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[Blog] Can We Have Our Football Club Back Please?
Written by itfcjoe on Thursday, 1st Dec 2011 15:57

The last few years have been a rather depressing time to be a Town fan, while Marcus Evans has saved the club financially at what expense has it been to our football club?

I don’t know where we would be today without Evans’ money as we were relying on selling a player for around £2-3 million pound each season in order to stay in business – this wasn’t a sustainable business model for a club with Premier League aspirations, as there would never be an opportunity to build a team effectively.

What has happened
When Evans came in, Jim Magilton seemed to lose his touch, he had a very promising first year as manager when he managed to clear out deadwood and bring some Ipswich-style players into the team.

We had spent the first half of the season winning every home game while struggling to pick up points on the road. We were playing exciting football with a 4-2-4 formation with a front six including Jon Walters, Alan Lee, Pablo and Billy Clarke.

When Jim was given money to spend he wasted it on central midfielders in an effort to make us more solid (Norris, Shumi, Quinn etc) which then took us from a 4-2-4 to a narrow 4-4-2 which meant we spent the next 15 months having gone from winning at home and losing away to drawing what felt like every game until Jim was eventually, and rightfully sacked – he had spent millions taking the team backwards.

The Roy Keane era turned out to be a disaster and countless blogs, forum posts and news stories on this website go into this in more detail and I won’t make everyone re-live it!

Paul Jewell then came in and instantly gave the place a lift, the fans and players seemed invigorated and this was I think mainly due to the fact that he wasn’t Roy Keane. This lift allowed the players to play a more fluid game where they weren’t scared of making mistakes and being banished to the reserves again.

There were some warning signs that Jewell’s reign was beginning to turn sour at the back end of last season where Gareth McAuley was injured and we shipped 14 goals in our last four games, with a win against a very poor and already relegated Preston side.

What is happening
The time for Jewell to prove he was the right man came in the summer, where he had to rebuild a squad, we had played a variation of 4-5-1 last year and Jewell confirmed that in the long term he wished to play 4-4-2, it was clear where our squad had deficiencies so I fully expected Jewell to plug the gaps to allow us to play 4-4-2.

The signings started off promisingly, but I think the biggest mistake Paul Jewell made was to re-sign Jimmy Bullard – this was an unpopular opinion at the time but I think this has been the catalyst for what is ruining our season.

As soon as we signed Bullard, it put us in a position where our four most experienced players in the squad, and quite probably four highest-paid players were all central midfielders – this meant that the team was forced to be picked around these players and this resulted in the diamond formation, which worked for a spell of five games but was originally found out by Portsmouth and has been exploited by every team since (play advanced wingers and stick someone on Bullard) – as I predicted in my previous blog.

Without turning this into (another) tactical blog – all this illustrates to me is Jewell is yesterday’s man. Tactics evolve and for people that are unaware of the nuances I highly recommend Jonathan Wilson’s excellent book Inverting the Pyramid. It goes through in detail how tactics have evolved, and illustrates why all the top teams tend to play one up front these days rather than two – as the extra man is needed somewhere else.

Tactics also need to be adaptable but it seems that Jewell’s transfer policy was conducted with a scattergun approach of looking to see who was available and if he thought they were a good player, rather than pinpointing areas that needed improvement and would fit into the system he was trying to play. Players should play around and fit into a tactic and a philosophy not change the way we play to fit them in.

This leads me on to my major gripes about the Paul Jewell era – ‘What is the plan?’. I have heard him say a number of times about the players he wants, youth, width, pace etc but we haven’t signed any of these. How does he envisage us playing over the next few years? What philosophy is he trying to instil into the club and players?

I read this article from today’s Guardian and it struck me as it is exactly how I imagine Paul Jewell to be behind the scenes.

