Updated on 3rd September.
Ryan Hardie won’t be playing against us this weekend for Plymouth Argyle due to a clause in his loan deal, but should he be lining up for the Seasiders instead? We consider the 23-year-old’s future at Bloomfield Road and whether his current loan spell means the end or if it actually works for all parties.
This debate was also part of our recent Plymouth Preview podcast with @argylevoodoo which you can also listen to on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
It’s become a bit of a revolving door at Bloomfield Road in the 12 months since Simon Sadler took the reigns, and with 10 new signings already this summer, it’s showing no sign of slowing down. There were 24 new additions last season, in addition to the 10 this window, while 29 have made their way out in the same period.
Of the nine permanent signings made last season, only Sullay Kaikai remains – though Ryan Hardie is one who is still on Blackpool’s books given his move to Plymouth Argyle was only temporary. After signing for Pool last summer for a sizeable fee, the move to Home Park has split the opinion of the Blackpool fan base, so why did it happen and does it make sense?
Story so far
Ryan Hardie simply scores goals wherever he goes except, seemingly, at Blackpool. He lit Scottish football alight at youth level, both at Rangers and for Scotland, and was originally tipped to make the breakthrough at Rangers after impressing in numerous loan spells in the second tier in Scotland.
When he signed for the Seasiders last summer for a fee of around £225k, he drew intrigue as he was the first signing for any kind of fee under Simon Sadler. Everyone knows that with strikers, it’s a case of hitting the ground running or being right up against it to win over the fans. For Hardie, it was the case that he never quite got going in his 12 appearances under Simon Grayson.
Unfortunately, Pool didn’t really impress with him in the side last campaign. Aside from the 5-1 win vs Morecambe in the Football League Trophy where he scored, his only other wins in tangerine came in late 1-0 wins against Doncaster and Wolves u21s – both goals coming when Hardie had already left the field having started each game. His other appearances were draws with Macclesfield, Rochdale, Accrington and Bolton, and defeats to Coventry, MK Dons, Rotherham, Carlisle and Scunthorpe.
When he did get minutes, the striker from Stranraer didn’t look particularly dangerous when leading the line. As the team’s form dropped off, it became harder for the Scotsman to make his mark and he fell down the pecking order.
He didn’t really get chance to get comfortable and was shipped out to Home Park in the January window in search of first team football, where he bagged 7 goals in his 13 games in green, so why the difference in form?
Hardie’s record throughout his professional career has been very strong to date, though much of his football has come in Scotland and League Two:
As shown, he has bagged 39 goals in 63 senior starts throughout his career. That’s 0.6 goals per game and is clearly a record not to be sniffed at. Surely, based on this, if he is given a run of games then it will only be a matter of time before he starts to score goals at League One level, especially with a manager who trusts him.
Interestingly, Hardie has a record of hitting the ground running wherever he’s been. He scored twice on his first start for Rangers, bagged a hat-trick in his first start for Raith, scored four times in his first six games for St Mirren including in his first start, and scored on his debut for Livingston before bagging five in his first five games. And last season, he continued his hot streak last season for the Green Army when he scored in each of his first three games for Plymouth – each coming off the bench with less than 20 minutes to go.
Despite these stats, the Scottish marksman only played 237 minutes across 12 games in League One for Blackpool, an average of less than 20 minutes per game, and made just two league starts. This is clearly not enough time to judge whether he’s ready for Blackpool yet or, more appropriately, if he’s not good enough. Pool fans haven’t seen enough of him to make a final judgement call.
It can be very difficult coming into a game in the final half hour when your side’s struggling and, like all forwards, Hardie is clearly a man who plays on confidence. When he has a run in a side where the manager believes in him, goals tend to follow – that’s clearly been the case everywhere else he’s been.
Style of play
One of the key factors which may have hampered Hardie’s time on the Seaside so far is the style of play. You could argue that Simon Grayson’s tactics weren’t naturally suited to Hardie’s game; typically last season, with Liam Feeney’s crossing, Pool needed a target man, which more often than not was Armand Gnanduillet. That tactic worked successfully on a number of occasions, with Feeney providing the most assists in the league and Gnanduillet in the running for the Golden Boot. But that also meant that Hardie, Joe Nuttall and later, Gary Madine, were seen to be less effective and didn’t seem to pose quite the same goal threat.
Perhaps rather than criticising the other three, we should consider whether the tactic itself was one-dimensional?
With Gnanduillet now gone, Blackpool have adapted our style of play and Jerry Yates is expected to lead the line with his energy and enthusiasm. Could Ryan Hardie have provided another like-for-like option?
If given a preseason with Critchley’s style of play, we could have seen the best of Hardie. You’d think that once he’s scored one, he should go on a run and become a real asset to the side, and he arguably fits the system better than Gary Madine. That said, maybe he’s too similar to Yates and if we are looking for a goal, it may be as well to give someone like Madine a run out with his presence and strength as a ‘plan b’.
Rather than holding the ball up and challenging for flick-ons, Hardie’s skill set is more aligned to benefiting from through balls, where he can race in behind the opposition’s back line and calmly beat the keeper. He’s good at running into space and making things happen in and around the penalty box, and often kills the game late on when defenders’ legs are tiring. With Critchley’s style of play, Hardie may have benefitted from the more pressing game we’re expected to adopt, and he’d have players around him looking to prize oppositions’ defences open and create chances. But he was likely told that he wouldn’t be first choice, and therefore requested to go back to a place where he was playing well and scoring goals.
It was initially rumoured that Plymouth had bid £200k for the front man on a permanent transfer, a similar amount to that we paid for him last summer, and clearly the club see him having a future at the club – or increasing in value next summer – to encourage a loan move instead. Hardie has become a fan favourite down in Devon and you’d back him to score plenty down there with a crowd already behind him (when they’re allowed back through the turnstiles of course). It will surely also be on Hardie’s mind that he’s not quite done it for Pool yet, and he may have a better chance to impress at this level with Ryan Lowe’s side, so it’s understandable that he preferred to go back.
Hardie is coming into the last year of his deal at Blackpool, though the club do have an option of a one-year extension to this which they’d surely take – even if he had a disappointing second season – which would allow us to secure a fee for him in 12 months’ time.
In the end, a loan move is probably the one which suits all parties the best, even though he strengthens a divisional rival. It allows for Hardie to play his football in a place where he’s probably more settled and comfortable, taking the step up to League One football and showing he can do it on a regular basis in a side which is full on confidence having just won promotion. If he can do it, then he’ll return to Blackpool next summer with a significantly higher price on his head – and more of a finished article to slot into Blackpool’s side.
At 23, he’s in that bracket of players who has the best years ahead of him, and with Critchley at the helm surely the best is yet to come. Particularly given the high turnover of players to date under Sadler, it would be disappointing to see the likes of Hardie leave permanently. Football is business at the end of the day and it’s important that we consider the finances associated to each deal, but stability will pay for itself in the longer term and it’s important that we nail down a squad of 15-20 players who are all pulling in the same direction over the next 2-3 seasons.
Next summer, it will ultimately come down to whether Critchley sees him as part of the squad, but also Hardie to work out whether he wants to stick around and prove himself. He will be in the last year of his deal, so the club will be under pressure to sell if he doesn’t sign a new deal, so it will be a case of committing – both for the club and the player – or cashing in and cutting ties for good.
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