BIG INTERVIEW: Ipswich Town managing director Ian Milne talks about reinvesting the Aaron Cresswell money, how Marcus Evans ‘kicks himself’ over mistakes and his frustration over the club’s wait for an academy decision
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Ipswich Town start their pre-season this afternoon with a game at Irish side Shelbourne. STUART WATSON met up with managing director Ian Milne to discuss budgets, academy applications and how owner Marcus Evans has learnt from his mistakes.
Marcus Evans has had to learn the hard way that you can’t just buy success in the Championship.
The publicity-shy Ipswich Town owner – whose wealth was recently valued at £700m – gave his first three managers, Jim Magilton, Roy Keane and Paul Jewell, millions to spend on transfer fees and wages.
It didn’t translate into results though and, after Championship finishes of ninth, 15th, 13th, 15th and 14th, decided to tighten the purse strings, especially as new Financial Fair Play rules will now limit his investment.
“We have regular reviews and discussions with Marcus and honestly he is as enthusiastic as ever, if not more enthusiastic, then he’s ever been,” said Milne, who has now become sole managing director at the club, with IT expert Jonathan Symonds focussing more on work within the Marcus Evans Group while retaining an active role at Ipswich Town.
“I think the only area that he would be critical of, and that’s him being a critic of himself rather than others, is that we’ve got to a very good place now a lot cheaper than what he spent in the first few years.
“We’re in a position now where we’ve got control of spending on and off the field and it’s a pity we didn’t get to this scenario sooner. He kicks himself about that, but you live and learn. People with lots of money make mistakes, but that’s now in the past.
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“It’s too easy to blame past managers. You take the advice of the professional, you go to the doctor or the architect and listen to what they say; sometimes the advice is well meant, but unfortunately it turns out that wasn’t the right advice – even if it was given in good faith.
“In our case that’s where mistakes were made, genuine mistakes. Our previous managers were well meaning, but it just didn’t work and it cost us money.”
There is a feeling now that Town have found the right man in Mick McCarthy. He may have been limited largely to free transfers, loans and swap deals during his season-and-half in charge at Portman Road, but the experienced Yorkshireman – who has tasted promotion from this league with both Sunderland and Wolves – managed to squeeze every last drop out of his low-budget but spirited squad last season as they finished ninth, just shy of the play-off places.
As a result, both he and assistant Terry Connor have just been rewarded with three-year contracts.
“I think people will agree that we had a very good season,” said Milne. “It was Mick and Terry’s first full season in charge and the whole place was buzzing because it was the first season for many years where we weren’t looking at the relegation zone or mid-table.
“Mick is a big critic of himself though, he really felt we had a very, very good chance of being in the play-offs. We got very close and that’s where we start the season, as a team that finished towards the top end of the table and that is now looking to go higher.
“Mick and Terry have signed three year deals and I think it’s tremendous that Marcus has put faith in them. It helps Mick to get good players because he can say ‘look, I’m here for three years, get on board’. It’s more a case of players knocking on the door saying they want to come here rather than us trying to persuade them. That’s the impression I get.”
He continued: “There has been an apathy among fans and I totally understand that. It’s been reflected in the gates.
“Yes, there is an economic situation, yes, people will go on about the match day prices and the rest of it, but really at the heart of it was we were not playing great football. We were battling relegation or getting the mid-table blues. That wasn’t interesting fans so they went away. We have to understand that.
“We know that the only way we’ll get the fans back is if we get back up the table. And I’m confident we will do that.
“This season, let’s be realistic here, it’s going to be harder than ever. The three clubs who have come down (Norwich, Fulham and Cardiff) ended up getting £26million each. You would have to say that they will be the heavy favourites to straight back up because they’ve got that financial advantage.
“I’m convinced that a good manager with a spirited and balanced squad can beat those ones with money though. Burnley did it last season and I see a lot of similarities here with what they did.”
Milne added: “What we’ve got to be careful of is that we don’t feel like we’re in a comfort zone because that would be totally wrong. We should always make sure that we are pressing, on and off the field, for greater things.
“Just because we’re coming off a good season, there can be no room for complacency. We’ve got to strive to do much better next season.
“We all know last season wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t a case of, ‘oh well, we finished ninth, we’ll just hang around that area now’.
“We’re not cocky, but we’re going to feel very confident and competent going into next season.
“I do feel like it’s a case of when, not if we go up – I feel good in saying that because if you don’t have that belief then what’s the point? And anyway, that belief has good foundation I think. We all started getting that feeling of ‘we can do this’ again last season.”
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Owner Marcus Evans will reinvest all of the money received from the sale of Aaron Cresswell into Ipswich Town, but that doesn’t mean that manager Mick McCarthy will suddenly start splashing out millions on transfer fees.