What I would like to happen
Ipswich are more than a football club to me and I’m sure they are to the majority of the people reading this – I’m sure if I conducted a straw poll of fans and asked what they wanted to see in an Ipswich team it would follow the same lines of what I would want:

1. Players who have come through the academy here
2. Playing a passing game of football
3. Making progress year on year – no matter how small – while adhering to the above philosophies
4. An average attendance of 25,000-plus
5. Not running at a huge loss and being a responsible business in the current climate

Players who have come through the academy here As a comparison over the last three seasons, our league starts from players who have come through the academy (or signed as a young kid eg Shane O’Connor or spent time in academy and subsequently come back eg Lee-Barrett) is this:

2009-10 - 103 out of 506 (20%): Peters, Garvan, Lee-Barrett, Wright, Smith, O’Connor, Trotter, Wickham, Eastman.

2010-11 – 100 out of 506 (20%): Wickham, Smith, Peters, Hyam, Eastman, Brown, Carson, Lee-Barrett, O’Connor, Murray, Dyer.

2011-12 – 8 out of 198 (4%): Carson, Smith, Lee-Barrett, Ainsley, Wright.

This is frankly appalling for a club that prides itself and invests heavily in youth production. I think the situation with Tom Eastman, Troy Brown and more recently Caolan Lavery shows the greatest evidence of this, three youth prospects all offered terms by us who have decided to not sign it – and in the case of the former two, dropped down to lower leagues rather than stay and try and get in the team, as their path will have been blocked by older signings.

A team needs a blend of experience and youth, but ours is all wrong, and if as a club we can’t hold on to who a player who we want to and they choose to go to Rotherham and Colchester instead then what does that say about the faith they have in the manager about getting game time and progressing through the system?

With regards to Lavery, he has opted to go on trial at other clubs in order to win a deal than sign one on the table, is it money, or more likely the fact he sees people ahead of him in the pecking order like Ronan Murray star for the reserves in a game which Jewell states is important but still end up behind Chopra, Scotland, Murphy, Ellington and Priskin in the queue and not even within a sniff of the bench.

When young academy players play for their local team they are given far more leeway for any mistakes they may make – but at the moment, only two players have come through into the first team to remain part of the squad until sold and one is an £8 million pound player and the other is a full Northern Irish international at 18 – we need some ‘average’ players through, we must have produced some equivalents of Ian Westlake, Matt Richards and Lewis Price in the last few years that have drifted away.

Playing a passing game of football
We haven’t played a good passing style of football for a number of years, and when you look at our team it isn’t difficult to see why. We have a number of players who can’t pass the ball quickly and effectively and this slows the game down (Bowyer and Andrews are particularly guilty of this).

We need to be looking to sign players who are comfortable with the ball at their feet, dare I say it – but players in the mould of Shane O’Connor who seems to be persona non grata at the moment.

Passing must be drilled into our youth teams so that when players come through they are ready to step up. And we should only look to sign players who can pass the ball under pressure and pick out a blue shirt. Doncaster managed it under Sean O’Driscoll (who would be great here but that’s for another blog) and our scouts should be looking for people who fit into this mould – The Ipswich Way

Making progress year on year – no matter how small – while adhering to the above philosophies We need a plan – I would love for us to have a Five-Year Plan at the moment like the Sheepshanks/Burley era but it seems that the only plan we have at the moment is to get promoted to the Premiership as early as possible.

While this is obviously what everyone wants, we would give ourselves a better opportunity if we planned it properly – we were told last year that the 21 players out of contract will never happen again. In that respect we only lost four players who had appeared in over half the games last year, and only two of those were due to a contract expiring (Norris and McAuley – Wickham and Fulop).

This year out of the nine people that have started over half the games we have the following who could easily have left by start of next year: loan spell expired – Stockdale, Andrews, Collins. Contract expired – Leadbitter, Bowyer.

So over half of the core of our team will be gone – so yet again we need to sign a new team at the end of the season – a club can’t run like this, it needs consistency in the squad amongst the key players, supplemented by one or two key signings a year.

