It’s arguably one of the biggest decisions of recent years as manager Darrell Clarke rebuilds the Port Vale squad in the summer. In this series, we’ll look at the side position-by-position and ask you to vote on who you think should stay and who should be released.
The Central Defenders
At the start of the summer, with Nathan Smith widely expected to leave, changes were expected in defence. However, Smith’s decision to stay changed that and Port Vale started the season with the same central defence as the 2019-20 season. It’s worth noting that Vale started the season with a formidable defence – recording three successive clean sheets in the League – before it all started to fall apart after the FA Cup exit to Kings Lynn. Normal starters Nathan Smith and Leon Legge both lost form – with the latter recording two red cards in eight games. Then, as dramatically as it fell apart, it all fell back into place under new manager Darrell Clarke. The switch to a back three appears to suit veterans Legge and Brisley, whose return to form was notable, and it reinvigorated Nathan Smith, who looked back to his best. So, right now, all looks rosy but this is still a defensive unit which fell apart in some style in mid-season – does the manager keep faith or start to rebuild?
- Leon Legge: 36 appearances / 3 goals – contract situation unclear
- Nathan Smith: 42 appearances / 4 goals – under contract
- Shaun Brisley: 22 appearances / 1 goal – out of contract in the summer
- Adam Crookes: 16 appearances / 1 goal – out of contract in the summer
- Mustapha Olagunju: 5 appearances / 0 goals – on loan but out of contract in the summer
Stats as of 27th April 2021
Hmmm, what would have been the answer if we’d asked this question around the New Year period? At that time, Legge looked out of form with two sendings-off and on the expiration of his suspension was then missing from the squad. Rumours suggested this was because any more appearances would trigger a contract extension. It was therefore a surprise when new manager Darrell Clarke soon picked the veteran. However, all doubts were dispelled as Legge swiftly returned to his best. Playing as part of a back three looks to suit him as he’s not as exposed as in a back four and his aerial ability in the recent run of cleansheets has been a key strength. Having said all that, Legge will be 36 in the summer. Has he done enough to earn a new contract? Perhaps he’s already got one if his clause remains but if not, we still think he’s got something to offer. Vale need to have a younger player earmarked as his successor but Legge’s admirable character both on and off the pitch are still a positive for us.
Status: Contract situation unclear
OVF decision: Keep
After over 240 appearances for the club in his career, this season wasn’t Smith’s most consistent but he’s finishing the campaign in fine form. He’s under contract until 2022 and he looks to be thriving in the back three alongside Legge and Brisley. Here’s to clocking up appearance number 250 in the not too distant future.
Status: Under contract
In a strange way, much of what we’ve said about Leon Legge applies to Shaun Brisley. Around the New Year time, you wouldn’t put him top of the list for a new contract but his form in the latter part of the season has changed all that. Like Legge, Vale would benefit from a younger understudy or two if they are to keep both Legge and Brisley but after so many cleansheets why shouldn’t both remain? If Vale do opt to only keep one veteran this could play in Brisley’s favour. He’ll be a relative spring chicken aged 31 next season – which is some five years Legge’s junior.
Status: Out of contract in the summer
OVF decision: Keep
Hmm, a tricky one but we’d have to say that the youngster hasn’t really established himself this season. He’s been unlucky with injuries and when Vale were playing two centre-backs Crookes often found himself fourth choice. His versatility means he can also line-up on the left but if Darrell Clarke opts for three at the back next season, we wonder whether he’ll want a left wingback, rather than the more defensive Crookes, on the left. Crookes hasn’t done too much wrong and has been steady but with Smith, Legge and Brisley all performing so well, it may benefit the player to move on for regular first-team football elsewhere. From the Valiants’ perspective, if Crookes does go, it would be a good move to bring in a young player to understudy the two veteran defenders.
Status: Out of contract in the summer
OVF decision: Leave
And if the Valiants do decide to bring in a youngster could it be the Huddersfield player? Olagunju is out of contract in the summer and we have a feeling he may be surplus to requirements at Town. If he is, do Vale see him as someone who can come in with potential and eventually replace one of the more senior players? Olagunju is just 19, so there’s be no issue with squad limits, and has the physical attributes being six foot two inches tall. However, apart from 73 minutes against Leyton Orient, his appearances have mainly been in the dying minutes and as a result, it’s been hard to assess his playing ability. Do Vale see him as a potential recruit? Or will they look towards their own academy and the likes of Michael Lennon instead? Would Olagunju join the football club? There’s lots of questions there and it’s perhaps a better question for the coaches, who will see the player in training, than for fans to answer.
Status: Out of contract in the summer (at Huddersfield Town)
OVF decision: Undecided
More votes on the 2021 retained list
- Retained list 2021: which keepers should stay?
- Retained list 2021: which central defenders should stay?
- Retained list 2021: which full-backs should stay?
- Retained list 2021: which central midfielders should stay?
- Retained list 2021: which wingers should stay?
- Retained list 2021: which strikers should stay?