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Treble Deja Vu and That Five-Point Plan. Or is it Six?
Written by Superfrans on Wednesday, 1st Feb 2017 12:52

It feels like double deja vu at Portman Road right now. And it may be treble within a few months.

In summer 2010, Roy Keane appeared to receive only limited support in the transfer window from an owner who had given as much money as he wanted to invest. The suspicion was that Marcus Evans had concluded that that Keane wasn't the right man and would be given just a few months with the squad he had assembled to sort things out. Keane didn't and was gone barely four months later.

In autumn 2012, having signed a string of players in the summer, Paul Jewell found his plan wasn't working and drafted in a succession of loans and short term contract players in a desperate attempt to find the right blend. In late October, seven points adrift at the bottom of the Championship and heading for League One, he was relieved of his post.

There are clear echoes of both these patterns at Portman Road right now - with perhaps a third yet to come. In mid-April 2009, having led Town to a home derby victory over Norwich and secured 60 points for the season, manager Jim Magilton was relieved of his duties, having secured safety in comfortable mid-table.

You won't find many Town fans now who think that a managerial change isn't coming again this summer. All the signs are there.

More worryingly though, there are signs that the club owner Marcus Evans has not learned the clearest lesson from the past 18 months - that, in 2017, our existing recruitment policy of free transfers, low division bargains and loans leaves us too far off the Championship pace to compete.

Many fans understand our financial realities. We are a club with a turnover of around £16 million (which will decline as attendances surely slip next season) and a wage bill sucking up broadly 102 per cent of that (based on most recent financials). Evans subsidises debts of broadly £6 million a season (taking the average of the past nine years). It is perhaps understandable that he considers that enough of an annual gift to the club he owns. But if he seriously seeks promotion, how does he see this happening on such budgets?

Only a month ago, Evans unveiled his Five-Point Plan. Derided by many, it laid out a perfectly logical and coherent strategy for a club looking towards sustainability - but does it work if we seek promotion to the Premier League?

This plan is easily summarised through a series of buzz phrases - "sign cheap", "develop youth", "entertaining football", "stable management", "sustainable/competitive budget". All laudable aims and being delivered to differing degrees.

Sign cheap? Absolutely, no question there. The quality may be in question, but the price tags are certainly not.

Develop youth? Lots more success in this area over recent months - and if one part of the club gives hope, it is the work of Bryan Klug, Lee O'Neill etc at the Academy.

Entertaining football? Well, you'd have to hope that this is a newly-constructed plan and as much as a direction to Evans's manager than a reflection of past performance. More improvement needed, but, again, admirable.

Stable management? Evans does indeed have a track record of sticking with his managers (some might say for too long). But, assuming the point here is that we should have consistent, unbroken leadership, the approach towards Luke Chambers this past month is perplexing.

If a managerial change is likely this summer, surely leadership from all areas is essential - which presumably doesn't mean alienating your loyal, passionate, talismanic club captain (a player with far greater significance as the glue for our squad of players than many give him credit for) to the extent that he feels necessary to sniff around for some career security at a club with no manager and an owner who is desperately trying to sell it (Forest).

Finally, that key point - a sustainable, competitive budget. It is becoming increasingly clear that 'sustainable' to Ipswich Town and Marcus Evans is fast becoming incompatible with 'competitive' in the Championship. We have just witnessed a January window in which Championship clubs have spent sums such as £10 million (Jordan Rhodes), £13 million (Helder Costa), £12 million (Scott Hogan), £7 million (Yanic Wildschut).

Now, it is perfectly logical for Evans to question the sanity of a club with turnover of £16 million spending above £10 million on one player (a player who could become injured, lose form, lose interest). But if that is the case, what is the genuine plan for promotion? Where does this leave us?

How is bidding £2 million for a player with a £4 million price-tag competitive? How is it competitive to look for £500,000 or £1 million bargains competitive in a division where £5 million, £6 million is becoming a normal price tag for a quality (not outstanding) player?

Plenty Ipswich Town fans understand that we are living through challenging times, as football sucks in vast sums of money, distributed unevenly with recently relegated former Premier League clubs banking vast sums. Meanwhile, in pursuit of the Premier League's top dollar, clubs of our size are spending £10 million-£20 million a season in player fees, risking their future into the bargain.

