Ashton: I want at least five more signings
- Credit: Ross Halls
Twenty exits, six signings and plenty more business to be done. STUART WATSON spoke to new Ipswich Town CEO Mark Ashton during his hectic first summer at the helm.
It’s fair to say that new Ipswich Town chief executive Mark Ashton has had to hit the ground running.
Every waking hour of his 38 days in post so far have been relentlessly busy.
Indeed, during our wide-ranging 40 minute chat, he has five missed calls. Two of them are from the manager, Paul Cook, and are sent straight to voicemail.
“It’s okay,” he says, in response to a silent ‘do you need to take that?’ gesture. “He knows how important this communication with the fans is.”
There is so much to do under the club’s new ambitious US-based ownership - standards to set, staff to employ, a tired stadium to improve… Oh yes, and the small matter of completely rebuilding the first team squad.
Including loanees, 20 players have departed since the end of last season and six players have been signed. Those revolving doors will continue to spin too.
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“It’s a big turnaround of players that’s for sure,” says Ashton.
“When Paul first told me what he wanted to do you gulp and take a deep breath.
“But it didn’t surprise me really. I sensed that was coming.
“I knew the volume of work that was going to hit me and my team. The one thing you always feel you are up against is time. You work really long days, but time always feels like it’s the enemy.
“What I was really pleased with is that Paul was so clear on what he wanted and how he wanted to do things. That actually makes my job far easier.
“Paul is really clear on what will make us really competitive and that meant a big change in players and a change in type of player.
“We’re working tirelessly towards that goal. As we sit here today we’ve got six in, so we’re moving in the right direction.”
Ashton’s days are varied. There are the things you’d expect; Zoom calls with the owners, phone calls with agents and meetings with players. There are things you wouldn’t expect; like calling in a hawk handler to deal with a pigeon problem at Portman Road.
“I’m an early riser,” he says. “The alarm goes at 5.30 and I finish when I go to bed. That’s seven days a week – and that’s fine, that’s what we do. It’s a great job to have.
“It’s always a little bit crazy in a transfer window. Even more so in this one.
“I have a dashboard that we operate on a daily basis that shows us all the transactions from all our competitors in League One.
“There are some big clubs in League One who are yet to sign a player. We’ve got six in.
“I’m not going to lie to you, I want at least five more. We are down the line in a number of those. Some we will conclude, some we won’t conclude. But we have alternative options.
“The six we’ve got in I’m really pleased with. I think the five that are remaining are the five most difficult ones. That’s why they are taking some time.
“But are going to be active right throughout this window.”
He continues: “Every deal is just so, so unique. I describe the transfer window as a spider’s web that moves by the hour.
“Something happens at ‘Club A’ and there’s a ripple that affects clubs B, C, D, E and F. Suddenly a transfer elsewhere becomes possible that wasn’t previously possible.
“You could be right down the line on a transfer, 90% of it is done, then the club that he’s at gets an injury and *snaps fingers* he can’t come to you anymore.
“Or, a club suddenly has the ability to acquire a player that they initially didn’t think they could get and then that makes one of their players available to you that you didn’t previously think was available.
“Or, a player moves agents mid-window... There are so many things that can happen.
“We just have to be really consistent with our behaviours and consistent with our messaging of what we’re looking for.
“As I’ve said, we’re looking to bring at least five more in during this window. But that doesn’t mean I’m only targeting five players.
“We’re active with probably four players in each of those positions. That takes a lot of time. That’s a lot of phone calls and a lot of knowledge and information that’s passing.
“I think if we can get five in, of the right quality that we want, we should be very competitive next season.”
The game has certainly changed for Ipswich Town under Gamechanger 20 Ltd. It’s public knowledge that the club is now funded by the multi-billion dollar pension pot for public safety personnel in Arizona.
Mark Detmer has made it clear that 'it's not just about capital, it’s about culture', with fellow co-owner Berke Bakay saying money will be spent in 'a smart, intelligent, not wasteful manner'.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that there are Salary Cost Management Protocols to adhere to too.
None of that has dampened industry gossip surrounding the Blues though.
Oxford United boss Karl Robinson appeared to take a side swipe at Ipswich recently when saying: “There are teams in our league offering £10,000 a week for defenders and you’re thinking ‘this is ludicrous where this league is going’.”
Portsmouth CEO Andre Cullen has said: “There are three clubs spending huge money in League One – Wigan, Ipswich and Sunderland (all under new owners).”
“There’s no question that we’re being used by certain agents or certain clubs because we are perceived as having money to spend,” said Ashton.
“That just naturally happens when a club’s under new ownership.
“But I’ve got good relationships with the majority of CEOs and owners through my EFL work, so I’ll just call them and I say ‘look, can I just tell you, I’ve seen us linked with that player in the media, we are not in for that player, so don’t let us be used (to drive the price up for you).
“That just builds trust. When you go to that club for a player or something else, whether that be next week or in a year’s time, the relationship is good.
“We’ve just got to make sure we keep conducting ourselves in the right and proper manner.”
With so many positions to fill, Ipswich have never been linked with so many players.
Town’s interest in Rotherham midfielder Matt Crooks and Dijon winger Bersant Celina is in the public domain.
Asked if he could comment on either of those names, Ashton said with a smile: “They’re both really good players.
“What I would like to say to the supporters is that we get linked with players; some of it true, some of it false.
“Like any other football club things will leak out.
“I know people think they’re smart and they’re clever and they leak things out on social media to try and be the first to announce something, but let me be really clear to the fans – that hurts Ipswich Town Football Club. It really, really hurts us, because it sets us back in the deal.
“It’ll either cause the agent a problem, it will cause the club a problem and it will cause the player a problem. So we have to conduct things privately.
“We’ll be linked with players right across the transfer window for sure. Why? Because we’re Ipswich Town and we are a big club in this transfer window.
“When a player’s name is in the press, it’s normally in the press for a reason. It may well be another club leaking it out, because they want to try and drive the value, it may be an agent, because he wants to try and drive the value.
“I can’t comment on individuals because it would compromise us on deals. I just promise the fans they will be first to know as soon as we get deals across the lines.”
Town start their pre-season campaign with a friendly at Dartford tomorrow (1pm ko).
The new League One season begins in four weeks’ time, with the visit of Morecambe, with the transfer window closing three weeks’ later at the end of August.
“You always want to do business as soon as possible,” said Ashton.
“Paul will tell you, like every manager, that he wants players in early so he can drill them in the way he wants them to play.
“But the reality is the deal gets done when the deal gets done. I’ve been in this too long now to put time frames on things. The minute you put time frames on things you just set yourself up to fail.
“Again, there are so many factors that change. You think a deal’s going to be done in 24 hours and it takes a week. You think a deal’s going to take a week and it gets done in 24 hours.
“Paul is really strong on the character check. Football is a village. We will know either a manager or a player who has been in the dressing room of a player we are trying to sign. Or you’ve got a backroom member of staff who has even worked with that player.
“We’re professional in the way we behave and the way we operate. We know the market. There’ll be more players coming in for sure.”