Why the signings won't stop at Ipswich Town even now the transfer window is closed
- Credit: Steve Waller - www.stephenwaller
The signings won’t stop now the transfer window has shut for Ipswich Town.
During the most hectic of summers, new Blues chief executive Mark Ashton delivered a remarkable 19 new signings, working right up to deadline day to secure Bersant Celina and Sam Morsy.
That’s not bad considering, in his words, the club has ‘no objective or subjective recruitment department’.
The topic of scouting came up when Ashton was asked, in a wide-ranging interview for our Kings of Anglia podcast back in July, whether the club was ‘more stripped back than he had anticipated?’
“No, in all honesty the structure is exactly where I expected it to be,” he replied.
“I’ll give you an example. I knew that my biggest challenge was the timing of the takeover (April 8) and when I could join (June 1 after serving out his previous contract at Bristol City).
“Why? Because we were going to hit a transfer window. Why? Because Paul Cook wanted to really transform the team and the squad.
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“But we have no recruitment department. We have no objective or subjective recruitment department.
“I can’t build that overnight. That is a project that will start at the end of the transfer window and by the time we get to the January transfer window we will have a team.
“Right now though, every agent, every player, every club has to come through either myself, Luke Werhun (chief operating officer), Paul Cook or his team.
“That’s fine. We are where we are right now. We’ll build the aeroplane while we’re in flight, as someone once said.
“But it isn’t a shock or a surprise. The club is where it is.
“We talk about it being a ‘big club’ and a ‘sleeping giant’, but right now we are in League One. We have to earn our stripes and we have to get out of this division.”
Steve McCall, a member of Town’s UEFA Cup winning side of 1981, was the Blues’ chief scout from 2006 until 2014.
His duties were taken on by Dave Bowman and Ian ‘Taff’ Evans when the pair were reunited with Mick McCarthy at Portman Road in 2012.
Welshman Evans, a European football specialist, later left, while rising star Jordan Miles was poached by West Ham in 2016 (he is now their head of recruitment analyst and is credited with the Hammers signing Tomas Soucek).
The north-east based Bowman, who had the job title ‘Director of Football’, continued to use his contacts to help deliver some top loan signings like Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Ryan Fraser, Tom Lawrence and Bersant Celina.
Speaking in a rare interview back in January 2019, former Blues owner Marcus Evans said: “The scouting side is something I would pretty much have left to previous managers to set-up in the way they wanted it to be done.
“That’s an area, last summer (2018), I felt we could have had a bit more formula to. We needed to create better structures in terms of our internal record keeping of who we had scouted, how we could identify new players and also looking a little bit more outside of the traditional leagues we had been looking in.
“The Championship is becoming so expensive that some of the leagues in Europe which may have been on a similar level to us financially three or four years ago, even more recently than that, are now below us financially, which means we can look at places for players that we didn’t look at before.
“If you are going to start scouting further afield then you need to be a little bit more organised in order to make decisions not just based upon the occasional agent recommendation, which is how we might have got some players in the past.
“So I’ve been quite a bit more hands-on in trying to create a scouting structure which is far more supportive of the manager.”
Paul Hurst ended up identifying players he wanted from the lower leagues though and, after relegation, Bowman found himself increasingly sidelined by Paul Lambert.
As a result, Lee O’Neill ended up spinning an increasing number of plates in his wide-ranging role as ‘general manager of football operations’.
Bowman was released earlier this summer, and is once again working with McCarthy at Cardiff, leaving ‘recruitment analyst’ Alex Hood as the only full-time member of scouting the department.
“Talent identification and player recruitment are two of the most important areas of the football club,” said Ashton, who turned a big profit on the likes of Adam Webster, Josh Brownhill and Aden Flint at Bristol City.
“We can have the biggest and best commercial deals, we can make Portman Road immaculate, but if we sign the wrong players it all becomes under par.
“The guys who are working with me, Paul (Cook) included, are getting used to how I work. I'm systematic. I like to be considered in my judgements and I like us to work professionally.
“That means, from a recruitment perspective, having real experts in that field to help us plan one, two, three transfer windows ahead.
“We can’t do that at the moment. We just have to build a team, right now, that we think can be competitive in this division.”
Asked how big he sees his new-look recruitment team being, Ashton said: “It flexes, in reality, to what division you are in.
“If you’re in League One the majority of your recruits are UK based, but the minute you move into the Championship it’s an international game. That brings a whole different dynamic to recruitment and is a far riskier area of recruitment.
“And if you’re in the Premier League it’s a whole different ball game again. So it’s something that has to ebb and flow through the divisions.
“But the core policies and processes that we put in place will remain the same and some of those are in place already.
“I can see, by Christmas, us having four or five people in that recruitment department who are both data driven and scouting driven.
“They have to be of a certain type who understands what I want and what Paul wants and who can work with us to prepare plans for the future.”