When loans go permanent: Town's hits and misses when keeping hired hands full-time
- Credit: Archant
With Christian Walton's loan move to Ipswich Town set to become permanent, Andy Warren looks at the Blues' history when signing former loanees to full-time deals.
If you go through the expansive list of players Ipswich Town have signed on loan over the course of the last 30 years, you will certainly find more misses than hits.
That’s why the idea of signing the vast majority of those hired hands on a permanent basis was never considered. But, for a chosen few, the Blues saw enough to want to bring them to the club full-time.
We'll start with Paul Cooper, the legendary goalkeeper who played one game on loan for Town in 1974 before Sir Bobby Robson made his temporary move from Birmingham City permanent. The rest is a history including an FA Cup, a UEFA Cup and a place in Ipswich Town folklore.
In the modern era, undoubtedly the biggest hit is a certain Jim Magilton, a man plucked from Sheffield Wednesday’s reserves in January of 1999 who ultimately stayed with the club for a decade.
He started quickly, slotting into an Ipswich midfield already containing Matt Holland and Kieron Dyer and making his presence felt. By the time March had rolled around, he was signed permanently for £750,000. A year after that, Town were promoted at Wembley, with a fifth-placed Premiership finish and European football following 12 months down the line.
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Then it was relegation, the captaincy after Holland’s exit and then, when Joe Royle walked away from Portman Road, management. That’s quite some journey for a loanee.
Also part of that promotion-winning team was Martijn Reuser, the Dutchman brought in from Ajax and becoming a cult hero, signed permanently for £1million in the summer of 2000. Jamie Clapham was there, too. The left-back signed from Tottenham, initially on loan before a £200,000 move, was part of those great highs before leaving for Birmingham.
George Burley clearly had an eye for a loan player.
Royle’s big success in the loan market was the signing of Shefki Kuqi, initially temporarily from Sheffield Wednesday in 2003, before he too became a cult hero in the two years which followed.
Magilton’s contribution to this section in a management capacity is a player whose loan move took five years to become permanent, with the Northern Irishman signing Bartosz Bialkowski on loan from Southampton in 2009, before the Pole ultimately joined in 2014. He was undoubtedly a hit, winning three-successive player-of-the-year awards.
Another slow burner was Daryl Murphy, originally signed by Roy Keane in February of 2010 and having three spells on loan before Mick McCarthy signed him permanently in 2013. He scored 27 goals as Town made the play-offs in 2014/15. Nobody’s come close to that tally in an Ipswich shirt since.
Also part of McCarthy’s play-off side were David McGoldrick and Jay Tabb, making loan switches from Nottingham Forest and Reading permanent before playing their part in a team which outperformed the sum of its parts.
But the well has run dry since then.
Hopefully Walton can become the next addition to the hit list.
In theory, loan players should be on to a winner when they make their loan moves permanent.
They’ve already impressed sufficiently to convince the club to take them on full-time, with the hope that level of performance continues, at the very least
But it doesn’t always work out.
Emyr Huws and Jimmy Bullard both had brilliant temporary spells at Portman Road, ending the 2016/17 and 2010/11 seasons respectively. Town met the clamour for them to be signed permanently but, for differing reasons, things went wrong.
Huws’ scorer of those goals against Aston Villa and Newcastle, was an injury victim, losing nearly two years of his career to knee issues and not returning the same player when he did eventually find a good level of fitness.
He made only 42 appearances during his four years as a permanent Ipswich player. He’s at Colchester now.
Then there’s Bullard, who in his own words was ‘incredible’ during his initial loan from Hull. He won the club’s player-of-the-year award after playing just 16 times.
“It was pukka,” he said. “The connection I had with the fans... that love and adoration you feel... mate! It was everything you want, especially me being the attention seeker I am. It was such a buzz.”
But the buzz died away after he ultimately joined full-time, with the former midfielder insisting Paul Jewell played him out of position in a team lacking legs as Bullard, Lee Bowyer and Keith Andrews failed to click in the middle of midfield.
A night out in Newcastle led to a two-week suspension from work, before Jewell terminated the final year of his deal. Not a good look for Bullard.
If this has piqued your interest in Jimmy Bullard, then give Stuart Watson’s interview with him in 2020 a look. His version of events is fantastic.
There are others who didn’t work out, too. Paul Digby played only six times after making his loan from Barnsley permanent in 2016, while Alex Henshall never made a league start after his switch from Manchester City became full-time.
The latter now plays for Wantage Town in the eighth tier.
Somewhere in between
It’s not always black or white. Success or failure. Hit or miss.
Sometimes loan players fall somewhere in between after making their moves permanent.
So, consider these names, all of which made loan moves to Portman Road into full-time affairs, but didn’t necessarily pull up any trees while still contributing.
There’s Jason Cundy (Tottenham), Chris Bart-Williams (Charlton), Gavin Williams (West Ham), Gary Roberts (Accrington Stanley), Luke Varney (Blackburn) and Will Keane (Hull).
I’ll pick one out from that list who nearly made my personal ‘hit’ list. Williams was a player I really liked. Silky and gritty in equal measure. He can’t belong with the company in the first list, though. He’s in the nether zone.
The same can be said for Jon Stead, who was a solid contributor throughout his time at Portman Road, either loan or permanent from Sheffield United.
Then there’s the curious case of Janoi Donacien who, you may remember, actually joined Ipswich on loan from Accrington in the summer of 2018, before making his move full-time the following January for £750,000. Paul Lambert would have stopped that deal if he could, but it only went through as a loan due to red tape issues.
Within a week or so he had been loaned back to Stanley and has also had a loan to Fleetwood in that time but, right now, is a fixture in the Ipswich side. It’s a funny old game.
The ones who got away
The Saga of Sixto Peralta could have been made into a movie.
The Argentine, part ballerina, part street footballer, had left his grey Audi A3 in the Portman Road car park after his loan from Inter came to an end. It became a symbol of hope.
Sadly, though, hope faded. He would have signed permanently had Town not been relegated from the Premier League. But Inter wouldn’t loan him out again despite Peralta wanting a return to Suffolk to play in the second tier.
The deal was dead and the car was eventually driven back to Italy by one of Peralta’s friends.
He’s another you can read about in great detail, right here.
Oh, Alan Mahon. For a long time considered to be the best Ipswich loan player of all time after he signed from Blackburn in 2003.
Ipswich were broke but, now out of administration, were finally allowed to sign players. The Irishman was a creative force during what was just a 12-game Ipswich career. Joe Royle desperately wanted him full-time but the money just wasn’t there. He joined Wigan instead.
There are more. Think Mark Stein, Francis Jeffers, David Unsworth, Jay McEveley, Keith Andrews, Richard Stearman and Luke Garbutt.
Some will have been lucky escapes, others could very easily could have found their way into the hit list. We’ll never know.