Morgan Whittaker on wanting to be like Neymar, his aims with Plymouth Argyle and Steven Schumacher’s departure from the club. Watch Southampton vs Plymouth Argyle live on Sky Sports Football from 5.30pm on Friday night; Kick-off 6pm.
It is not even 2024 yet and Morgan Whittaker has already achieved his targets for the season at Plymouth Argyle.
“I wanted to just get to double figures,” the 22-year-old tells Sky Sports. “I got to double figures last season, so I just wanted to do the same. I need to push myself and try to get to 15 or 20.
“This time last year I was coming to the time where I was about to be recalled, and I was on nine goals and seven assists.
“So fast forward to now, I would have bitten your hand off to be here. I’m really happy with how the season’s going and just wanted to continue.”
Three goals already over the festive spell have taken him to 12 for the campaign for Plymouth Argyle, an incredible return at this stage for a newly-promoted side in the Championship.
It is why returning to the place he spent the first half of last season on loan in League One made so much sense.
Whittaker feels at home in Devon.
“It was a no-brainer really,” he says. “As soon as the opportunity was there, I knew I had to take it.
“It’s massive for a young player to have that trust and that playing time.
“I think that’s why I wanted to come back here so much, because I knew I’d get a consistent run of games.
“It’s a really good group of players and it’s a good dressing room to be in off the pitch as well.
“I’ve been quite lucky. Apart from Derby, I’ve been by the sea with Swansea and Plymouth. I’ve got three dogs so I love taking them to the beach.
“So the lifestyle hasn’t changed much from there either.”
His form hasn’t slowed even after the departure of manager Steven Schumacher, who abruptly left for Stoke City before the festive run started.
Whittaker admits he was sad to see him go, but knows that football moves fast and there is no time to dwell.
“There was obviously disappointment there because he was a really good gaffer, especially for me, putting the trust in me and the faith in me,” admits Whittaker.
“He helped me so much in my career and given me the platform to perform.
“But it’s football, and he’s a really good manager, so you expect him to move on. You’ve just got to get on with it.”
The club is an isolated one in many ways down on the south coast of Devon. Very different to where Whittaker learned his trade in the Midlands.
It is likely a big reason why their home form is so good – the sixth best in the league – and their away form so poor – they are still without a win on the road all season.
Even on Boxing Day, as Whittaker scored twice, Argyle managed to shoot themselves in the foot with an own goal in a 2-2 draw at Cardiff.
“I haven’t got an answer to why it is, really,” admits Whittaker. “It may be because we know we’re so good at home, so we go into the games with a little less fear with the crowd behind us.
“Everyone in the club and the community is so together. I’ve not been at a place like it before where the fans are so together with the team and vice versa.
“They’re coming to see good football and we’re putting on good performances, so they’re enjoying it.
“It’s a different part of the world. I took for granted being at Derby in the middle of the country and every away trip’s not very far.
“I do think it’s going to click for us one day. We can’t go the whole season not winning away from home. So I think when we first get that win, we’ll be fine from there. It’s just about getting there.
Plymouth are well placed to stay up, an achievement that should not be underestimated for a newly-promoted side – especially considering they are back at this level for the first time since 2009.
Whittaker is also well in the thick of the race for the Golden Boot in the Championship.
But within the battle and the mid-winter slog, he never forgets to express and enjoy himself on the pitch – like his childhood hero Neymar.
“Since I can remember, he’s been the main one that I’ve always wanted to be like and play like,” Whittaker says.
“He just shows so much freedom playing and he’s just a really good person to watch.
“I think you can sometimes get too much in your head that you have to perform, perform, perform, and you forget to enjoy what you’re doing because you’ve worked so hard to get to this moment.
“You have to enjoy it instead of putting so much pressure on yourself to do well and be the best. You need to enjoy yourself as well.”
It is a great attitude to have, and one Plymouth Argyle fans will be hoping to see as much of for as long as possible.