I would rather see the likes of Luke Hyam play rather than Andrews and Bowyer. While not a criticism of the two of them, is their heart in it? Andrews has dropped down and fair play but I’d guess he’ll take the best offer in January. Bowyer is a multi-millionaire who we are paying £15,000 a week to when we should be promoting from the youths and increasing their values – we realistically need to sell an academy product every now and again to run as a business.

An average attendance of 25,000-plus Crowds are dwindling at Ipswich, and it isn’t difficult to see why – we aren’t adhering to any of the three things above and football is expensive. I think my season ticket is relatively good value in the North Lower – as an early bird renewer – it works out around £16-17 a game.

In years gone by if you were to miss four or five games a season it wouldn’t be worth having one – nowadays I have friends who live away and can’t make night games and it still works out cheaper. This means one of either two things – the season tickets are too cheap or the match day tickets are too expensive, and it isn’t difficult to work out which it is!

£30+ to watch Championship football is ridiculous in this financial climate, and I can see why people don’t go. If the ticket prices were reduced to a reasonable level, eg £20 for all lower tier tickets and £25 for all upper tier attendances would increase, especially if we follow the three key Ipswich points above.

We have players that the crowd don’t associate with, no local connection, and earning big money.

Not running at a huge loss and being a responsible business in the current climate
We are running the club as a huge loss, last year we made a small profit but this is entirely due to the sale of Connor Wickham, which is a one-off.

Our wage bill must have significantly dwarfed our non-transfer revenue – and this year it will be a lot worse. We must have a number of high earners and I’d guess all of the below earn more than £12,000 a week: Stockdale, Collins, Leadbitter, Bowyer, Andrews, Bullard, Murphy, Scotland, Chopra and Priskin – I can’t imagine that there are any other clubs in the Championship not benefiting from parachute payments like West Ham that have even half the number of these high earners as we do.

Why do we pay these players this money? Are they considerably better than the likes of Cresswell and Carson who probably earn less than a third of this? We should look to introduce a wage cap of around 70% of turnover – bearing in mind next year it will be well over 100%. This would force us to use kids from the academy and hungry players from lower leagues rather than relying on has-beens.

Evans obviously sees promotion as the only way to get his money back, but the way to do it is responsibly rather than throwing good money after bad and relying on cheque book managers who need their own men all the time.

How can we achieve this?
1. Have a Category One EPPP academy and have it written into the manager's contract that he must pick four players out of 16 who are from an English academy and were U21 at the start of the season – this should protect us by increasing value to our players and will be in the managers head when they are constructing a squad. It will also help attract and keep the right quality of young players.

2. Simple – tell them to pass it and if they can’t do it drop them and sell them. Look at Swansea, they wouldn’t sign anyone who can’t pass

3. Announce to the public where they hope to be in five years, set targets and objectives. We all have them in our jobs so transparency is key and will allow the fans to know what is going on

4. Most difficult. Cut matchday prices, bring in special offers, eg if a Saturday and Tuesday game buy one get one half price. Mini five-game season tickets that can be converted into new ones. Maybe a scheme similar to an Oyster where you are rewarded the more you do it and always get best value. Doing the other three principles above will help also!

5. Tie wages to turnover, produce young players to sell at the right time.

As an ITFC fan I don’t just want instant promotion, I want firm foundations being laid and gradual improvement and just knowing that the leadership of the club is correct and knows what it is doing. We don’t need to see Evans, he is reclusive, but it would be useful for Clegg to say where he wants the club to go.

Jewell is a big concern, if we were to look at bringing in five points I’ve mentioned above then he could struggle, but if he does then we need to replace him.

I am proud to be an Ipswich fan but just want them to be the Ipswich I know again!

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ozzydog added 09:39 - Dec 7
Well thought out and correct in every detail.

Trouble is those who make the decisions will not read it and even worse if they did they would not understand it.

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