Bringing fans back, playing style and working the budget - five big challenges facing next Ipswich boss
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
As Ipswich Town search for just their 16th manager in their professional history, ANDY WARREN looks at the big challenges facing the next man in at Portman Road.
Bring the fans back
Crowds have slumped to near 20-year lows for some recent games at Portman Road, with the ground at times a little over a third full.
The slow bleed of fans and the reasons for their absence over the last few weeks, months and years are well-documented, but the key objective for any new manager at Ipswich Town is surely to play their part in bringing the supporters back.
One thing’s for certain, whoever is appointed it is not a situation that will be resolved overnight.
Of course the quickest, but far from simplest, way for a manager to entice supporters back is instant success on the field, but engaging with and capturing the imagination of supporters is just as important in this process.
This will surely by key in owner Marcus Evans’ decision making as he searches for a new boss, with the onus also falling on the club to make its philosophy clear, communicate its commitment to the previously published five-point plan and help supporters feel as if they are part of the rebuild in the wake of Mick McCarthy’s departure.
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Evans is due to speak to Ipswich fans on camera for the first time, through a club-published video potentially released as early as next week, which is a good first step as the club looks to begin its new era.
Despite occasional mumblings to the contrary from within, nobody is expecting Ipswich Town to suddenly transform into Barcelona, passing sides off the pitch each and every week and forcing them into submission.
But what the fans do want is to arrive at Portman Road expecting to see their side on the front foot from the first whistle, playing to its own strengths and pushing for the win.
There needs to be a balance, of course, and a ‘positive playing style’ can take many different forms, but Ipswich fans just want to enjoy attending their side’s games. The previously mentioned slide in attendances proves that has not been the case for many of late.
Are Ipswich expected to seriously challenge for promotion next season? At this stage, probably not. But if the style is right the new manager will be given time to build by a patient crowd desperate to be excited by their team again.
Work within a budget
Any replacement for McCarthy isn’t simply going to be handed a pot of gold never afforded to the former Ipswich boss.
The new man will have to work within the same financial restraints in which McCarthy operated, assembling a squad without being able to spend millions on players and not being able to compete on a level playing field with those clubs still funded by Premier League money.
Instead they will need a good eye for a player, be able to shop wisely, get the best out of every player at their disposal and bring players through to the first team from the club’s academy.
It is not in doubt that McCarthy managed to extract every drop of energy, effort and commitment from his players each and every week, but was he able to make the most of their ability and talent on a football pitch?
The new manager’s operation in the transfer market will be shaped by the previous two points - committing to a style of play and working with what’s available.
He will inherit the spine of a good squad with good character - a top goalkeeper in Bartosz Bialkowski, a leader in Luke Chambers, a wealth of midfield options and the likes of Joe Garner and Martyn Waghorn in attack - but there are certainly holes to plug.
Loanees Cameron Carter-Vickers, Callum Connolly, Bersant Celina and Dominic Iorfa will leave once the campaign is over and decisions need to be made over the futures of David McGoldrick, Luke Hyam, Teddy Bishop, Mustapha Carayol, Stephen Gleeson and Michael Crowe.
The most glaring weakness is in wide areas, with only Grant Ward of the senior players on the books for next season bringing any kind of natural width.
That will need to be addressed, but with a number of the aforementioned players departing, the new manager will have room to manoeuvre.
Beat Norwich and compete in the cups
McCarthy departed Portman Road without beating Ipswich’s great rivals in eight attempts and without progressing past the third round of the FA Cup.
You have to go back to April 2009 for Ipswich’s last victory over their great rivals, 10 matches in total, with both Roy Keane and Paul Jewell losing their one game against the Canaries.
An early-season victory against the men in yellow would bring instant popularity in the opinion polls, while a cup win would also help ingratiate him with supporters.
There has been a sense of surrender among fans heading into FA Cup games in recent years, with McCarthy’s decision to play weakened sides backfiring as the Blues exited early in each of his six attempts, doing so to lower-division opposition on three of those occasions.