Some big contract decisions looming for Ipswich Town in 2021
- Credit: Archant
Several Ipswich Town players are now heading into the final six months of their contracts. STUART WATSON looks at the decisions ahead for the Blues hierarchy.
Before we start looking at who could stay or go, a reminder of the salary cap parameters Town would be working within if they are to remain in League One for another year.
This season, they have been able to name a squad restricted to 22 ‘senior’ players (those who were 21 at the start of the calendar year) earning a maximum of £2.5m a year.
To help with the transition, those who signed bigger contracts with the club prior to the rules being introduced in early August (that's the vast majority of Town's senior players) were treated as being on £113,000 pa (£2,173 pw) for the purpose of the cap.
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From next season onwards, named squads must be reduced to 20 ‘senior’ players, with large contracts signed prior to August 6, 2020 adjudged to be £125k pa (£2,404 pw) for salary cap purposes.
Any senior players who have signed contracts since August 6, 2020 now have their actual wages taken into account for salary cap purposes. So for Ipswich, that’s summer recruits Stephen Ward, David Cornell and Oli Hawkins, plus Andre Dozzell (after he recently signed a new deal).
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Town currently have the maximum 22 ‘senior’ players and they have seven more who will become ‘senior’ players for 2021/22 having turned 21 in 2020.
So that’s 29 'senior' players having to be cut to a named squad of 20.
LIKELY TO LEAVE
There are a couple of obvious candidates for 'senior' players who are likely to be released.
Janoi Donacien hasn’t started a single league game this season, even with Kane Vincent-Young injured, while fellow right-back Barry Cotter has been on loan at Chelmsford City and well out of the picture.
That would take you down to 27.
KEEP BUT LEAVE OUT THE 20?
Harry Wright, Tristan Nydam, Ben Folami and Ben Morris will all be classed as ‘senior’ players next season and all are set to be out of contract.
Ipswich could decide to keep them on but not include them in their 20-man squad.
Nydam and Morris will need to be rehabilitated in the Under-23s to start with following long-term injuries. Wright and Folami could be sent out for another year of development on loan.
That would take you down to 23.
THE CORE IN PLACE
Now let's start working up from the other end. We can work out the core of the 20-man ‘senior’ squad for Town next season by looking the players who who were 21 or over at the start of 2021 and who will still be under contract at the start of 21/22.
There are 12 of those at the moment: Tomas Holy, David Cornell, Kane Vincent-Young, Luke Woolfenden, Corrie Ndaba, Myles Kenlock, Andre Dozzell, Brett McGavin, Jon Nolan, Flynn Downes, James Norwood and Oli Hawkins.
I think it’s safe to say you can add Teddy Bishop and Kayden Jackson to the above list.
Both are set to be out of contract at the end of this season, but the club will, at the very minimum you’d imagine, take up their 12 month extension options.
So that’s 14 of the 20 ‘senior’ slots taken up – two keepers, a right-back, a left-back, two centre-backs, two deep-lying midfielders, three central midfielders and three strikers.
And we're still left with 10 'senior' players set to be out of contract at the end of the campaign...
Town have already taken their 12-month extension option in Gwion Edwards’ contract, so there is a danger that he could walk away for nothing in the summer.
Can the Blues persuade the Welsh winger to sign a new deal? If he replicates his early season form in the second half of the campaign, the 27-year-old might just be able to get a move to a Championship club on significantly more money than Town will be able to offer.
All of which leaves some big decisions to make on the following nine players.
Stephen Ward will turn 36 in August. He’s proved to be a good signing, but will it be time to look for a younger model? Kenlock as first choice left-back with a young homegrown player like Bailey Clements or Tommy Smith as back-up would negate the need to use up two ‘senior’ slots for this position.
Town are going to need a couple of centre-backs to compete with Woolfenden and the inexperienced Ndaba. It might be a case of keeping two out of three from skipper Luke Chambers, James Wilson and Toto Nsiala. Alternatively, they could keep all three and send Ndaba away for a season-long loan spell.
Is Cole Skuse’s lengthy spell at the club coming to an end? He turns 35 in March and hasn’t featured yet this season due to a knee injury. With Dozzell having made the deep midfield role his own and McGavin in reserve, there’s every chance this will be Skuse’s eighth and final season at Portman Road. Don’t rule out a coaching role though.
This is the fourth and final year of Emyr Huws’ contract. His first two seasons as a permanent Town player were decimated by injury and he’s never really been able to hit his previous heights since then. He’ll need to perform well in the second half of the campaign to earn an extension and claim one of those ‘senior’ slots.
Only Chambers started more games for Ipswich in 2020 than Alan Judge. The Irishman recently turned 32 though and, like Huws, hasn’t lit up League One in the way we all hoped in he would.
With Downes, Bishop and Nolan in place for central midfield, could Town decide to let one or both of Huws and Judge go to clear more of a pathway for the likes of Idris El Mizouni, Liam Gibbs and Nydam?
Then there’s Freddie Sears. Keep the 31-year-old for an eighth season, or freshen up those wide forward roles? Like Edwards, if he goes he’d need replacing. Jack Lankester and Armando Dobra would be the only other wide options.
Also, there'll be a call to make on Aaron Drinan. The 22-year-old made a real impact at the start of this campaign, but injuries then struck.
CHANCE TO CASH IN
Of course, ‘senior’ slots could be freed up if players are sold over the next two windows.
Downes would be the obvious candidate here. He handed in a transfer request last summer, after Town turned down bids from Crystal Palace, and the midfielder will soon be entering the final year of his contract.
Town turned down bids for Jackson (from Bournemouth) last summer too. He’d be heading into the final year of his deal (if the 12 month option is taken), so the Blues would be forced to accept a cut price offer this time around.
It’s hard to see anyone else being sold, unless someone came in with mega money for Dozzell.
It’s very well saying some of the above players should be released or sold to freshen things up, but the question is 'could they be replaced by anyone better under the salary cap constraints?'
Town aren’t going to be able to offer new signings more than the League One average of £2,404 a week. Convincing a player that they should come to League One and play regularly rather than sit on the bench in the Championship will now be much harder given what will now be a vast difference in wages on the table between the second and third tiers.
And when players have a straight choice between League One clubs it’s all going to come down to a sales pitch surrounding geography, game time, playing style and ambition.
If no-one is sold, and options are taken on Bishop and Jackson, then Ipswich will have 14 of their 'senior' slots spoken for at the start of next season. Four of the remaining six slots are likely to be needed for two centre-backs and two wingers. Then decisions will need to be made as to whether to prioritise left-back, right-back, centre-midfield or up front.
How many of those positions are filled internally, by giving new deals to the likes of Ward, Chambers, Wilson, Nsiala, Donacien, Huws, Skuse, Judge, Edwards and Sears, remains to be seen.