of the season given the injury status of regular right-back Adam Buxton.
Having played a limited number of games for the O's alongside his new Rovers teammate Mark Ellis last term, Jake will at least recognise one familiar face in the Tranmere defence.
An unexpected incoming, it may take Caprice a while to familiarise himself with both Tranmere and League Two. Likely to start the season as the first-choice right-back, he'll have to perform well to keep Adam Buxton out of the team once the latter returns from injury.
Verdict: May need time to adjust.
Zoumana Bakayogo (From Crewe Alexandra)
Tranmere Player of the Season 2012-13, Zoumana Bakayogo will need little introduction to a large portion of the SWA.
Following his move to Leicester City, neither Bakayogo nor Tranmere moved on to better things. On a personal level, Zoumana experienced two years of injury hell, suffering a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament whilst on loan to then Championship Yeovil Town in January 2014.
In 2016, almost two years after his last competitive appearance, Bakayogo signed a loan deal at Crewe Alexandra, earning a permanent move to Gresty Road thereafter.
After two seasons with Crewe, he returned to a very different Tranmere Rovers on 18th July 2018. New owners, new division, new forward momentum — it's a completely different place. That being said, Zoumana's pre-season performances suggest he still has all the attributes that made him a key player at Prenton Park once before. Slight issues with communication between 'Zoum' and his fellow defenders seem to be apparent, but one would expect those to be ironed out once everyone is comfortable with each other.
Essentially a more experienced Eddie Clarke like-for-like replacement.
Verdict: Same player? Seemingly. Same club? No. May need time to bed in.
Jonny Smith (On loan from Bristol City)
With the departures of wide players such as Josh Ginnelly, Jack Dunn and Devarn Green, Tranmere's squad needed an injection of width. On 10th July 2018, Micky Mellon took a step to address that issue with the season-long loan signing of Jonny Smith from Bristol City.
Having played forty-seven times and scored ten goals for AFC Fylde in all competitions last season, Smith arrives at Prenton Park with experience of the National League Play-offs under his belt. Whilst he did not earn the promotion that many of his fellow teammates went on to secure, he did as much as any player could to further themselves during a loan period.
A former Wrexham player, he will join the ranks of Rovers' ex-Dragons alongside players such as Connor Jennings and Jay Harris. Whilst Jonny may not have played with Jennings on many, if any occasions, Connor will have been the club captain at Wrexham during Smith's stay.
Perhaps the stand-out performer of the new faces this pre-season, Jonny feels like he could become a key player for Tranmere over the course of the next twelve months. He's quick, creates chances and most importantly, brings pace to the table. It's entirely possible that he could prove to be even more effective than Josh Ginnelly.
Verdict: Cautiously excited. Ticks many boxes.
Harvey Gilmour (On loan from Sheffield United)
The second of Tranmere's temporary reinforcements, midfielder Harvey Gilmour joined the Club on loan from Sheffield United on 13th July 2018. Impressing on a trial, he has essentially replaced the almost ever-absent James Wallace in the central-field rotation.
Likely to start the season behind Ollie Norburn, Ollie Banks and Jay Harris in the pecking order, Harvey has nonetheless produced a couple of impressive displays in pre-season. He's clearly a talented young player but may need time to learn his craft, his teammates and about League Two.
Initially on a short-term loan until January, it would be unfair to expect too much, too soon from a player who is just nineteen years old. Tranmere is a much healthier place to play football than the last time they were in League Two, when Max Power was able to showcase his abilities, so if Gilmour works hard and takes his opportunities, he could well do the same.
Verdict: Learning his trade. Adjust expectations accordingly.
Shamal George (On loan from Liverpool)
With Tranmere once again subject to the EFL transfer window during the 2018-19 season, care must be taken to ensure the Club has enough strength in depth to survive between August and January.
When first choice goalkeeper Scott Davies suffered an injury during pre-season, it left Tranmere with the prospect of starting the season with just two professional goalkeepers on the books — Luke Pilling and Patrick Wharton. Manager Micky Mellon took the decision to sign a further 'keeper to ensure the squad had ample cover.
After impressing on an initial trial, which included a second-half performance at home to Fleetwood Town, Shamal George was signed on loan from Liverpool. With Tranmere as a child, Shamal is highly thought of at Liverpool and has been on the periphery of the first team for a couple of seasons. Indeed, he was even included in their 2016 Europa League final squad.
Last season, he spent time on loan at Carlisle United in League Two, representing the Cumbrians on seven occasions. He will therefore return to Prenton Park with a small amount of Football League experience — certainly greater EFL experience than Luke Pilling or Patrick Wharton.
Given Micky Mellon revealed the Club has had good news regarding the injury of Scott Davies, it is likely Davies will play if he is fit. George, however, may be in contention for the second-choice spot given his impressive pre-season performances and a sizeable mistake made by Luke Pilling.
Verdict: May or may not play. Too many variables to be certain.
Having assessed the eight new signings, it seems apparent that the summer's recruits fall into one of two categories.
The first, comprising players such as Ollie Banks, Mark Ellis and Zoumana Bakayogo, is a group of players whose personal experience, either of the Club, the Football League or both, should have few problems integrating into the Rovers side.
The second, containing younger professionals who lack the experience of more established signings, represent educated gambles. Players such as Shamal George and Harvey Gilmour appear to have the attributes to succeed in League Two, but they are somewhat unknown quantities nonetheless.
Manager Micky Mellon will need to strike the correct balance, but there have been encouraging signs in pre-season that, once players such as Paul Mullin and Jonny Smith familiarise themselves with their new surroundings, the team can go from strength to strength.
The key word, therefore, should be patience. Embedding eight new faces doesn't happen overnight, but the recruitment appears to have selected players whose individual qualities can, in time, be moulded into a balanced team.
Remember: Check back tomorrow for day four of our ten-day countdown to the 2018-19 season.
If you would like to read more about the 2018-19 Tranmere Rovers squad, visit our Players section.« 09 Days 07 Days »