Comment - Ipswich Town need to show some ambition as the season draws to a close and they look ahead to 2016/17
Where’s the ambition? It’s the question thousands of Ipswich Town supporters are asking as yet another season of under-achievement and disappointment nears its unhappy conclusion.
Marcus Evans has owned the club for more than eight years now. We have consistently been assured the multi-millionaire businessman is absolutely determined to take Town into the Premier League. But, apart from an appearance in the play-offs last season, that ambition has never looked like coming to fruition.
This season, the team has gone backwards, and the sheer lack of entertainment has added to the frustrations of the Portman Road faithful.
After Saturday’s home defeat, the Blues and their army of supporters look certain to face a 15th consecutive season in the second tier. It has been dull, quite frankly.
Evans bought a £30 million debt when he took over towards the end of 2007. That debt has now grown to £80-odd million. Apart from the year when both Aaron Cresswell and Tyrone Mings were sold, the club loses about £10 million a year. That’s what happens in the Championship.
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So, here’s the big question. Surely Evans, who is clearly a very astute businessman with a corporate empire worth hundreds of millions, is not prepared to simply tolerate this continuing disappointment, with its resultant significant financial losses?
What we are not privy to is the working relationship between Evans and Mick McCarthy. What the fans would love to know is this: how do the conversations between Evans and McCarthy go when they discuss what in terms of transfer fees and additional player wages are needed to attract the quality required to give the team a fighting chance of gaining promotion?
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When we ask this question of the club, we are assured Evans remains as ambitious as ever to see the club reach the land of milk and honey which is the Premier League. We are told at least one sizeable bid was made for a player in the January transfer window.
But, for whatever reason, that player didn’t arrive. We don’t know the reasons for that, but, this being football, it was almost certainly money-related – either the transfer fee or the wages on offer weren’t enough.
Now, no-one wants to see our club held to ransom, either in terms of transfer fees or players’ salary demands. But Marcus Evans and his advisors will also know the hard reality of what it takes to get out of the Championship.
So where’s the ambition? Why does the club not spend the funds needed? What would it be – £10 million? £15 million? £20 million? Something of that order to bring in three or four high-calibre players on good money. Yes, it would alter the club’s wage structure, but it’s the only way Town can put themselves in a position to be realistic promotion contenders.
Instead, we have McCarthy doing his best with a bunch of honest triers. Players who arrive on free transfers, from whom McCarthy invariably extracts something extra. There is something admirable about the work ethic, the honesty and the togetherness of the current first team squad. But it’s not the way to the Premier League.
Yes, we all know Marcus had his financial fingers burned by the failed transfer dealings of Roy Keane and Paul Jewell. No doubt that has contributed to what now appears an extremely cautious approach in the transfer market.
We’re also aware there has been some investment this season. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the new contracts signed by some of the established players will have increased the wage bill.
But surely when Evans looks at what the clubs in the top six of the Championship have done in terms of spending, it will leave him in no doubt that splashing some cash – several millions of pounds – is the only known way of giving yourself a good chance of promotion.
There are, of course, no guarantees. Look at Derby last season. They spent big money and their promotion bid almost immediately imploded. That can happen. But if the money isn’t spent, then you’re asking your manager to work miracles – and they only happen in the Bible..
Just one season in the Premier League would sort out Town’s debt, even if (heaven forbid) they lost every game. Promotion moves a club to another financial level, even if relegation comes along very quickly.
There are, of course, the Financial Fair Play regulations to consider. Surely the answer there is a smaller, but higher quality squad of players. Yes, they would be better paid but overall costs could be kept at the same level. Why do we need such a big squad anyway? Half of them don’t get any football.
As it stands, we are stuck in the world of the have-nots. Look at next season. We know some huge clubs will be in our division.
Villa certainly, and at least one of Newcastle and Sunderland. That looks like the top three taken already.
It means we will be left scrapping for a play-off place. Each season it will be harder and harder. No doubt McCarthy and Evans will sit down at the end of the season, to review what’s happened and to discuss strategy for the next campaign.
If the ambition for the Premier League burns brightly for both men, as we are told it does, then that conversation must address the question of investing for promotion. The current make-do and mend tactics simply aren’t working, and never will. The legendary patience of Ipswich Town’s fans is wearing very thin. They deserve so much better.
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