Where Ipswich Town's out-of-contract players stand heading into summer of change at Portman Road
- Credit: Pagepix/Steve Waller/Ross Halls/Andy Warren
It’s going to be a summer of change at Ipswich Town.
Paul Cook’s Blues remain in the League One promotion hunt, sitting just a point and a place outside the top six with 12 matches remaining.
But regardless of which division the club find themselves in next season, the squad for 2021/22 is likely to look very different to the one currently battling for promotion.
That’s because 32 professional players see their contracts or loans end after the season is concluded, with more than 20 of those falling into the ‘first-team’ bracket.
Most notable are the long-serving duo of Luke Chambers and Cole Skuse, as well as the likes of Teddy Bishop, Freddie Sears, Alan Judge, Kayden Jackson and Toto Nsiala.
The Blues hold an automatic option to extend the majority of those contracts by 12 months, though fresh terms must be negotiated with Gwion Edwards, given the club took up their clause a year ago.
The majority of the players’ contracts state those options must be taken no later than the third Saturday in May or seven days after the club’s final match of the season, whichever is later.
- 2 A14 blocked after three vehicle crash
- 3 Your favourite pub, restaurant, café and hotel in Suffolk revealed
- 4 Cook on whether he's missing the influence of Richardson
- 5 Town face 'red tape' wait over Celina
- 6 ‘Inadequate’ private hospital closes after patients ‘put at prolonged risk of harm’
- 7 7 of Suffolk's prettiest streets
- 8 Grieving Cook determined to fill Town fans with joy
- 9 Yellow weather warning for heavy rain issued for parts of Suffolk
- 10 Ed Sheeran announces three Wembley dates as part of = world tour
It’s understood contract discussions with those whose deals are expiring have been extremely limited to date, meaning late decisions will be made depending on which division the club is playing in next season and the thoughts of newly-appointed manager Paul Cook.
It’s likely the new boss, brought in to replace Paul Lambert, will want to stamp his mark on the Town squad having spoken several times of his surprise the current group had been allowed to get so big.
The scrapping of League One’s controversial salary cap changes the landscape somewhat, given the financial controls would have limited Town to only 20 players aged 21 or over and restricted them to a wage bill of just £2.5million.
With those regulations no longer in place it may be the Blues are willing and able to keep more of their players than they would have been able to had they remained, if they stay in the third tier.
But with a dozen games remaining, as well as potentially a play-off campaign, there is a long list of Town players who could either earn themselves a new deal or see their time at the club come to an end.
Below, we take a look at where the players stand heading into the final three months of their contracts.
Ipswich Town contracts expiring in 2021
Loans ending: McGuinness, Bennetts, Matheson, Harrop, Thomas, Parrott
Contracts with options: Chambers, Skuse, Ward, Donacien, Judge, Wilson, Sears, Jackson, Bishop, Nsiala, Nydam, El Mizouni, Przybek, Folami, Morris, Clements, Gibbs, Andoh, Z Brown, K Brown, Hughes
Contracts without options: Edwards, Wright
Unclear if contract contains option: Huws, Drinan, Cotter
The experienced campaigners
Of all those out of contract in just a few months’ time, no players will split opinion like Luke Chambers and Cole Skuse.
The duo have made more than 650 Ipswich appearances between them since their arrivals, in 2012 and 2013 respectively, and have been central figures under Mick McCarthy, Paul Hurst and Paul Lambert. They have started that way in the early days of Cook, too.
In many minds they come as a pair but, in reality, their cases are very different and should surely be judged so.
Chambers, now one of Town’s top 10 all-time appearance makers, has been a virtual ever-present during his nine seasons in Suffolk, being so again this season at the age of 35. He’s on course to play 46 games this season, almost exclusively at right-back – a record not to be sniffed at. The fact he’s played so much football under so many managers shows just how highly he’s thought of on the pitch. He’s earned his place and has been one of the Blues’ most consistent performers this season.
You won’t find too many clubs dispensing with players who have played so many games in their final season.
But Cook wants dynamic full-back play and that, coupled with the fact Kane Vincent-Young will (hopefully) return from injury in time for next season, means it’s highly unlikely the new boss will enter his first full campaign with a man who turns 36 in September in that position.
We know he’s a centre-half by trade but has had little chance to show his ability there this season. If his Town stay is to continue it must surely be there.
Skuse is a different case. He’d missed the entire season before returning against Plymouth last weekend and is understandably not at full speed after so long on the sidelines.
He turns 35 later this month and certainly still has qualities which can benefit this team, both on the pitch and off it, even if he’s not considered a 46-game starter.
Neither man is entertaining the idea of retirement, regardless of whether they remain at Ipswich or not.
Clearly their best in Ipswich blue is behind them. But what manager Paul Cook must decide is whether the need for their experience, and what they can still offer on the field, outweighs his desire for a fresh start and a change of direction.
No departures would represent a ‘new broom’ approach more than these loyal servants.
Pushing for another year
Three other regular members of the starting XI have a real platform to push their case for at least another year at the club.
James Wilson, Alan Judge and Teddy Bishop all have options in their contract, while all three would certainly rather negotiate multi-year extensions.
It’s likely they will get the rest of the season to prove they are deserving of it.
Wilson has been a key figure of late, coming back into the side and bringing an air of calm to a defence which lacked a cool head at its heart. He’s just turned 32 but is still in excellent physical condition, is quicker than many realise and reads the game well. He’s surely worth a position in the squad next year, even if not as a guaranteed starter.
