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Where We Might Be Without Asset Stripping
Written by David_GG on Thursday, 29th Nov 2018 14:50

I am writing today to put forward my opinion about the sorry sad state of Ipswich Town and I suspect a number of other clubs around the land with supporters who feel as if they are suffering at the hands otherwise hugely successful businessmen and women as owners.

There is probably a yearning for us to have the club run as a successful business, but the performance on the pitch certainly doesn't reflect that in reality."

I am 47 years old now and do not care to try remember the last time I got excited about an Ipswich result. I have been a supporter of Ipswich for 40 years, the fateful day I chose is forever etched in my mind, at school, seven years old, the day before the 1978 FA Cup final, choosing the fabulous team Sir Bobby had not only built, but continued to press for success, or Arsenal!

No brainer. Sir Bobby had one of the most endearing personalities in football and it should be no surprise to anyone who knows anything about football to learn how successful he was in his career with clubs far greater than the Tractor Boys.

I will oft remind enquirers that the Tractor Boys have provided England with their two most successful managers (World Cup winner and World Cup semi-final), Sir Alf and Sir Bobby both taking up the role from ITFC. Sir Gareth has put a spanner in that story now, but who asks me ‘Why Ipswich?’ these days anyway.

Back to the point! Almost 10 years ago I went to watch Ipswich play away against Watford (October 2010). I used to play semi-professional football as a centre-back and I could see the Watford centre-half, Martin Taylor, having one of the easiest nights of his life in the heart of the Watford defence.

Town were unable to pressure him, biggest guy in the line (6ft 4), great positioning, a walk in the park for him as he mopped up our hopeful long balls, and Watford cruised into a 2-0 lead. Too easy.

Roy Keane on the sidelines being urged to sort it out by the fans. Ten minutes into the second half, Keane brought on Connor Wickham. A raw 17-year-old big youth, fearless, full of effort and determination, chasing the lost causes, giving everything for ITFC, the club who had probably given him everything in his career up to that point.

Taylor's night changed from being a routine strolling performance to being given a real run-around by our own young wonder kid. It was fantastic, the first time Connor got the ball, he basically ran straight through Taylor, engaging the physical confrontation, and then every other time Connor got the ball he simply ran at Taylor, threatening to turn him inside out and upside down every time taking him on.

Challenging the high balls, winning plenty, chasing balls to the dead-ball line, you could sense Wickham had arrived, and against a quality experienced centre-back, his fearless efforts made such a big difference to the performance. Town got a goal back and were all over Watford for the rest of the game but couldn’t quite muster an equaliser, having a goal chalked off by an offside flag.

I remember coming away, regardless of the result thinking I had witnessed a star of the future. Wickham was in the England youth team set up and without doubt was livening up the games he played in. Even Fabio Capello mentioned he might get a seat on the plane for the World Cup! This is what I wanted to see, this was the future of our club, fight and determination, youthful endeavour without fear, let’s have more of this, let’s make this our future. Let’s get some players in the England team again, can you imagine this now?

As it transpired, Connor Wickham was indeed the future, but a different future to what I hoped for. He was sold. He was sold for £8.1m as a 19-year-old kid with a mere 72 games under his belt for my beloved Ipswich.

By the time he was playing for England U21s Wickham was just the same, his last-minute winner in a qualifier against the Serbs causing chaos and celebrations, Wickham still capable of delivering the goods in the most hostile of circumstances.

This transfer was the start, for me, the start of the asset stripping of Ipswich Town Football Club. Since Connor was sold, it seems that the primary aim of the football club is to cash in on assets when the saleable value is too profitable to refuse.

Wickham was effectively free to Ipswich, and in no way does that intend to belittle to fantastic work our youth training staff do in the community. Wickham has played 220 games in his 10 years as a professional footballer. He has been transferred for £8.1m and £7m (rising to £9m). For Sunderland and Crystal Palace he has played 109 games, in simplistic terms those clubs have effectively paid him £138,000 every time he has played a match.

That is not Connor Wickham’s fault, but what would have happened if he had stayed? Where would we be if we had invested further in our talent as opposed to cashing in when the “offer from Sunderland is simply too good to turn down," as Simon Clegg said at the time?

