JIMMY BULLARD EXIT: A look back on the dressing room joker’s rapid fall from grace
His permanent signing was heralded by Ipswich Town fans last August following a scintillating loan spell, but just 12 months later Jimmy Bullard is exiting the club following a rapid slide from hero to zero. STUART WATSON takes a look back on where it all went wrong for football’s loveable rogue.
WHAT a difference a year makes.
Just 12 months ago it was Jimmy-mania. Curly blond wigs quickly became the biggest seller in the club shop, while male fans even sung about happily lending Mr Bullard their wife.
This was the creative genius who had almost single-handedly dragged Ipswich Town away from the relegation zone during a scintillating end-of-season loan spell, the clown prince who had banished the dark clouds which had hung ominously over the club following Roy Keane’s ill-fated spell in charge. His short-term impact was so great that supporters had voted him their Player of the Year.
The joy was intensified by the fact that even the most optimistic hadn’t expected to ever see him in a Blues shirt again. With nearly �8m in transfer fees behind him and two years left to run on a lucrative Hull City contract, manager Paul Jewell had publicly conceded defeat over a return.
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And yet, suddenly, the way was paved. The Tigers had terminated the 33-year-old’s lucrative contract following an alleged breach of club discipline on a pre-season trip to Slovenia.
In hindsight, the alarm bells should have been ringing, as should the warnings from Hull City supporters that it would all end in tears.
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Instead social networking websites went into meltdown as excited supporters traded whispers of the midfielder’s medical and journalists – this one included – penned their welcome home editorials.
It all started so well too. In his first game back, Town showed guts to secure a comeback home win over Leeds just days after 12 goals had been leaked in back-to-back matches against newly-promoted duo Southampton and Peterborough.
Deployed at the base of an experienced diamond midfield system, Bullard pulled the strings in a role akin to the quarterback in American Football. As a result, the Blues soon went on a sparkling six-game unbeaten run, with victories over Coventry, West Ham, Brighton and Portsmouth achieved along the way.
There’s nothing like seven straight defeats to prick the bubble though. Why it happened is still a matter of debate.
Did teams suddenly wise up to the influence Bullard was having from a deeper role? He was certainly given more attention by the opposition.
Was fitness an issue? Bullard was in a midfield containing two other 30-somethings in Keith Andrews and Lee Bowyer, with the Blues suddenly developing an unwanted penchant for conceding late goals.
What is for sure is the beginning of Jimmy’s fall from grace came on a cold Tuesday night in Burnley last November, with Jewell labelling his side as ‘gutless’ and ‘spineless’ following a limp 4-0 defeat. Few came away from Turf Moor with any credit that evening, but Bullard was among the worst offenders.
Restricted to a bit-part role from the bench and starved of the football fuel that feeds his energy, the charismatic midfielder looked for other ways to satisfy his love of life.
Unfortunately, following two consecutive nights out in Newcastle, he and team-mate Michael Chopra turned up late for a training session on March 1. The latter, a reformed gambling addict, was fined two weeks’ wage. Bullard, controversially, was instead told to stay away from the club for a fortnight.
Publicly, Jewell always insisted that Bullard would have a fair shot at redemption. Just 14 minutes of first team action followed though.
And the writing was on the wall when the Blues boss announced he would be looking to bring in ‘young and hungry’ recruits over the summer.
No doubt there will be much hand-wringing about the part Bullard has played in his own downfall over the coming days, while there will be finger-pointing at the Ipswich Town management too for such a minimal return on sizeable wages.
The truth is, both parties will be bitterly disappointed with how things have turned out. So rather than search for a scapegoat, it might just be best on this occasion to simply accept that this simply wasn’t the match made in heaven everyone hoped it would be.
Good luck Jimmy, but it’s time for a new era at Ipswich Town.