Michael Appleton has seemingly closed the door on winger Theo Archibald with recent comments to local media.
The former Celtic man has been on loan at Leyton Orient, and was the subject of shouts for a recall in the winter as we struggled for creativity. We have since scored a few goals, created a few chances, and Archibald hasn’t been the subject of such intense specualtion for next season.
He is due back at the Bank this summer, and he has got a full season of football under his belt at Brisbane Road, but it isn’t something that has put him back in Michael’s first team plans. When asked if he could figure next season, the boss replied: “He could. I don’t see it, if I’m being honest, but he’ll come back and be a Lincoln player at the start of pre-season. But if things progress over the summer with other clubs, then we’re open to having a discussion. I’m delighted Theo has been able to play games, that’s what he wanted. Unfortunately he couldn’t quite get that here.”
Basically, he could come back and impress (as Max Melbourne did last summer), but in reality he isn’t part of the thinking and if we reach an agreement with other clubs, he can leave. That’s the gist of it, and aside from the duo over in Ireland, it would coninute the pattern of players being loaned out not to come back and impact the team, but to create a future pathway for them, be it to free agency, or somewhere like AIK as with Zack Elbouzedi.
There will be plenty of people with an opinion on this, and I’m one who firmly felt Theo had a big future with us. I also though a succesful loan spell would give him the chance to come back and impress, although that now seems to be unlikely. I think we have lacked wide players this season, we’ve lacked the winger who can drop a shoulder, beat a defender and put in a cross. Is that Theo Archibald? Is the manager missing a trick here?
One issue is Theo’s attributes and how they’d fit the current team. Firstly, we play with Scully on the left, or another player whose primary position is perhaps more central. The width and pace is provided by an overlapping full back, unless we go 3-5-2, when the wider position is only filled by an overlapping full back. I couldn’t see Theo playing in that role, certainly not from what we have seen of him, so that either limits us to a specific formation, or limits him in terms of his game time. Much of Theo’s time in London has been as a right-sided attacker, which does add versatility, but a post on a Leyton Orient forum suggests he was suspect defensively when played at wing back. Our squad has needed versatility at times, but there is still a stumbling block; Michael likes to bring in pacey attackers on loan. Whatever you think about Whittaker, it’s players in his mould we’ll be looking to borrow, the same as Johnson and Rogers, and (in theory), Nlundulu and Cullen. We also have our ‘project’ attackers in Ben House and Charley Kendall, and I think that all works against Theo.
Theo has five goals and six assists for Orient in League One this season, so 11 goal invovlements overall. Whilst that sounds decent, it is outside the top thirty for goals and assists in the division, and fewer than the likes of Jack Muldoon, Freddie Sears, Sam Hoskins, Jack Payne and Jamile Matt. It sounds good, but is it enough to prove his worth to a League One club? Since Christmas, he’s managed just a single goal and assist, which remember is fewer than Morgan Whittaker has managed for us. Whittaker won’t be expecting to go back to Swansea on that form and get into the first team, so I can see why Michael has made the comments about Theo.
On the flipside, he does still like a dribble, 4.78 per game with a success rate of 46.5%, so he has that je ne sais quoi that supporters like. Is that enough though? Our leading dribbler is Morgan Whittaker (6.57 per game, 53.97% success rate), with Brooke Norton-Cuffy (6.15 45.54%) and Hakeeb Adelakun (5.09 53.49%) also with better numbers, one division higher. With 4.32 crosses per game, at 29.2% accuracy, Theo does cross more than any of our current squad have this season (Cohen is on 3.71 per game, 27.3% accuracy), so he does seem to add something of what we’ve been missing. However, consider this (and it links into my last point); our top two crossers have been Brooke and Cohen in terms of crosses per game. That suggests our style is very much overlapping full backs, NOT flying wingers.
It might be argued that his goal and assists return has suggested he might be a very good League Two player, but perhaps not a top end League One player. We must kick on next season, and despite having a solid campaign with Orient, Archibald hasn’t been crucial to them, or played a role in a promotion-winning team. Before Christmas, he had nine goal involvements, if he’d come back to us with 18, and been consistent throughout, maybe it would have seemed harsh, However, he’s tailed off in the second half of the season, and I think any prospective buyer will be found amongst League Two promotion hopefuls, not those aspiring to the League One play-offs.
If we had a reserve outfit playing good, competitive football, I’d see somewhere for Theo to fit in. It pains me a lot, because I really like the lad, he’s my type of player, a tricky winger with a touch of skill, but I don’t see a future for him now. Michael has never gone back on a decision to let a player go, and only recalled Max Melbourne out of neccesity, rather than a firm chance of rebuilding his career. If he says a player is unlikely to feature, it’s as good as signing his leaving card and sticking a tenner in. Is it the right call? There are plenty of reasons why it is, and I know some will say ‘he can’t be worse than such and such’, but the fact is Lincoln City’s future progression lies either with players in the squad right now, or (and perhaps even more so) with those we chose to bring in fresh over the summer. sadly, Theo will most likely move on and help facilitate a new signing, rather than impact the squad as if he were one himself.