Since leaving Ipswich for around £900,000, Jordan Rhodes has scored 209 career goals in 449 games mostly in the Championship. Where would Ipswich be with those goals?

It does not sit right that the ambitions of a football club who once lifted the FA Cup and UEFA Cup within three seasons, regularly found themselves in the top six of the old first division between 72 and 82 throughout Sir Bobby’s time are now reduced to being regularly stripped of prize assets which can only act as a demotivational indication to the rest of the squad, suggesting that we’re not even aiming for the play-offs, we’re only looking for the next bright young thing to come through the ranks and sell once the fee offered becomes irresistible.

Of course, players' heads will be turned when big transfer fees are mentioned, I imagine it would be like winning the pools if a six-figure transfer fee is mentioned and as a 20-odd-year-old player it must be very hard not to let that influence your thoughts.

When you are playing in a team and you have good players around you, you’re confident you are going to improve and have the quality to over-deliver results and punch above your weight. When the best player is sold, you lose more than a good player, the gap created punches a whole in confidence of the rest of the team, bigger than can ever be imagined by the board.

I didn’t ever see the sale of good players being the fault of the managers, until Paul Hurst turned up and ripped up that rule book. Prior to Hurst, I would always have blamed the board for asset stripping, the players belong to the club, the club sanction purchases and sales, they sign the cheques and bank the profits, not the manager.

No matter what we think of Paul Jewell, Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy, I am sure they didn’t decide the time was right to sell our best players, and I’m even more certain they didn’t bank any of the lolly that has been drained from our club.

I have often wondered what it would be like if we had kept our best players. Is the current business plan flawed? Let’s consider whether retaining these players would have got us in the Premier League.
Here is a list of players who have left Ipswich since 2008/09, theoretically these players could all have been in the same squad for Ipswich.

Grant Leadbitter (free), Damien Delaney (free), Jordan Rhodes (£0.9m), Wickham (sold for £8.1m), Tyrone Mings (sold for £8m), Webster (sold for £3.6m), Waghorn (sold for £5m), Garner (sold for £1.2m), Murphy (sold for £3m), Cresswell (sold for £3.75m), to name but a few.

It is difficult to reason that if any of us found a rare gem (called Tyrone) and paid £10k at a car boot, we wouldn’t cash-in when somebody offered us £8m for the same thing 18 months later. It’s nonsense to suggest we would turn that down. However, is it not the outlook of an owner with a goal to reach the Premier League, there has to be a plan in place to get there and cashing in on every saleable asset is surely not the way to do it.

One season in the Premier League is now worth almost £100m in income (in 2017/18 WBA earned 94.7m for finishing bottom, 19th Swansea earned £98.5m, 18th Stoke earned £98.9m). Huddersfield, who finished fourth bottom not only earned £102.4m, but also the guarantee of almost another £100m by surviving into 2018/19. If they survive again, another £100m, so in three seasons, £300m can be earned by investing in the right manager, building a team and keeping faith in him. Remember Sir Bobby….?

Had the owner decided to not to sell any of these players, accepting that this is hypothetical as the players are from different eras and of different ages, could we have built a team from the players who have left ITFC to get this club promoted? Then Mr Evans, you can enjoy all the lovely dough that comes with it.

Cashing in to the tune of £35m has meant we have not made it to the Premier League. £100m for one season, £200m if you stay up.

Marcus Evans’s net worth of £765m makes Premier League income look like small fry, but having considered what he has done to the club, the pitiful decline in quality of the play and shredding of all levels of excitement around the football club it is time for him to step aside, or show up in the transfer window with an investment plan that demonstrates an intention to support Paul Lambert improve his squad.

I thank you for the memories, but I am now drained of all hope that the club will ever return to any kind of happy days with this regime in charge.

Please report offensive, libellous or inappropriate posts by using the links provided.

Marshalls_Mullet added 15:15 - Nov 29
The question I have about this theory that the club losing money is good for Marcus Evans' wider group...

...if thats the case, sure he would be happy to throw more money at it and take bigger losses?