But what really does that Five-Point Plan aim to deliver? Can we really do much more than tread water in the Championship? Or is this a plan to build the club through developing and selling players, reinvesting the cash over a five to 10-year period? Many of us fans (even the extremely patient ones, who have remained onside for so so long) just want to know.

Because it is increasingly looking as if Marcus Evans left out a crucial sixth point from his Five-Point Plan.

Point 6: Pray.

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rickw added 13:12 - Feb 1
Very well written and well balanced blog - I agree with everything you've said!!

HarryfromBath added 13:38 - Feb 1
Superb analysis, Superfrans, and thank you for putting together so coherently what many are thinking today. Although the performance was similar to our displays Nottimgham Forest and away at Lincoln and should not have come as a surprise, last night's result was bruising and highlighted the need for some quality for the manager to work with.

The fundamental problem, as you have so eloquently set out, is the owner's strategic approach and the palpable lack of investment in the squad. Our frustration is not akin to QPR or Forest fans in recent years squealing for signings like petulant children. It is more about recognizing that the additional funding in the Premier League has had a knock on effect in what is needed to remain competitive in the Championship.

It is not the case that investing in a striker automatically means that this funding is written off. Blackburn and Fulham paid over the odds for Jordan Rhodes and Ross McCormack, but were able to sell both players, and in one case make a profit. It is also the case that investing in one good striker can increase the value of his team-mates.

This transfer window has indeed had all the hallmarks of Jewell's last fateful summer, when we all went into the season with justifiable apprehension. We had the security blanket of the loan window then, but that has been taken away and another similar catastrophic window this coming summer will see us in a relegation fight.

The five-point plan Evans outlined is simply unsustainable in this division and in this market and is a pipe dream. The owner has been mercifully patient with his managers but that is not enough. He needs to invest properly in supporting his manager or sell the club. It's a binary choice.


Steve_M added 13:48 - Feb 1
Excellently and cogently argued; there is no real sense of direction at this club anymore. The opportunity presented to build on the relative success of 2014-15 has been squandered as have so many other opportunities over the last 16 years.

Evans has been here for nine years and only McCarthy's better spells as manager has raised that time above being an unmitigated disaster. Without a genuine change of approach, it's hard to see why fans will continue to pay out to watch.

chorltonskylineblue added 14:09 - Feb 1
Good article and a good summary of where we are at present. Just one point to add - I was really disappointed we didn't sign Matty Taylor from Bristol Rovers. I haven't seen him play, admittedly, but his goalscoringb stats were impressive. To find out he went to Bristol City for £300K was gutting. Surely we could have afforded to bid for him.

Radlett_blue added 14:13 - Feb 1
Given Evans's track record of recruiting out of work managers with a history of getting a club promoted to the PL & keeping it here for 1 season, I expect Nigel Pearson to be the next cab of the rank, if he is willing to work with a strictly limited playing budget.

Daleyitfc added 16:42 - Feb 1
Nice one.

Marshalls_Mullet added 19:43 - Feb 1
good blog.

Here's a thought for ME... would we lose less money in League 1?

Turnover would be lower, but so would the wages. I wonder how it compares.

Warkys_Tash added 22:06 - Feb 1
Super Frans, Super Blog. Spot on. What seems to have happened as Evans ownership has endured he put more money in at the start and has cut back on this investm as time has progressed, whilst in reality what is needed is an increase due to the ever widening gap between the newly relegated clubs receiving the parachute payments and the others.

All this FFP is crazy and just doesn't work, However, a lot of clubs are running at serious risk of financial ruin. Forest have spent fairly big, Derby have spent big, neither have done better than Ipswich since McCarthy has been here (this season excluded!).

Lots of fans blame McCarthy but in fairness he has worked minor miracles under very difficult T&C's (as he puts it). Not many managers would have got ITFC into the play-offs. However, whilst that worked for a while, like Joe Royle did (with very limited funds but a better squad), he has now ran out of steam. There are only so many seasons you can punch above your weight, play high pressing football and achieve play-off placings running on great team togetherness and spirit.

