Town's 'collaborative' player recruitment approach outlined ahead of 'really big summer'

New Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna (right) with CEO Mark Ashton

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna (right) with chief executive Mark Ashton. - Credit: Daniel Hambury/Focus Images Ltd

What is the player recruitment process at Ipswich Town? Manager Kieran McKenna and CEO Mark Ashton answered that question in a special Kings of Anglia podcast this week.


January was about clearing the decks.

Scott Fraser and Toto Nsiala were sold. Jon Nolan had his contract torn up. Hayden Coulson and Louie Barry saw their loans terminated. Tomas Holy, Myles Kenlock, Bailey Clements and Rekeem Harper all departed on loan, with the latter the only one likely to return.

Just two fresh faces came through the door - loanees Dominic Thompson and Tyreeq Bakinson - with Tyreece Simpson returning from a loan spell at Swindon.

Some supporters were underwhelmed. There was logic behind the trim back though.

It not only left new boss Kieran McKenna with a more manageable 24-man squad for the second half of the campaign, but it also created a bit of room for manoeuvre ahead of the summer window.

“I’ll be delighted if every transfer window is like the January transfer window - that was as calm as it could be," said Blues chief executive Mark Ashton, speaking on a special Kings of Anglia podcast this week.

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“Kieran is what you see; he’s calm, he’s considered, he’s methodical in his approach. It wasn’t erratic. It was as planned as it could be with a manager who had joined us so close to a window."

McKenna, continuing the discussion, says: “It was a large squad of players who had arrived under different managers at different times. 

“For me the absolute priority in January was stability. I wanted to make sure that our numbers and depth was at an appropriate level for the rest of the season. I wanted to make sure we weren’t wasting talent in the building because with every managerial change there can always be players who can do well under a different style of play.

“It was about maximising what we had first and then being clear about what potions we could strengthen. 

“I think what we have done is leave ourselves in a really good position for the summer now. We didn’t make any rash decisions, we tried to be very methodical in not only preparing as well as we can for the rest of the season but also leaving ourselves in a good position for the next window when we know there’s going to be good backing from the club again."

So how will that recruitment process now work?

Will it be it driven by Ashton's 'data dashboard' and the men he has recruited from his former club Bristol City? Andy Rolls (director of performance) and Gary Probert (director of football operations) are both influential figures.

Bakinson recently arrived on loan from Bristol City, while Ashton and chairman Michael O'Leary went back to another of their former clubs, West Brom, to sign Kyles Edwards and Rekeem Harper last summer.

Tyreeq Bakinson celebrates opening the scoring for Ipswich at Doncaster

Tyreeq Bakinson celebrates scoring the winner at Doncaster. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Will it be driven by McKenna and the men he has recruited to be part of his first team coaching set-up? Assistant manager Martyn Pert followed McKenna from Manchester United, while Charlie Turnbull was lured away from coaching Fulham's U23s to take on a 'head of analysis' role.

Former boss Paul Cook was able to sign several players he had worked with before. 

And how much say will those who were already in the building before last year's takeover have? Lee O'Neill is still the 'general manager of football operations', Alex Hood remains the 'first team recruitment analyst', while Scott Mitchell is 'head of academy recruitment'.

“It’s a collective, collaborative approach," explains Ashton. 

“We all work together. Andy Rolls works in it from a performance perspective because there’s no good us recruiting a technical and tactical player that can’t physically do what Kieran wants them to do. 

“Gary Probert pulls it all together. That’s part of his key role. It’s his job to make sure the pathway is in place from the 18s to the 23s and into the first team. The good thing with Kieran is we’ve got a manager who really values the importance of the academy pathway. 

Mark Ashton talks to performance director Andy Rolls on the pitch after the game at Dartford

Ipswich Town's director of performance director Andy Rolls (right) says planning pre-season has been tricky due to world events. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

“And we’re in the process of recruiting at least two people into the recruitment department who will be specialists in that area. 

“It’s such a key area that we don’t want to rush and get that wrong. Myself, Kieran, Luke Werhun (chief operating officer), Gary Probert and Martyn Pert, who has been a superstar in this, have come together and really started to design what we want that department to look like. 

“To be clear, the manager has absolutely final sign off. It’s in his contract, as it’s in every manager’s contract who works for me, that no player comes into the first team without the manager signing off on it."

Ashton continued: “What makes it really easy for us is that there’s a clear DNA emerging of how Kieran wants to play. That makes it so much easier for a recruitment team.  

“Kieran clearly explains to them what a centre-half looks like, what a right-back looks like, what a nine looks like, what a 10 looks like in his side. There are no excuses because Kieran and Martyn and Charlie all make it really clear what they are looking for. 

“We went into January with a raft of names for Kieran to look at and it was ‘no, no, no, maybe, maybe, yes’ because he was very clear on what he wanted."

Assistant Manager Martyn Pert at Gillingham.

Ipswich Town assistant manager Martyn Pert is helping to design the club's new recruitment department. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

McKenna adds: “Everyone is becoming clearer in the club, and hopefully in the supporter base as well, of the type of players and the type of football that we want to see on the pitch. That’s going to make the process a lot easier. 

“Recruitment is such a big area where we can make immediate gains. Coaching and development is massive, but transfer windows are a massive opportunity to fast forward that process if we can bring in the right profile of players who can slot into how we play. That can improve us very quickly if we manage to make the right decisions. 

“It’s something I’m looking forward to. At the moment the priority is the games and getting as many points as we can, but I’m looking forward to that process in the summer, whatever position we’re in, to be able to build the squad as I want it going into pre-season. 

“We’ll be going into that pre-season with some of the talent we already have in the building but also with some fresh faces who I think will be able to come in and hit the ground running for us.

"The club have had a big overhaul last summer. They’ve brought in a lot of good players, I have to say, and a lot of good people. So we’re in a strong position in terms of the squad. 

“But I think it’s going to be a really big summer for us now." 

Sone Aluko on the ball against Sunderland.

Sone Aluko is one of several Ipswich Town players set to be out of contract in the summer. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Town signed 19 players last summer and let more than 20 go under the management of self-titled 'Demolition Man' Cook.

Of the current 24-man squad, nine are set to see their contracts or loans expire come the end of this campaign

Asked if the next summer transfer window would be as hectic as the last, Ashton replied: "I wouldn’t think so. I think that was a unique moment in time. We knew there was some risk in what we did last summer, because of the time frame we’d got and the amount of change that was trying to be driven all in one window. 

“I think it will be calmer. I still think there will be players in, players out – there always is in transfer windows. 

“By the summer, whatever division we are in, Kieran will have had plenty of time to look at the squad. We’re already having weekly recruitment meetings now about the summer and I think we already know, very clearly, the type of player and type of person that Kieran wants to bring into the football club."