Last week, Blackpool welcomed sixth summer signing Callum Connolly to Bloomfield Road on a two-year deal with a one-year extension. One that has gone under the radar with many Blackpool fans, for those who pay a keen eye to the Championship and League One will have been aware of the combative displays this young man has had over the last couple of seasons and will recognise what a strong signing he is.
The former Fleetwood captain and Everton youth product has made over 140 career appearances at the age of 23, and will offer versatility to the side as he’s capable of playing central defence, right-back and defensive midfield.
It’s easy to draw comparisons to Connolly and Oliver Turton who also played in those three positions, but it’s clear that Connolly comes from a better pedigree than Turton already in his short career compared to Turton.
The Liverpool-born defender came through at Goodison Park and had various loan spells in the Championship and League One – the first came at Barnsley where he made three appearances, then a move to Wigan where he played 18 times, mainly at centre back or right back. Then came his first full season with Ipswich Town, where he made 35 appearances and was largely used in central midfield. Next, he returned to Wigan where he made 17 further appearances, 10 from the bench, before moving to Bolton for the second half of the season.
Then, at the age of 21, Connolly dropped down to League One with Lincoln City, but the loan was cut short in January and he joined Fleetwood where he’s spent the majority of the last 18 months. He ended his spell at the Cods as club captain under Simon Grayson, having led the team through a difficult spell at the end of the season. He’s been the standout performer over the last couple of seasons and seemed destined to make the step back up to the Championship, so it’s encouraging that he’s been tied down by Blackpool.
As well as a relatively long career for his age, Connolly has represented his country from u17 to u21 level, scoring against Scotland in the 2018 semi-final of the Toulon Tournament.
He’s had a few homes as Blackpool is his eighth club, but the key difference is the fact that he now has a permanent home – he’s never played a game for his parent club and therefore will surely be massively excited to get his teeth into his two-year deal, which includes a one-year extension, on the Fylde Coast.
It’s worth noting the Everton connection that’s showing itself here – in Blackpool’s current squad we have Jordan Thorniley, Luke Garbutt, Josh Bowler and Shayne Lavery as well as Connolly, and of course there may still be further additions and the potential return of Ellis Simms. Given Critchley’s most recent stint was across the city with Liverpool, it’s surprising that this has been the case, though of course Thorniley came before Critchley. It’s likely just coincidence, although the fact that Critch has been watching the Everton u23s – something Matt Scrafton revealed to us in Episode 39 of the 1-2 Podcast – may mean that more could follow in the future.
So a 23-year-old with experience, but what else are we getting? It may be no surprise to see that Connolly plays right across the back line in his role as a centre-back or central defensive midfield.
He also has an eye for goal, having scored 13 goals – an average of one in 10 games and four per season. The majority of these have come when he’s played in midfield – bagging four for Ipswich from that position – but he also offers a threat at set-pieces which will surely become apparent for Blackpool with the delivery of fellow former Toffee Garbutt. Hopefully the two already have a rapport, having played numerous games together in the youth teams on Merseyside.
In Connolly we’ve added another potential leader to our ranks. There have been calls for us to add more experience to our backline and Connolly has all of the characteristics and experience to be that man. He also strikes me as someone with ambition and motivation, keen to hit the ground running with a fresh start in his first permanent move from Goodison.
I’d expect him to be a main starter in the side, in a backline pairing or a three, the latter in which he can support a right-wing back in the mould of Jordan Gabriel or similar. He’s a direct replacement for Turton, but offers so much more quality than he, and has also played at Championship level before.
Signing on a free transfer and likely not meteoric wages, Connolly is a very astute signing and will have a strong market value in 12 months with a solid season at Championship level. It’s a sign of the status of our club that we are now able to attract this level of signing, something we may not have even managed vs the club he’s come from down the road in previous windows. Of course, the level we’re playing at helps, but I’d hazard a guess that young footballers up and down the country are starting to catch wind of what’s getting built on the Fylde Coast by Simon Sadler.
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