|Where Does This Football Club Go From Here?|
Written by Steve_M on Sunday, 23rd Sep 2012 09:21
Paul Jewell’s time at this club must now be as good as over but, whether he goes this week, in two months or at the end of the season, the malaise at this club is far deeper than a man who has tried hard but been nowhere near good enough.
Way back on December 21st 2004 Ipswich beat Wigan in an outstandingly good match and no one in the 28,000+ crowd would have bet against the seeing the same fixture in the following season’s Premier League.
Instead each side did their best to throw promotion away with poor run ins before Paul Jewell’s Wigan stumbled over the line behind Sunderland. Despite reaching the play-offs that season, it has been pretty much downhill all the way for Ipswich Town Football Club since that gloriously foggy December evening.
There have been moments of optimism though, not least when Marcus Evans took over the club whilst Jim Magilton’s exciting, entertaining team sat near the top of the table. Some modest sensible investment might have seen the team consolidate, reach the play-offs that season and build on that success in subsequent seasons.
Instead, a preponderance of midfield trundlers ruined the cohesiveness of Magilton’s team in a search for defensive solidity, expectations rose to ludicrous levels and the team were booed off at half-time in the first match of the following season. The warning signs were there though, the hubris of fans singing “we’re f’ing loaded” was obvious at the time to those who wanted to think about it.
What is the relevance of this now? Well, after two home defeats in a week, it is obvious to the most optimistic of Town fans that Paul Jewell’s time here is as good as over. As with his two immediate predecessors, the time Evans has afforded Jewell hasn’t been enough to rectify glaring problems with his team; the lack of confidence and cohesion to Town’s play against Charlton just adds to a dismal run of form since April last season.
Jewell seems to have little ability to alter tactics mid-game, worse he seems to miss major faults that are obvious to large numbers of fans. The constant changing of the front players yesterday, just more evidence to suggest he is just hoping something comes off. At the same time the central pairing got deeper and deeper, leaving little option but a hoof forwards – it needed changing at half-time but that warning wasn’t taken and two mistakes in midfield saw us concede twice within ten minutes.
To hear some fans speak though, sacking Jewell would be a panacea, just as the displacement of both Magilton and Keane before him was going to be. The fact that we are nearly five years and three managers on from the Evans takeover and the state of the club is palpably worse than before should provide ample evidence to the contrary. That’s not a reason for keeping Jewell any longer though, not any more.
There is no evidence that Evans’s third managerial appointment will be any more successful than his previous two. Apparently he sounded out people in football before appointing Jewell which calls into question the judgement of those individuals – Jewell’s failures at Sheffield Wednesday and Derby were very clear and both, like Ipswich, suffered from the weight of expectation. Bradford and Wigan by contrast were well-resourced and had far less expectation.
Evans came to the club with a desire for promotion as soon as possible; someone probably told him it would be easy with a bit of investment. That pressure clearly told on the decision-making of Magilton and Keane and, indeed, Jewell’s disastrous signings for the 2011/12 season stemmed from exactly the same demands. The club have made the right noises since then about building for the future, some signings certainly reflect that but there is little more coherence about the first team squad than there has been in previous seasons.
The next managerial appointment has to be someone who can turn that rhetoric about building for the future into reality; unite the fans in a sense of optimism behind that manager, the players and the club. That doesn’t mean promotion any time soon; Evans probably needs to understand that to achieve his goal he has to be patient and accept it can’t be achieved in a season.
We have signed some 85 players since Magilton took charge of the club, that’s in a little over six seasons. That is frankly ridiculous and a clear explanation for the lack of identity many fans feel with the XI on the pitch. It does, however, give the lie to the idea that Evans hasn’t backed his managers. He’s just backed the wrong managers.
Very few of those players have been bad players, the problem has consistently been one of creating a cohesive team that is greater than the sum of its parts. Players have come in and looked good for a while before sinking to a mean level of mediocrity. We’ve been “two or three players away” from a complete side for a long time now. The availability of a transfer budget seems to lead managers to sign more players regardless rather than work to improve those they already have, to get those players playing better as a unit. The managers aren’t the only ones, too many fans have been sucked in by the Sky hyperbole that the way to improve teams is ever more signings rather than better coaching.
So who is next? Another average appointment – Mick McCarthy, Billy Davies or Gary Megson – and we will surely repeat this situation in 18 months time. I realise that some fans would probably welcome some of those names – hopefully none want our own-goal hero though – but they are, like Jewell, managers who have been around, had some success and some far leaner periods. Nothing new there.
Harry Redknapp might be more successful in the short-term but would probably see off any sort of long-term planning which could have even more catastrophic consequences. ‘Arry’s not noted for wanting to work with the players he already has either.
The sort of long-term appointment that could attempt to repeat George Burley’s job in the late 90s – Karl Robinson, Paul Tidsdale perhaps – looks increasingly far from what Evans wants but in my view is the only way this club is going to reconnect with its fanbase.
Today the prevailing mood of fans is one of apathy about the club (obviously I’m so apathetic that I wrote nearly 1,400 words to say so whilst watching MOTD last night, but anyway...). There is little expectation of anything improving, people are already wondering about renewing season tickets for next season. In September.
There are plenty of people I have spoken to who suggest that if they give up a season ticket they might struggle to justify attending matches – especially with the ludicrously high matchday prices. Perhaps it’s largely frustration but it isn’t something the club should readily ignore.
Few things about the club are particularly good these days; the lamentable club website has been the target of much frustration but understandably so, it’s far worse than the late 90s incarnation. Season ticket prices remain fair but matchday tickets are too expensive to attract casual fans and the catering overpriced and inefficient. All little things really but added to the mess on the pitch and it doesn’t feel very good.
Of course, these may not be of much concern to Evans but unfortunately we don’t really know. I respect his desire for privacy, it’s laudable compared to the self-important pronouncements of some other club owners, but it would be nice if he told us what he really thought about his ‘investment’. How long does he want to keep throwing money at footballers? Or has he got the same bug that keeps us all coming back when it makes little logical sense?
Of course, if things do go right on the pitch, then all else can largely be ignored, and attendances would certainly improve, but this feels like a club approaching something of a watershed, both for Evans and for many fans. The next manager will probably be backed financially but it needs to be a better appointment than the last two. If not, then we will just repeat the apathy and ineptitude of the last few seasons. And probably spiral further downwards all the time.
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