Ashton: Priority is to Get Some Players In
Tuesday, 1st Jun 2021 15:25
New CEO Mark Ashton says the priority is to get some players in and has spoken about the current position with potential ins and outs - there could be signings in the next week - and how recruitment will work at Town going forward.
Ashton formally took over as the club's new CEO this morning and gave a press conference at Portman Road.
“The priority is we've got to get some players in,” the 49-year-old said when asked what his priorities are.
“We’ve got to get the right players in, but it's really getting to know people and to meet people, and that's probably the piece I've been looking forward to for the last six weeks whilst I've been waiting to arrive.
“I talked today to the staff about togetherness. I can't do this on my own, the players can't do it on their own, Paul can't do it on his own, and the investors can't do it on their own.
“We need to make sure that we are fully engaged with the fanbase, fully engaged with the community, fully engaged with the staff and bring people together.
“We were just talking, this stadium holds more than 30,000 people. We're coming out of a pandemic. It's been difficult for everyone in the country, and I think we have a moment in time where if we can come together, we can really build something very special here, but we've got to make sure we bring people together.”
Asked whether he has spoken to manager Paul Cook about targets, Ashton said: “Oh yeah, we had dinner last night, and that's what we talked about for three or four hours with [chairman] Mike [O’Leary].
“I've had a number of conversations on the phone with him as well where he's wanted to get me up to speed.
“He's clear on the type of individual he wants and I love the fact he's really clear that anybody who comes to play for this football club has got to be committed.
“This isn't a stop-off for someone to go and play for someone else, this isn't where journeyman come to finish their careers, this is a football club that deserves better, and he's adamant that he wants players and staff totally, totally committed, and he's already setting a tempo. So, we'll be working on those later today.”
Quizzed on the latest on possible arrivals, he said: “Look, Paul's been really clear on the type of player he wants. He's been clear on some of the targets, the club has started to move on some of those targets, I will take that over as of today, and I'd like to think in the next week or so we can get some of those across the line.
“We've got to recruit players that can get us out of this division, and we've got to recruit talent around that.
“So, we'll look to recruit in all areas, we'll look to develop the academy, and that will come in time.
“We’ll look to develop and recruit players into the U23s, which is the underbelly that we can develop in time – all in the first team – but right now we've got to recruit players that can win games come August.”
How will the recruitment process work? "We work together. I'm not in talent ID, and I don't go and watch games, I don't scout – that's not my piece.
“My piece is the negotiation and the relationship with other clubs and the agents and the financial piece. That's the piece I do.
“Paul, his staff and the recruitment guys that are here lead on presenting the players that they'd like to sign.
“I think recruitment is an area that we will invest in over time, but again we'll bring the right people into that, whether that's technical recruitment, whether that's scouting, whether that's analysis – again, that's an area that we'll heavily invest in. But right now, it's all hands to the pump, and we've got to get players in for August.”
In an interview given during his time at Bristol City, he talked about having a ‘data dashboard’ and technical recruitment. He says they will be part of his armoury at Town.
“On hundred per cent,” he said. “I've already been on to my PA this morning saying ‘can we send the analysis?’ My data dashboards.
“What I don't do it, I don't do talent identification and I don't scout, I don't identify the players, I don't watch enough football to do that, it's not my skill set.
“But what I like to do is I need to understand the industry, so we will understand what every other football club in League One is doing, we will understand the market.
“One of the things between myself, Paul and his backroom staff is we're very well connected, and we have good relationships with big Premier League clubs, Championship clubs, and we will use those relationships if we need to either bring players in or get knowledge on players that are out there.
“For me, recruitment is a balance, it's a balance between objective and subjective, so it's a balance between data analysis and a balance between scouting.
“Neither is right or less or more important. The two have to come together, but where I like Paul is he's really clear on how he wants to play. He's really clear on the makeup of his players, that helps us in recruitment, and we'll be active, and we'll be onto it.”
So he'll identify the targets, and then it's your job from there? “No, he's part of it. Whether it's Paul, his staff, the scouts, relationships that we have, it's a funnel. All the names will go into the funnel and they will be measured against Paul's technical specifications and what comes out of that are players that we believe will be right for this football club.
“But what we won't do, no player at first-team level will come into the football club without Paul Cook saying he wants them, and we don't work like that because I just don't believe in that.
“He has to say yes, he wants that player. There will never be shocks or surprises because he'll be part of the process all the way through, and when we get to the endpoint, and we agree that's the player we want, it then goes to me to do the negotiation and the financial piece.”
Ashton says the recruitment process will be looked at from top to bottom: “You have to, for sure. It's one of the most important parts of any football club.
