Cash boost for Town as Le Pen leaves

ULRICH Le Pen has completed his free transfer to Racing Club Strasbourg, saving Ipswich Town almost £1m in wages over the next two years, writes Derek Davis.

ULRICH Le Pen has completed his free transfer to Racing Club Strasbourg, saving Ipswich Town almost £1m in wages over the next two years, writes Derek Davis.

Although Town will not receive a fee, they have negotiated a sell-on clause and will pick up a bonus payment if Strasbourg qualify for Europe at the end of next season.

The diminutive winger, who made just three substitute appearances for Town following his £1.1m transfer from Lorient in November 2001, has been on loan to the French side since last September.

Off-loading le Pen represents good business for the Blues, who thought they were going to be stuck with the 29-year-old after a change of ownership at Strasbourg threatened to curtail plans for the Frenchman to stay in Alsace.

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Le Pen, 28, has been a regular in the La Championet side after making the move back to his home country following a disappointing spell at Portman Road.

He has impressed new coach Antoine Kombouare enough to be offered a two-year contract. French football wages are not as high as English Premier League contracts so le Pen would have had to take a substantial pay cut to fulfil his desire to play in his homeland.

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Last night Blues chairman David Sheepshanks said: "The signing of Ulrich was neither a success for the club nor the player. His brief career with Ipswich Town was fraught with injury from the first few minutes of his debut, subsequently both he and his wife were unable to settle in England and the player made it quite clear that he saw his future only in France.

"Since then it has been a question of trying to secure a permanent move for Ulrich and a release from his contract obligations at Ipswich Town.

"During the time Ulrich was with us it is hard not to feel sympathy for the way things turned out and we now wish him well for the future."

Town were bottom of the Premiership when they made the shock buy, followed later that month by the £3m purchase of Marcus Bent, which has worked out a lot better for the club.

Le Pen broke his foot minutes after going on as a substitute on his debut against Bolton after George Burley bought him to replace Jamie Clapham, who he had agreed to sell to West Ham.

Fortunately for Town the deal was cancelled on the Sunday after le Pen's injury and Clapham went on to provide another 14 months' excellent service before Town were forced to sell him to Premiership side Birmingham City for £1.6m last January.

The one appearance as a substitute in the 1-0 win at Avenir Beggin was enough to remind people that injury-prone le Pen would not be a force either in Europe or Division One for Ipswich and he clearly did not enjoy life in England, even having a swipe at the National Health Service when he moved back to France.

The Blues are hoping Matteo Sereni will be the next loanee to be fixed up permanently abroad and are waiting for a firm bid from any one of a raft of Serie A clubs keen on the much-vaunted Italian keeper.

Town are still looking to off-load a number of players who have been handed free transfers, including Andy Marshall, Alun Armstrong, Nabil Abidallah and James Pullen.

Blues boss Joe Royle returns from holiday next week and one of his first tasks will be to secure the signatures of Jim Magilton, Richard Naylor and Fabian Wilnis to new contracts.

All three have verbally agreed to stay and are expected to sign before the squad returns for pre-season training on July 2.

n For a free pull-out listing Ipswich Town's 2003/04 league fixtures, see today's East Anglian Daily Times.

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