Ranking Ipswich Town's top seven creative midfielders of the last 40 years
- Credit: Archant
I have bent the 'rules,' or rather tweaked my own self-imposed parameters, to embrace Ipswich Town's embarrassment of riches when it comes to central midfielders over the last 40 years.
All the previous articles in this series, focussing on goalkeepers, right-backs, left-backs, centre-halves and wingers, have been top-fives.
But for this one category, I have opted to split up central midfielders into two halves - creative and defensive midfielders - and have extended both to a top seven.
First up are the creative midfielders, the best seven I have listed since 1980.
There are many notable absentees, some because they might well appear in the next defensive midfield section. John Wark could fill both roles, quite easily, so I don't think I'm spoiling anything by suggesting that the Scotsman will be a prominent name in the second half!
Others were unlucky not to make the top seven, like the talented Darren Ambrose (too few games), the mercurial Owen Garvan (lacked consistency), the maverick Jimmy Bullard (too late in his career) and Martijn Reuser (he appeared in the wingers/wide midfielders instead).
So here goes, and perhaps reserve your final judgement until the top seven defensive midfielders have also been revealed in the next instalment.
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1 FRANS THIJSSEN
Town were the leading exponents of playing the ball through midfield, the Dutch way, rather than kicking it long during the beginning of this period in the early 1980s.
Thijssen, the second of Town's famous Dutch imports, was a master of this more intricate style of play. Famed for his dribbling skills, ability to mesmerise opponents and his fine moustache, the Dutch international took the English game by storm.
He was 27 when he arrived at Portman Road in 1979, from FC Twente, and he lost no time in wowing the Suffolk public.
Thjissen was crowned English Footballer of the Year in 1980-81, having helped Sir Bobby Robson's men to UEFA Cup glory by scoring in both legs of the final against AZ Alkmaar.
2 ARNOLD MUHREN
The first of Town's Dutch imports, Muhren could open up a defence, in a flash, with a precision pass.
Recruited after Town's FA Cup triumph of 1978, the technically gifted Muhren proved a snip at just £150,000. So pleasing to the eye, he only missed one game during the whole of the 1980-81 season.
Muhren's longevity was such that, on leaving Portman Road for Manchester United in 1982 at the age of 31, he had seven more years at the top of his game, crowned by winning the European Championships with Holland in 1988.
3 JASON DOZZELL
The sign of a class midfielder is one who has time on the ball, more than any other player on the pitch, and Dozzell certainly possessed that trait.
Dozzell never looked back from the moment he scored on his Town debut, as a substitute in a 3-1 win over Coventry City in February, 1984, so becoming the youngest player (at 16 years 57 days) to score in the English top flight.
A product of Town's youth's system, the majestic Dozzell went on to chalk up more than 400 appearances between 1983 and '93, scoring 16 goals in Town's promotion to the newly-established Premier League in 1991-92, under John Lyall.
4 MATT HOLLAND
You could always rely on Holland to make things happen, in central midfield.
All hustle and bustle, and a born leader, Holland's Town record speaks for itself - 46 goals in 314 appearances, over six years - while his leadership qualities were priceless, captaining George Burley's side to play-off glory in 2000 and a fifth-placed finish in the Premier League the following season.
Arriving at Portman Road from Bournemouth for a £800,000 fee in the summer of 1997, Holland must be seen as one of Town's best-ever buys, especially as the club recouped their money when he eventually moved to Charlton (initial £750,000 fee rose to £900,000).
Ovbviously a different type of player to the more cultured Muhren or Thijssen, a super-fit Holland also had an amazing attendance record, missing just one league game in those six seasons with Town, and that was for international duty rather than injury or suspension (he rarely ever got booked).
5 KIERON DYER
Despite a later career plagued by injuries, the slightly-built Dyer could unlock a defence with a swift turn of pace, or a neat piece of skill.
Another success story of Town's youth policy, Ipswich-born Dyer graced the Town midfield during the second half of the 1990s, playing 113 games between 1996 and '99, always looking so comfortable on the ball.
Armed with his bag of tricks, he went on to command £6 million moves to Newcastle and West Ham, and played 33 times for England.
6 MARK BRENNAN
The post-Dutch era of classy midfielders gave way to a less successful period, but Brennan was a shining light in the middle of the park for Town between 1983 and '88.
On his day, Brennan was a top, top player, blessed with a sublime left foot that could execute a penetrating pass, short or long, and deliver a wicked free-kick.
He played 168 league games for Town, and went on to play in the top flight with Middlesbrough, Manchester City and Oldham.
7 PAUL MASON
I could have picked so many different names for this No. 7 slot, but Mason, another player blessed with such natural talent, was a big fans' favourite and a very skilful performer during the 1990s.
A later starter in football, a young injury-hit Mason found his feet at FC Groningen in Holland, and later Aberdeen in Scotland, before joining Premier League strugglers Town.
He became just as effective on the left-side of midfield, as in the middle, contributing 36 goals in 134 outings, including a sweet brace in a 3-2 home win over Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United in the autumn of 1994.