Exit Interview: Emmanuel possesses many of the tools a full-back needs... but his Ipswich career is over before it ever got going
- Credit: Archant
Josh Emmanuel left Ipswich Town on Monday as he made the move to Bolton Wanderers. Andy Warren looks back at the academy graduate’s time at Portman Road.
"He's not built like an 17-year-old stripling of a kid, he's built like a bloke, he's got a pair of shoulders on him. Nobody will do him for pace, nobody will do him for physique, strength."
That was former Ipswich boss Mick McCarthy's assessment of academy graduate Josh Emmanuel on the day he handed the defender a professional contract in August 2015, just 48 hours before throwing the teenager in for a debut on the opening day of the season at Brentford.
The former West Ham youth product performed well at Griffin Park, getting forward to attack and remaining solid at the back.
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He was back in the side for the home clash with Brighton later that month but was given a tough afternoon by Kazenga LuaLua, before being substituted at the break.
Despite the struggle against the Seagulls there was a real hope the academy product could be a feature for years to come, although he had to make do with Under 23 football and a brief loan at Crawley during the rest of his debut campaign.
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Fifteen of his 18 career Ipswich starts in the league came during the miserable 2016/17 season but he was in-and-out of McCarthy's stuttering side, only starting back-to-back games on three occasions as he struggled to get any kind of momentum.
We didn't know it at the time but his loan to Rotherham for the 2017/18 season was really the beginning of the end for Emmanuel's Ipswich career. His time with the Millers was a success, as he helped them win promotion to the Championship, but he didn't go with them and instead spent the following season back in League One on loan at Shrewsbury.
He returned early after struggling to get in the side but was on the fringes following his return to Ipswich, only making the team once relegation was as-good-as confirmed.
The option in Emmanuel's contract was taken up towards the end of last season, extending his stay until the end of a 2019/20 campaign which looked to be 'make or break' for his career at Ipswich.
But pre-season and one cup game at Luton was all he got to prove himself after it became clear he was behind both Kane Vincent-Young and Janoi Donacien in the pecking order.
Now he must bid to reignite his career at Bolton.
What went well
As McCarthy noted, Emmanuel has all the physical tools needed at full-back.
He's tall, strong and is rarely beaten for pace while he also has an excellent attitude, comes from an extremely supportive family, is strong in his faith and has always been a popular member of the squad.
He is comfortable on the ball, likes to get forward and, once there, can deliver dangerous balls into the box. That was evident on his debut as he delivered a good cross for Kevin Bru's goal against the Bees.
But it just hasn't happened for him at Ipswich.
The truth is, though, the best moments of his time as a Town player came during his loan at Rotherham.
He played 38 games, won a Wembley final and also won the club's young player of the year award. Millers manager Paul Warne has monitored him ever since, even during this transfer window - that's how highly regarded he is at the New York Stadium.
Areas to improve
Consistency was an issue for Emmanuel during his Ipswich career.
It was clear the attacking side of full-back play came easily to him but, defensively, he could sometimes be found wanting.
His final two Ipswich appearances are good examples of areas the defender must improve.
Lambert gave him a start in the first game after relegation was confirmed, away at Preston, but he was hooked at half-time after the Town boss admitted he 'struggled' as he was pulled around the pitch by a dynamic North End front four.
His one and only appearance for the Blues this season saw him give away a clumsy penalty at Luton in the Carabao Cup, on another occasion where he struggled to deal with interchanging forward lines.
He has all the tools required to forge a good career for himself in the EFL, as long as he can hold his concentration and find a good level of consistency in his game.
What the future holds
Emmanuel's move to Bolton sees him plunged into a relegation battle, with the Trotters bottom of the 23-team league on -11 points, 15 from safety.
But, following completion of a long-awaited takeover, Wanderers made Emmanuel one of nine signings on deadline day to strengthen a squad previously made up of academy products.
He'll be reunited with former Ipswich team-mate Daryl Murphy, with the campaign set to be spent battling for survival in the third tier.
Bizarrely, Emmanuel is the last player to score in the league for Bolton, having netted an own goal in the dying moments of Ipswich's 2-1 win against Wanderers in April.
The young full-back has signed a deal until the end of a season which takes on increasing significance as he looks to get his career back on track.
There is a sense this move is right for all parties and, if Emmanuel can prove his worth and extend his stay at Wanderers beyond the end of the campaign, his departure from Portman Road may just be a blessing.