Hard not to feel underwhelmed as Ipswich Town look to loan market
It might be the dark clouds that hang following ‘Brexit’ and England’s dismal exit from Euro 2016 that colour the mood, but it was hard not to walk away from Mick McCarthy’s first press conference of the 2016/17 season feeling more than a little underwhelmed.
This is meant to be the time of the year when hope springs eternal. There’s a football itch that needs scratching, the sun is shining and anything – we tell ourselves – is possible.
The ‘off-season’ seems shorter every year though. The Football League fixtures were released before the group stages of the European Championships had concluded. Ipswich’s first pre-season game is a week on Saturday, just nine weeks after the 2015/16 season-finale.
What’s changed for the Blues in that short time? The answer, in short, is not a lot.
Budget and style of play was debated rigorously during the arduous and wholly uninspiring second half of last season.
McCarthy yesterday confirmed that he would once again be shopping in the bargain basement bin. The masterplan, at present, is to pick up a few loan players from the Premier League once the pointless marketing exercise of pre-season tours to Asia and America are over.
They will do well to find another Ryan Fraser.
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Town may well end up being a little more aesthetically pleasing given that ball-playing centre-back Adam Webster has been recruited and hailed as a ‘star in the making’ by his new boss, but in the next breath McCarthy reveals that it’s hard to find good wingers and that he may have to play midfielders in those positions instead. He also confirmed Luke Chambers will be his first choice right-back again.
More square pegs in rounds holes then.
Underdog success stories continue to happen and inspire. Leicester City last season and the likes of Iceland and Wales at the Euros give hope to all that team spirit can overcome star quality.
Realistically though, those sort of tales are the exception to the rule.
There’s no getting away from it, promotion looks a tougher task than it has done this century for Town as they prepare for their 15th successive campaign in the second-tier.
A sense of Groundhog Day has set in at Portman Road and it’s understandably hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel.
McCarthy has worked minor miracles to oversee finishes of ninth, sixth and seventh. Could many other managers have achieved much more with the same resources? I don’t think so.
The thump, thump, thump sounds of the Suffolk club bumping against that glass ceiling are getting ever louder though. Standing still could see the Blues go backwards.
Regional rivals Norwich City are back and, like Burnley and Hull last season, look well-equipped to bounce back with the bulk of their squad and same manager from the previous promotion still in place.
Newcastle and Aston Villa have former Champions League-winning bosses in Rafa Benitez and Roberto di Matteo respectively.
Brighton, Derby and Sheffield Wednesday will all look to kick on after play-off disappointment, Wigan are promoted with momentum, while there are several others that could emerge from the pack. Leeds, for example, are offering to refund supporters some of their season ticket money if Garry Monk fails to lead them to a top-six finish.
McCarthy, meanwhile, has already conceded that ‘it’s pretty unlikely we’ll be challenging for first or second’.
Stability and youth. Both those things need to pay dividends – big time – if Town are to be genuine contenders.
Altogether, eight second-tier clubs – Cardiff (Paul Trollope), Derby (Nigel Pearson), Rotherham (Alan Stubbs), Leeds (Monk), Blackburn (Owen Coyle), Villa (di Matteo), Reading (Jaap Stam) and Nottingham Forest (Phillipe Montanier) – will be starting the campaign with new men at the helm and it could take them time to find their feet. Bad starts could see a few under pressure in a division which chews up and spits out managers,
McCarthy, meanwhile, is now the longest-serving boss in the division and, while he’s not given shed loads of cash to spend, does have the complete backing of his owner. There’s a lot to be said for that.
Always competitive, Town badly need a sprinkling of stardust – not just to mix it with the best, but also to entertain the fans.
Having David McGoldrick fit and firing again will be like a new signing, but it’s the emergence of a homegrown hero or two – Teddy Bishop and Andre Dozzell in particular – which could make the biggest difference of all.
Will that be enough? Time will tell.