Guthrum added 15:16 - Nov 29
Failing to "cash in" on those players would have left us with the equivalent shortfall in funds to run ITFC. That's an extra £35m-ish on top of the c£70m losses incurred during Evans' tenure. An additional 50%.

You're basically demanding that the owner put in another eye-watering slab of his own money to fund your Saturday afternoon (or Tues/Weds evening) hobby.

Why is so little of the anger directed at the football authorities who have allowed inflation to gallop out of control? Who introduced FFP and failed to enforce it? Who allowed the Premier League to feed the monster with parachute payments?

Who have effectively priced thrifty and sensible owners like Marcus Evans out of the market?

Weekender added 15:19 - Nov 29
There is no asset stripping going on. Bad management of the club very likely but not asset stripping.

'Cashing in to the tune of £35m has meant we have not made it to the Premier League'. No way of knowing that.

'Maybe ITFC is an arm of Marcus Evans PLC that is used as a tax drain against the big business' No its not.


IpswichToon added 15:30 - Nov 29
I think it's all too easy to look at this and think 'what might have been', but it could easily have gone the other way too. McGoldrick very nearly went to Leicester for good money, but we held onto him and eventually let him go for nothing.

But this method can clearly work - just look at Norwich's team from the end of last season.They effectively had a one-man show in James Maddison. They cashed in on him after finishing in the bottom half of the league, and now find themselves knocking on the door to the Premier. I know it's just one example, but for me it's enough to suggest that it can be done.

Michael101 added 16:28 - Nov 29
All well a d good but if we did not sell let's say Treadwell would be not marshalled out the door as soon as his contract was up then we would not have got anything.
Thing on paper don't always work in real life.very interesting blog all the same.

tractorboy1978 added 16:28 - Nov 29
Unfortunately Championship clubs (let alone very average ones) cannot just keep their best players indefinitely.

Keeping Wickham and Mings just wasn't realistic - both had the opportunity to go and play Premiership football (widely known that Wickham trebled his wages too) and we had extremely good money put on the table. The £8.1m potentially rising to £12m received for Wickham is still the highest fee we've ever received for a player. The Mings deal was effectively £8m + Pitman + Ryan Fraser on loan for a season. Both good deals. Jewell frittered the Wickham money on wasters like JET and Chopra.

The others left for a variety of reasons. The likes of Murphy and Garner wanted to leave - hard to keep a player in those circumstances and again, we received decent money for both. Leadbitter and Delaney, I don't think too many were overly fussed about either of those going. Rhodes - not us cashing in, a car crash manager made a terrible decision.

Waghorn is the one that I do agree with, I said at the time we should build our side around him and offer him similar money to Bart to try and keep him here.

Carberry added 21:35 - Nov 29
Thanks David, very interesting read. Every club bar the top ones are selling clubs if the right offer comes along. What has been happening over the last few years is that the owner has been subsidising the running of the club with transfer income while still trying to make out he is bank rolling it to the tune of £5m+ each season. This is clearly not true.
It seems pretty clear he wants to off load his responsibilities but can't find a buyer, why else would the stadium be in such a state of disrepair? Money spent on refurbishment doesn't get you promoted.
He's had his chips, done the money he can afford to waste and wants out but of course has to keep up the pretence of pursuing success. What will the stadium look like when we are in League 1?

Coastalblue added 22:41 - Nov 29
We've always been a selling club and always will be unless some stupidly rich arabs decide to buy us, and let's face facts, they won't.

Carberry do you not read the accounts? There's a significant sum being invested most if not every year.

ChrisFelix added 13:19 - Nov 30
They blame Evans for not investing. But foot ball has changed since the Robson days. How much money should you spend & does this guarantee success. What I feel disappointing is that Burnley & to some degree Bournemouth didn't spend big but achieved the big league. Mccarthy with his experience & a little money should have improved the Murphy / Mings side
The third division is another challenge & hopefully we have the right man to get us back

jayessess added 13:53 - Nov 30
Yeah, this isn't "asset stripping" at all, it's just Evans slightly mitigating his overall loss on the club. It is, in theory, good business for a club like Ipswich Town to cash in on good players at the peak of their value. I'd say that's definitely the case for most of these. Wickham, Mings, Murphy, it certainly was. Waghorn and Garner we probably did, Webster it probably depends on his fitness. The experienced players who left on frees (Delaney, Leadbitter, McGoldrick) all left not because of a lack of ambition on our part but because our determination to keep them was less than total and therefore other clubs offered them better deals. On the flip side there are also several players who we've failed to cash in when we really should have (Bialkowski, McGoldrick, Knudsen).