“We can have the best commercial department, the best retail, the best conference and banqueting but we get decisions wrong in recruitment, and it blows it all out of the water.
“So, we've got to make sure we get the right talent into the first team and the U23s whilst also investing and developing the academy and giving our academy staff the opportunity to bring young players through.
“Because, by the way, the FA Youth Cup semi-final is an incredible achievement. Lee O'Neill and his staff should be given huge credit for that. Something the club should be very proud of, and again, we've got to invest sensibly in all areas to take the club forward.”
Ashton says Cook will be given the tools with which to do the job, will be backed enough to bring in the players he wants.
“Yeah, I think so,” he continued. “Look, the club will be well-funded, but we also have to work under the salary protocols in League One, which means you can only spend a percentage of your turnover [60 per cent] on players' salaries, and everyone's turnover is substantially down because of the pandemic.
“But we'll be funded right to the top of that, but we'll be sensible. We'll be brave and we'll be bold, but we won't be reckless, and I think that's key.
“But yeah, Paul will be supported, we want to make this club competitive as quickly as we can, and we want to get results as quickly as we can.”
Asked about potential exits and the majority of the current squad being told they can move on, Ashton said: “We assess every player on an individual basis. I've already started that process with Paul, and you know we're in a really interesting transfer market.
“I've never had one in 30 years like this. The pandemic has caused a very depressed market where clubs will trade players because clubs haven't got the money they had historically to spend, and we'll step through it player by player, and there's a deal on the table that's the right thing for this football club then we'll do it.
“If it's not the right thing at the right time, then we won't do it. But let's be really clear, what will come first with regards to Paul is putting a team together for him that wins games come August.”
Is it fair to say there are a number of players in the current squad that Cook wants to keep and build his new recruits and the team around? “Yeah, for sure. It's very fluid, and there are a number of players in there where he's said to me I want them here.
“But with every player, you can never say never, and I've learnt that before. The key piece is not just to recruit players, we've got to assemble a team and a team that can work and perform in the way Paul's shape is and the way Paul wants them to perform. That’s really key.
“And assembling those pieces of the jigsaw in the right way so that over a 40-game season they can deliver success is going to be absolutely key.
“It's not necessarily how we perform on that first game of the season, it's when we get to February and we're away on a Tuesday night can we still get results.
“They've got to be able to handle going to Sunderland, going to Portsmouth, going to Rotherham.
“They've got to be able to handle playing here at home because there are fans coming back, and there's going to be expectation here.
“But we will work together and I think we've got a really good staff that will bring energy and focus that are real professionals, and we just want to get started.”
He says quality is more important than quantity with the club having had a huge number of players during 2020/21.
“Yeah, and Paul is clear on that,” he added. “Too many men can cause a problem, so we've got to get the right amount of players, and we've got to make sure that they are resilient enough to see the season through.
“Because a lot of clubs, my former club, this club and many, many that you speak to because of the pandemic and the rate of games over the last 12 months have really suffered with injuries.
“And that's one of the reasons that Andy Rolls [director of performance] and Andy Costin [head of sports science] have been brought into sports science is to make sure that, one, we recruit players that can physically do what Paul Cook wants, and when they're here, we can adapt and develop them to do what we want them to do.”
Town have already been linked with a lot of players - today they’re one of a long list of clubs claimed to be showing an interest in QPR winger Albert Adomah - with many of them Cook’s former Wigan and Portsmouth charges or those with links with Bristol City.
While players with links to Cook or Ashton may well come in, the CEO says they are looking farther afield as well.
“There's always an element of better the devil you know, and so yes, there are players at those clubs that we're looking at,” he said.
“But the net goes far, far wider than that. And we will endeavour to bring in the best talent that we can to win games.
Do Town have any bids in or are any offers currently on the table for Blues players? “I will pick all that up formally today, but there are certainly discussions going on with clubs and players for sure, and again, as soon as I get my feet under the desk, I'll be taking that on and moving them forward.”
Ashton knows he has a busy summer ahead of him: “For sure, But it's great. I hope the weather is like this every day because it's fantastic.
“I'm excited, and I'm genuinely excited, you know what, that's probably not the right word. I'm honoured, I'm really honoured to be here.
“I'm honoured that the Three Lions, Mark Steed [the chief investment officer at Arizona PSPRS Trust, the pension fund which owns 90 per cent of Gamechanger 20 Ltd] and Ed Schwarz [Gamechanger board member from investment fund ORG] have chosen me to come and work with them on this project. I'm proud to be Ipswich's CEO, and I just can't wait to get going.”
Photo: Matchday Images
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