Keane holds firm on Connor
HANDS off! That remains the stern warning from Ipswich Town boss, Roy Keane, aimed at any rival clubs still tracking Connor Wickham.
Keane remains adamant that Wickham will start next season at Portman Road, with the 17-year-old wonder kid seen as a vital cog in Town’s potential promotion bandwagon.
Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp has been leading the chase to sign Wickham this summer, and Keane has admitted that offers have come in for a few of his star players.
Yet the Irishman insists that Wickham, the shining light of England Under-17s recent European Championship title-success, is “very much part of our (Town’s) plans.”
Next season promises to be Wickham’s first full season of senior football, after a campaign of finding his feet and then flourishing at the end of the 2009-10 term.
The big, powerful centre-forward, who netted six goals for Town, including four in the Championship during the last two months of the season, is seen as Town’s big hope for the future, both in the eyes of Keane and the majority of supporters.
Tottenham have been trying to tempt Wickham away from Suffolk, by upping their bid to a reported �8m, but owner and chairman Marcus Evans won’t be selling his prize asset for that figure.
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Furthermore, Keane also hinted that the club had received bids for some of his other key players. Skipper Jon Walters could fall into the bracket.
“We have had a number of phone calls and one or two offers for, what I would class as, our most important players and who we have no intention in letting go,” insisted Keane.
Referring directly to Wickham, Keane explained: “Connor is very much one of the future and we believe he is going to be a top, top player.
“He had a very good end to the season, even away with England Under-17s, and Connor is very much a part of our plans.
“From the club and the owner’s point of view, we are under no pressure to sell him.
“That is good news for everyone because we need players like Connor to produce next year if we are going to have a successful season,” added Keane.
While Keane is desperate to hang onto Wickham, who came up through the Academy at Portman Road, he is also hoping to find an experienced goal-poacher to operate alongside him over the months ahead.
Cardiff City hot shot Michael Chopra has been his main target, with a minimum �4m a likely price target, although the Welsh club are likewise under no pressure to sell the former Newcastle and Sunderland front-runner.
Out-of-sorts midfielder Owen Garvan has been linked with a move in the opposite direction, and as perhaps part of a sweetener in any Chopra deal.
Meanwhile, Keane is willing to move on several of his other current Town strikers, headed by Jon Stead and Kevin Lisbie. The trio of Tamas Priskin, Lee Martin and Pablo Counago also endured difficult seasons last year.
Town kick off the new season with a trip to Middlesbrough on Saturday, August 7, followed by a visit to Exter City for a Carling Cup first round tie in midweek.
So far, they have also lined up pre-season friendlies at Southend United (Friday, July 9) and Dutch club PSV Eindhoven (Saturday, July17,) and home matches against West Ham (Saturday, July 31) and a Tottenham XI (Tuesday, August 3).