Exit Interview: Skuse was the steadiest of hands on the pitch and oozed class off it
- Credit: Archant
Cole Skuse has left Ipswich Town after eight seasons at the club and has signed for neighbours Colchester United. Andy Warren takes a look back at the midfielder's time in Suffolk
For every Batman there is inevitably a Robin.
Cole Skuse became inextricably linked with close friend Luke Chambers during his eight years at Portman Road, not least because the pair were an enduring presence during an extended period in the club’s history and were nailed-on starters under three successive managers.
And that has, of course, meant they have at times found themselves, in many ways unfairly, top of the list when dissecting the Blues’ fall to the middle of the third-tier of English football.
That fall is only half of Skuse and Chambers’ (almost exclusively referred to the other way round, but Skuse gets top billing in this particular article) Ipswich Town story.
They come as a pair, with Skuse Robin to Chambers’ Batman, but they are very different people and players.
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Chambers is a loud, dominant force of nature who plays with his heart on his sleeve with his passion laid bare for all to see.
Skuse is the complete opposite, happy to go under the radar and go about his business quietly and effectively both on and off the pitch, all with a good dash of dry humour.
And those qualities served Ipswich Town superbly, particularly during his first three seasons at the club which brought finishes of 9th, 6th and 7th.
He played in 124 of a possible 138 Championship games during that period and, with a steady hand on the tiller, allowed the more creative players in the side to flourish. He was Teddy Bishop’s partner in 2014/15 when the twinkle-toed midfielder burst onto the scene, while acting as the midfield anchor when Mick McCarthy added flair to his team in the form of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Ryan Fraser a year later.
It was during this season he became known as ‘The Interceptor’, topping the European charts for interceptions during games, in what was an example of one of Skuse’s key attributes.
He wasn’t the all-round midfield general that many would have liked Ipswich to possess, but he could not have been held in higher regard by his managers and team-mates. As he said himself recently, that tells its own story.
"The lads, in house, have always said 'what a player, what a job you do',” Skuse said, in his farewell interview with the club. “So as long as they're happy I'm happy. The amount of games I've played has been evidence that managers like me too.
"It's not the most glorious of positions, the deep-lying midfielder who breaks up the play, but I can also play a little bit. I've been called a few names over the years, like a 'crab', but as long as I'm doing my bit for the side, the players are happy, the manager is happy and I go home and my kids and wife and parents say 'you done okay' that's enough for me."
Those quotes sum up Skuse. Understated confidence.
The second half of his Ipswich career came at a time when Town were slipping backwards, with Skuse still an integral part of the side which fell to relegation under Paul Lambert.
The Scot regularly spoke of a player he feels ‘should have played in the Premier League’ and whose ‘passing is second to none’. ‘I wish I had him when he was 25 or 26’ Lambert would say.
But the former boss would always regularly remind Chambers, Skuse and the supporters that time would eventually catch up with the experienced duo.
Injury crept in during Town’s relegation season, with a knee problem keeping Skuse out for a spell which saw him return to action in less than half the prescribed time. That shows commitment to the cause and just how durable his body has been and how fit he has kept himself.
He still played the majority of the games and was somewhat rejuvenated by Lambert’s arrival, playing on the turn, spraying passes around and operating with a freedom he had not always been afforded. He didn’t quite recapture that after the injury, though.
He was again regularly involved in the curtailed 2019/20 campaign as Ipswich dropped like a stone to mid-table, before what turned out to be his final Town season ended with just four appearances after he suffered a freak knee injury in training, which again required surgery.
It was a sad way for a good Ipswich career to end, with Skuse and Chambers departing in front of empty stands, when the very least the pair deserved was to be applauded off following eight (in Skuse’s case) excellent years of service.
What went well
Clearly, given how many games he played, Skuse was a player valued by his managers and team-mates.
As previously mentioned, it all came in an under-stated fashion which saw him do the ‘hidden dirty work’ and open up play for others.
That meant there weren’t too many highlight moments – that's not his game – but anyone who witnessed him find the net against Cardiff with a thumping shot in April 2015 will surely remember the day they saw Cole Skuse score a goal.
That was one of only two Ipswich goals he has to his name, with the other coming at home to Bolton with the aid of deflection in 2017.
His role off the pitch must be mentioned, too.
He was the first to put his hand up to attend community events, be it in hospitals, schools or elsewhere, and he was viewed by those in charge of organising them as being a superb representative of the club in the community it serves. He always made himself available.
Skuse also took on a significant role when it came to welcoming new players to the club, with Luke Matheson highlighting how the midfielder rang him on the drive to Suffolk to introduce himself to the teenager.
That wasn’t an isolated incident. Far from it. In recent years Skuse has informally taken on elements of the ‘player liaison’ role within the club, helping to welcome new players, aiding them to settle in and showing them around the town and surrounding area. His wife Louisa has done similar with the wives, girlfriends and children of new players, too.
These aren’t acts the midfielder would be particularly comfortable accepting praise for, but are good examples of why Skuse was a good man and more than just a footballer during his time in blue.
Areas to improve
Clearly Skuse wasn’t a goal scorer. Two goals in 278 games proves that. His career record is 11 in 585.
And if there has been one knock on Skuse during his time at the club then it’s the fact he doesn’t contribute heavily in the final third, either in terms of goals or assists. How much of that is down to the role he was asked to play is open to debate.
The biggest point he has to prove now he’s left Ipswich is his fitness, given his knee injury essentially cost him an entire season at the age of 35.
But he’s naturally fit, looks after himself as well as any professional in the game and is confident he will see plenty of action in 2021/22.
“It was (frustrating) but it’s obviously going to be magnified by outside sources looking in,” Skuse said of his injury.
“But people in the know and within the club and at Colchester know it’s a freak incident, a freak slip in training that could have happened to anyone.
“When you get to my age people are going to ask questions. Is he done? But that’s far from the case.
“But I feel really physically good and I’m looking forward to playing at Colchester.”
What the future holds
Skuse has signed a two-year contract with Colchester United, meaning he’ll be playing his football just a few miles down the A12 following his Ipswich exit.
He’s been brought in not only to help guide the U’s young players but also play a real part – something he is confident of doing after recovering from his knee injury.
Skuse will link up with former Town team-mates Tom
my Smith and Dean Gerken at Colchester, while he could well be joined by Chambers and Freddie Sears later in the summer.
He is also set to continue the coaching role he began at St Joseph’s College in Ipswich last year.