But the real problem is at the other end, our continuous tendency to discard young players who go on to have successful careers at our level. We are not so flush that we can afford to pass even on middling Championship quality players who we get simply for the running costs we pay anyway for the academy. And yet we have done time after time.

MBG added 01:55 - Dec 1
Calling it "asset stripping" is going too far. The accounts clearly show Marcus Evans keeps pumping money into ITFC although this has slowed in recent years. I am no fan of ME. I was opposed to his takeover of the club. I said so here and on other forums. My concern was that he would destroy the culture of a very special club and sadly my concerns have turned into reality.

CBMTOBWMMBG added 21:04 - Dec 1
I think of it differently.

We were lucky in the 70s and early 80s that 1) Clubs were all powerful, pre Bosman, not players, and 2) money in football wasn't out of control.

It meant players couldn't demand moves easily if it was well run, leaving to a bigger club didn't mean becoming a millionaire overnight, and they couldn't leave for nothing.

So a great manager could build a team, keep the spine for years, add to it cleverly, develop youths. We had a truly great manager and the rest is history. Even as a small club it was possible: and it wasn't just us, it happened at many clubs (Derby, Nottm Forest, Villa, Everton to an extent).

Not now, and not for at least the last 10 years. Money dominates totally. The Big Teams overpower all financially. Players have total power of movement, even averagely good ones.

You can "have a go" and lots of clubs with very rich owners do. Evans did for a bit, not for long though. It looks fun, certainly from where we sit, but it's VERY expensive. And one good season sees all your best players poached. You can't build. It's very risky, financially. And ironically success (promotion) comes with a big price. Massive income increases of course but an equally large increase in costs to try to compete. All Premier League clubs bar the top 6 live in utter fear of relegation.

Our history was amazing. But our future, like all clubs bar the Big 6, is likely to be spent chasing an impossible dream unless the authorities shift where the power lies.


Nthsuffolkblue added 17:43 - Dec 2
Asset stripping would be selling long term value (e.g. land, infrastructure etc) in order to take money out of the club. This clearly has not happened. The difficulty with transfer value is that what you are actually getting is compensation for the remaining contract. Fail to sell and, if a player does not sign a new contract, the club gets nothing (i.e. the player is no longer an asset at all). In several of the cases above there was little choice. Where the club did choose not to cash in it would probably have been better to have done so. One exception, of course, is Rhodes.
Of course, this is also not a new thing. Sheepshanks tried desperately to cash in on the value of Hreidarsson and Holland but the players realised they would make more money if they didn't accept the transfers and the inability to cash in on their contract value meant the club went into administration (which really we never properly recovered from despite Evans' input). Before that we sold teams to pay off building the new stands too.

Edmundo added 22:44 - Dec 2
Well that's all just thoroughly depressed me.

hyperbrit added 14:59 - Dec 3
...when a ship runs aground the problem is on the bridge not with the crew.Asset stripping is a common tactic for ruthless businessmen. Evans is a tin pot event pimp and ticket scalper who is way out of his depth as an owner. One glance at his choice of managers tells the story.The ONLY consolation at this point is to remember that City were relegated (under Joe Royle ) and the rest is history.

ElephantintheRoom added 10:52 - Dec 13
Even more sad is that for one brief season there was the illusion of Jordan Rhodes and Conor Wickham playing in tandem. The era of Town being able to develop their own players was over long before Evans, owing to financial mismanagement. Even in the Sheepshanks era it was impossible to develop and keep a Bent or a Titus. All that has changed is that talented players are sold in their teens. Very talented ones are now touted and sold whilst still at school. Most depressing of all is the 'big clubs' our talented players have jumped ship to ...Charlton with Bent (and money-grabbing Hermann and Holland) ...Sunderland with Wickham.... where they are now might say something too.
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