Bishop has been in this boat before in recent years, having his option taken in 2018 after another injury ravaged season before signing a new deal at the end of that campaign. Now he’s at another crossroads. He’s on course to play more games this season than he has at any other point in his career and possesses a skillset no other Ipswich midfielder does, while also adding a few goals to his game during the campaign so far.
Judge, now 32, hasn’t been able to nail down his preferred central role and is still playing regularly out wide. It must be said, despite having to deal with some extremely difficult moments off the pitch this season, his form has been good in 2021.
Cook has historically used true ‘wide forwards’ as part of his front three so, if Judge is to earn an extended stay, it’s likely to be as a central operator. He’ll need to earn a spot there this season first to prove his worth.
The money men
The quartet of Kayden Jackson, Toto Nsiala, Gwion Edwards and Janoi Donacien cost Ipswich Town a combined £4million when signed by Paul Hurst in the summer of 2018. Three years later, their deals are up.
These were significant investments by owner Marcus Evans who, it’s understood, would be reluctant to allow them to depart on free transfers if there was any sense they still had roles to play.
The situation regarding Donacien in January reflects that, with Paul Lambert willing to let the defender leave only for Evans to reject an offer of £50,000 from Plymouth in favour of a loan to Fleetwood, despite the fact he was a mile from the first-team and months away from becoming a free agent. It’s been suggested his option could well be taken, given Cook’s yet to have a look at the St Lucian.
Donacien, Nsiala and Jackson - the latter the biggest investment of the lot at more than £1.6million - all have option years in their contracts and could all conceivably stay around for a further 12 months. Talks had been ongoing regarding a new deal for Jackson for several months before ultimately coming to nothing, while Bournemouth had an offer of more than £1million rejected last summer and Huddersfield saw their loan-to-buy bid knocked back in January.
Hindsight may suggest the club should have taken those offers and that, combined with the fact interest is likely to remain from elsewhere, means it’s highly likely Jackson’s option will be taken.
Nsiala is an interesting case, given he has become a central member of the side and has previously worked with Cook at Accrington. It remains to be seen where the new Ipswich boss sees the defender fitting in long-term.
Edwards is currently playing out his option year, meaning the Blues must negotiate a fresh contract with the Welshman should they wish to keep him. Speaking recently, Edwards confirmed no talks had taken place. He’s had high spots in blue but other periods of inconsistently, as well as an up-and-down injury record. That will all come into the equation.
There are four young Ipswich players who have seen their promising careers hit by injury.
Idris El Mizouni has seen loan spells with Cambridge and Grimsby end early due to knee injuries over the last two seasons while Tristan Nydam has only just returned to action following a nasty broken ankle. Ben Morris has been the victim of cruel bad luck, having suffered two knee ligament injuries in quick succession – he's working his way back again.
All three have option years in their contract and it would be a surprise if they were not picked up, given the promise they possess.
You could potentially put goalkeeper Harry Wright in this bracket, too, given he’s lost months of football to a knee injury of late. He’s 22 now, meaning the removal of the salary cap and its restriction on ‘senior’ players may help Ipswich keep him around.
Wright is the only one of the quartet without an option in their contract.
Future in doubt?
It looks for all the world like Emyr Huws’ time as an Ipswich Town player is coming to an end.
His career in blue, since signing permanently in 2017, has been ravaged by injury and, while seeing him get back on the pitch at all after two years out represented a significant milestone for the Welshman, he’s not been able to recapture anything like the form which made him such a hit during his initial loan.
He’s not played since being replaced at half-time of Town’s loss to Swindon on January 9th and is a significant distance from Cook’s thinking right now.
Freddie Sears is another who hasn’t been the same since returning from the nasty knee injury he suffered at Norwich in 2019. His effort can’t be faulted but the production hasn’t been there. He’s not started a game in more than a month and hasn’t been involved at all under Cook, aside from a poor display from the bench in the new boss’s first game. Town have been hugely inconsistent in wide areas, so the door may not be closed just yet this season.
Stephen Ward’s Ipswich stay looks likely to be a case of ‘one and done’ given he’s dropped out the starting line-up of late, while you sense Aaron Drinan also has more to prove if he is to earn an extended stay. The left-back and striker positions are two (of a long list) that Cook will surely want to overhaul in the summer.
The other player likely to depart is Barry Cotter, who is a mile from the first-team picture, wasn’t registered in Town’s squad under the salary cap rules and is destined to be remembered for having one of the most bizarre Ipswich careers of any in recent history.
The remaining players have mainly featured in the Blues’ Under 23s, with their futures likely to be decided by the club’s academy staff.
They all have contract options, with the majority likely to be taken up.
One slightly different case is Ben Folami, with the 21-year-old currently on loan in his homeland with Melbourne Victory. A permanent move may appeal to everyone.
Ipswich Town currently have six loanees whose deals run to the end of the season. It’s fair to say none of them will be at the club next season.
It’s certainly conceivable that we won’t see Mark McGuinness or Luke Thomas in a blue shirt again, given their lack of involvement under Cook so far, while Luke Matheson has work to do if he is to force his way back into the Ipswich thinking.
Keanan Bennetts and Josh Harrop have been in-and-out of the side and have made limited impacts, leaving Troy Parrott standing alone as the one loanee who has forced a claim to potentially return for another temporary spell next season.
That’s if Cook wants him, if Tottenham see it as beneficial and if the teenager himself agrees, of course.
But in all likelihood all six will be playing elsewhere next season.