|The Long Haul|
Written by DazC on Friday, 3rd Aug 2018 22:17
I say this with the greatest of respect to the new regime at Ipswich Town, but brace yourselves - this voyage could get a little bumpy.
That's no criticism of the appointment of Paul Hurst. It's no criticism of the new faces he has brought in. And it's no criticism of anyone involved in ushering in Town's much hashtagged 'New Era', one which has already generated a refreshing energy that has been sorely missed around Portman Road for quite some time. After all, 'tis the season to be (naively) optimistic.
I say it merely to reinforce what we must all keep in mind throughout this season and, more importantly, beyond: This is the ride we signed up for.
I wouldn't dream of uttering that six-word slogan that Town fans were liberally beaten to death with over the course of the last year or more. Frankly nobody on the outside looking in is entitled to dictate what we can 'wish' for, especially when none of them have been watching second tier football as long as we have. Wishing is the vital essence of a fan's existence, no matter how improbable.
With the utmost respect and appreciation for how Mick McCarthy stabilised a sinking ship and momentarily buoyed it to new heights against the odds, this summer's overhaul was always the right thing to do. McCarthy's approach had become the epitome of Town's ethos: Safety first. Stick to what you know. Consequently The Championship has become all a generation of Town fans do know - for better and for worse.
It wasn't just the manager. Our club had become prohibitively risk averse. There is a point at which the stability of the status quo becomes a prison sentence, and eventually, you have to make a break for the barbed wire.
In many ways, this summer is just about the scariest thing we've done for a long, long time. More so than the ill-fated Keane-Clegg revolution - at least then we were fooled into thinking we could just throw cash at the problem.
We've all seen it happen elsewhere in this division. A team appoints a manager you've not really heard of, signs a bunch of players you've not really heard of, and sells those you remember scrolling up on the videprinter last season. They're in the bottom six by November and everyone's dooming them to the drop - on occasion correctly.
And at this point - much as it is probably the greatest faux pas one can commit on the ever-optimistic eve of a new campaign - we need to genuinely admit something here: That team might well be us this season.
But you know what? That's okay. Because for the first time in many years, this season is not the point.
Since that improbably enjoyable play-off finish three years ago, the plan appears to have been to stick with the status quo and hope an unlikely bounce somehow happens again. A cynical interpretation no doubt, but one the end product has done little to quash. Success - or the lack of it - was defined purely by what position we occupied the following May.
Many onlookers would tell us this is the only measure that matters. Football is a results business, after all. But results rely upon timescales. And regardless of what anyone else might think, for the first time in years, we are likely operating on a different timescale to the rest of The Championship.
The Paul Hurst project is not a 12-month enterprise. We have embarked on something far more profound and complex this summer, probably more so than the vast majority of our divisional rivals. Whatever position we are in at Christmas, we will not be 'halfway through'. Other teams may be pushing for promotion or striving to stay up, but while we may yet find ourselves in either fight this season, it will be one battle in a longer war for us.
One only need listen to Hurst's assessments of his inherited resources to appreciate the long-term nature of this plan. There are clearly elements not to his liking, and he has not even had a full pre-season with his new squad, never mind any part of a season in anger.
He needed a sample of each at Shrewsbury before delivering the campaign that earned him the attentions of Marcus Evans and other admirers beyond - and it's worth remembering just how miraculous that was in itself.
Even with less than a week to go before the unfamiliar new transfer deadline, it's also clear that the squad is more of an unfinished product than it has been at this stage in many recent summers. Key pieces may be yet to come in and past key pieces (no names required) may yet fall out, albeit quite possibly a necessity to assemble a new, more cohesive whole.
Little surprise there has been plenty of chatter - fearful from the inside, disparaging from the outside - of the lack of Championship experience in Hurst's team, or indeed in the manager's CV. To a point it's not without justification.
But without wishing to be overly simplistic, no professional in football magically appears with such experience. Every single one to pull on a shirt or stand in a dugout was at some point untested at whatever level they may later make their name. Let's not even entertain the idea of 'better the devil you know' - particularly given that was arguably the precise mantra that brought on the current era of mediocrity.
Of course, this is probably just preaching to the choir. It's pleasing to see Ipswich fans have been leading the calls for patience with the new project as much as anybody involved in its implementation. But the rollercoaster of a season has a funny way of skewing the perspective of even the most level-headed supporter, especially if there are more downs than ups.
The crux of it, therefore, is this: 2018/19 may not be the kind of season we all want it to be.
The incomplete squad may take time to gel or fundamentally prove inadequate for the task. We could well start slowly against teams with promotion momentum, and we could be hovering at the wrong end of the table for quite some time.
We could see the other mooted candidates for the Town hotseat - Frank Lampard, Jack Ross, Tony Mowbray et al - enjoying comparatively immediate success. Worse still, we could well be battered with a reprise of that tiresome old warning from our detractors, made worse by the sneering tone of 'I told you so'.
There is every hope that it will never come to that. Indeed, if our pre-season performances have been anything to go by, there are the seeds of a refreshingly positive new Ipswich that could yet grow more quickly than expected on the Portman Road pitch. And fingers crossed that'll bring back bums on its surrounding seats too.
But whatever does happen this season, we as a fanbase have a responsibility to remember that all important timescale. We cannot, and must not, react with the same short-termist attitudes that others may well use to judge the success - or 'failure' - of Project Paul Hurst in the season to come.
Because it's not about this season. If we wanted another hit-and-hope affair of knowing where we stand within 12 months - most likely the same spot we were standing in to start with - we might as well have done nothing to rock the boat this summer. Again, this is the voyage we signed up for, choppy waters and all.
Better to be out in the open sea though, right?
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