That’s the message from managing director Ian Milne after left-back Cresswell joined Premier League side West Ham in a deal potentially worth £7m last week. Only £3.75m of that fee is guaranteed though and even that will be paid in instalments, some of it also being passed on to former employers Tranmere Rovers as part of a sell-on clause.
“We’ve done a very, very good deal with Cressy,” said Milne. “It’s a staggered deal over a number of seasons though, it’s not X million that’s just arrived – no big deal is like that.
“You get a payment up front, then there will be various instalments. I’m talking generally here, but with these big deals you tend to get another chunk in six months, then a year, then you get all the various appearances and sell-on clauses.”
He continued: “I can assure supporters that Marcus is not saying ‘great, some money, I’ll go and spend that elsewhere’. No, the money will be staying in the club and funding it. He’s not taking money away from the club, he’s still putting a lot in.
“That’s not a slight of hand, he is not taking that money out of the club. It will be reinvested in the Football Club in various areas, including Mick’s playing budget. If Mick wants a player the funds will be there, within the realms of FFP (Financial Fair Play).”
McCarthy has been restricted to free transfers, loans and swap deals during his season-and-a-half in charge at Portman Road and that looks likely to continue as the Blues boss adds the final few remaining jigsaw pieces to his squad ahead of the new campaign.
Jonathan Parr, Cameron Stewart, Stephen Hunt and Alex Henshall have all arrived as free agents, with Town now looking to add a goalkeeper, creative midfielder and, possibly, a striker as pre-season games get underway.
“I think we’ve proved that there are quite a lot of good players out there available on free transfers,” said Milne. “Look at how successful the likes of Christophe Berra, David McGoldrick and Daryl Murphy have been.
“Why not pick up the free transfers? There will be some deals where we have to pay something, but at the moment there’s a lot of very good players out there that you don’t have to pay for.
“What people don’t understand is that just because they are free transfers they aren’t necessarily coming in on a small salary.”
He added: “I didn’t think we would have done this much business already, but Mick and Terry (Connor) came back with their list, the opportunities came up and we’ve grabbed them. Is that the end of the road? No, there are others we’re looking to bring in.”
Town are currently in negotiations with Notts County over keeper Bartosz Bialkowski, with it understood that the League One club have upped their asking price since the sale of Cresswell. Does a big sale make it harder when bartering for players?
“Oh yes,” said Milne. “Other owners say ‘you’ve sold a player for this, so you’re going to have to pay this’. It’s the same with agents who will try and screw as much money out of us as possible. That’s what they’re there for.
“There are one or two areas we would like to add to still, but we’re in a strong position because we have the nucleus of a very good squad. It’s really just a case of building on that and adding extra value to what we’ve already got.”
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Ipswich Town managing director Ian Milne says the club’s continued wait on a decision regarding their academy upgrade application is ‘frustrating and ridiculous’ and slammed the new system as ‘slightly disorganised’ and ‘a little bit of a mess’.
Former Blues chief executive Simon Clegg voted against the Elite Player Performance Plan in 2011, insisting that the new system had been designed as a closed shop for the top Premier League clubs.
Premier League chairman Richard Scudamore threatened to withdraw solidarity payments to Football League clubs if EPPP wasn’t introduced though and the system was voted in by 46 votes to 22.
Town initially opted for Category Two status, but last season vowed to spend thousands on upgrading their facilities and infrastructure in order to apply for top-level Category One status.
The audit was carried out in May, but, with just weeks to go until the new campaign starts, the Suffolk club are still yet to discover if their application has been successful.
“We’re in the same position as Derby County and Brighton in that we still have not been given an answer,” said Milne. “We’ll be chasing up the Football League and auditors because at the moment we are being told we are unlikely to hear anything until the end of July which is a little bit ridiculous because there are various matches we have to schedule for the academy and various other administrative issues and things involving our sponsors that can’t wait until the end of July.”
He continued: “The audit was in May and that went very well. We were very happy with how it went and we got good feedback from the auditors.
“It’s a little bit frustrating because there’s a big discussion about youth football development in this country with Greg Dyke’s FA commission and the like.
“We’re trying to catch up with the likes of Germany and other countries, but regrettably the administrators have been all over the place. It’s such an important thing for English football that we get this development system right going forwards and it’s a little bit of a mess at the moment.”
He added: “Of course we’d be very disappointed if we didn’t get it (Category One status). Talking with (owner) Marcus (Evans) on this, he was saying there is probably about 20 clubs in the Football League that are of the size that can have very, very good academies.
“They should be doing more to promote that rather than the slightly disorganised state of things at the moment.”