Chairman: Letting Matt go was horrible

THE Matt Holland transfer saga, that started last summer when he seemed poised to move to Aston Villa, is over at last. The 29-year-old Ipswich Town captain yesterday joined Charlton Athletic on a four-year deal.

THE Matt Holland transfer saga, that started last summer when he seemed poised to move to Aston Villa, is over at last. The 29-year-old Ipswich Town captain yesterday joined Charlton Athletic on a four-year deal. Ipswich accepted a fee of £750,000 but, more importantly, lightened their crippling wage bill, writes Tony Garnett.

As Ipswich chairman David Sheepshanks said: “Making the decision to part with such a player has been a horrible experience for us but I can only emphasise we really had no alternative.

“Finances are improving, but given the devastating effect of relegation and the collapse of the transfer market, it's impossible for a club of our size to afford the Premiership wages Matt rightly commands.”

Last week Holland turned down the chance of a move to newly-promoted Portsmouth because it was not possible to agree personal terms. Charlton were quick to step in so Holland will be linking up once again with Iceland international Hermann Hreidarsson, who joined the Addicks for £900,000 in March.

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An important factor in Holland's decision to join Charlton was that he would be able to continue to live at his house in Essex and his wife and children would have no need to uproot.

Holland said: “I felt part of the furniture at Portman Road, but I'm 29 and want to be playing Premiership football. My family's happiness is vital to me. It's been well-documented my family are very settled here. That had a big bearing on my decision.

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“My wife Paula loves the area and my children are delighted we don't have to move. They have friends here and are settled in schools.

“People have said I wouldn't have gone to Portsmouth because I'd have had to uproot my family. That's not the case.

“Paula had checked out the schools down there and was looking at property. But there were a couple of things not quite right with the deal. Then Charlton came in with similar terms and the advantages location-wise.”

Holland made 314 appearances in six years at Town, during which he has established himself as a key man in the Republic of Ireland midfield. He will join up with his new team-mates on July 14 after a family holiday in Mauritius.

Charlton manager Alan Curbishley is delighted with the deal. He said: “He's a quality international and will be a valuable addition to the squad.

“A number of clubs were interested in signing him. The fact he did not have to move house was an important factor in his decision to choose Charlton.”

Ipswich signed Holland from Bournemouth in the summer of 1997, which meant that they could not afford to secure Kevin Phillips from Watford at the same time.

Town will get £50,000 a season for the next three years if the Addicks retain their top-flight status. That would mean a payment of up to £25,000 to Bournemouth as a result of a sell-on clause that they would receive 25% of anything over the £800,000 selling price six years ago.

How Bournemouth must have hoped that the £4 million deal with Aston Villa had gone through last summer. They would have been £800,000 better off and Ipswich might well have avoided going into administration.

Holland has been Ipswich Town's regular captain since taking the armband from Tony Mowbray. To whom will manager Joe Royle turn for a leader on the field?

If Jim Magilton accepts new terms, as seems probable, he is a natural choice. He has captained Northern Ireland and also taken the armband for Ipswich from time to time. Other candidates would appear to be Chris Makin or Tommy Miller.

Ipswich proved at Gillingham last season that they can win in Holland's absence. His run of 253 successive league appearances came to an end at the Priestfield Stadium on March 29, when he was otherwise engaged for the Republic of Ireland in Georgia. Ipswich won 3-1 and looked impressive.

Obviously he will be missed because he has given great service, but Ipswich must reduce their overheads.

There could be one more major departure from Portman Road. Striker Marcus Bent, who cost £3 million from Blackburn Rovers, has proved his ability to hold his own and score goals at Premiership level. Newly-promoted Leicester City have made an inquiry but have yet to follow up with a firm offer. There is said to be other interest as well.

Bent has considerable attributes. He can shoot, he can head the ball, he can tackle and when on song he is one of the most lethal strikers in the land. Ipswich would presumably listen to reasonable offers because Marcus Bent's wages are way above what Ipswich can afford in Division One.

Negotiations are still going on over the futures of goalkeeper Matteo Sereni and winger Ulrich le Pen, who are still Ipswich Town assets. Sereni, who did well for Brescia in Serie A last season, and le Pen, who played for Strasbourg, are not anticipating a return to Portman Road.

Yesterday Portsmouth were talking terms with Wimbledon's 19-year-old midfield player Nigel Reo-Coker after the clubs had agreed a fee.

With the Dons in administration it would be a shrewd move for Ipswich, seeking a goalkeeper, to sound out the possibility of securing the talented Kelvin Davis.

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