Barnsley are doing similar this year, they probably won't do it next.

Agree the style of footy has been poor and last season was a massive disappointment not to continue to progress, which set the tone for this year. Add to that, McCarthy being forced to lose his star striker with no time to replace - he must have wanted to walk away. Or did he? I can't really understand why he allowed that to happen and stay quiet whilst damaging his reputation as a well respected manager that has achieved in the game. Surely, its not written into his contract? No other club seems to sell without a replacement lined up - except us. Who made this decision, its unclear. McCarty seemed to have a say in Chambers staying, yet made a strange comment that he believes Forest offered him a contract but wasn't sure. Again, if we have an a year option left on Chambers, surely that means Forest would have to have a bid accepted by Town before they can approach him? Its all a bit odd.

What I also find strange,in addition to the good point you made about loans and the position MM was left in with Jewell (and as you said it happening all over again), is the fact that Evans is bleating on about importance of a good Academy. He set us back 5-7 years by dismissing Brian Klug in the first place, ignoring youth and having a policy of allowing managers to buy old legs in the hope of a quick return to the Prem. Lee Bower, Jimmy Bullard to name a couple. Now its the most important thing at the club - despite a manager who is not known for bringing on youth and giving it a chance.

Most fans if told in the summer that this season was a rebuild would have probably accepted it, had the like of Emmanuel and Kenlock been given a proper run from the first game. Then as the season started to crumble before our eyes and with no clear direction or strategy (We have been calling for the last 5 years), Milne spouts about a 3 point plan and then a few weeks later Evans unveils a 5 point 'strategy' and sites this season as one of rebuild. Really?? We are not buying it, just like he is not buying players! Why no mentioned of this strategy in the summer, when it would have been a good time to do so? Not a whiff of it.

What next? Who knows, one thing is for sure the crowd I witnessed yesterday brought me back to the John Duncan era when it felt like we had no hope. It was one of the lowest I could remember since then. There was never 14,712 in the ground - more like 12,000. PR was so quiet even the Derby fans couldn't gather any momentum. Sad times indeed.


Superfrans added 08:18 - Feb 2
Thanks for the comments above. Always nice to read.
It is clear that Evans has changed strategy over the past 9 years. What I'm not sure of of is how much this is dictated by the manager.
Keane was clearly a manager who demanded from his owner, as was Jewell (albeit in a slightly different way, I'm sure). I do wonder whether McCarthy is prouder of his parsimony and perhaps dictates the transfer budget this way - in other words he is proud of working to a tight budget. The point being that, once replaced, would new manager have the same budget or more money - because he more actively demands it?

westernblue added 08:38 - Feb 2
A really stimulating analysis, Superfrans. It's hard to see what the club realistically sees as the way forward. The 'plan' has the merit of simplicity, but only gets to grips with 'what' rather than 'how'. Given its blandness and timing, it's difficult to avoid the impression that it was rushed out to offer some minimal public presence on the part of the owner (Milne, apart, for obvious reasons). This sounds harsh, but any sort of progress demands that at season's end much of the squad will have to be moved on (as contracts expire or deals can be arranged, etc). Even if we avoid relegation this time, on the current trajectory Division 1 is a clear possibility next year. Given the lack of investment, unless ME sells (and the financial situation significantly improves as a result), then the only viable plan is: to accelerate the incorporation of academy graduates into the first team, under a young manager (who is excited by being at PR with plenty to prove). The alternative is continuing this aimless, long, slow decline - not least in quality of football (and can we dream of ever again winning a cup match?). A nightmare scenario would be if the proposal to purchase the freehold from the council were resuscitated. Especially given what we have experienced in the past two years, any prospect of the club leaving Portman Road would be for me the end. As to a response, our family's own protest (too muted, I guess) has been to greatly reduce the number of games we attend. It's hard to change a decades-long habit, but I miss it less than I expected. I suspect that many fellow Town supporters are thinking on similar lines. Sad times indeed.

awayfan added 12:36 - Feb 2
Thanks Superfans for this very well-written and perceptive blog. An excellent read.
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