How Ladapo got to Town and where he fits at Portman Road
- Credit: ITFC/PA
Freddie Ladapo has become Ipswich Town's first summer signing following his Rotherham exit. Andy Warren looks at where he's come from and how he fits at Portman Road.
So, what have Town got?
Well, for a start they have signed a player who has netted 51 goals in his last three seasons at League One level, at an average of 17 a campaign. No Ipswich player has hit that mark during the club’s spell in the third tier.
He brings pace and power, which are boxes Kieran McKenna wants to tick in his squad, as well as an eye for goal from different areas of the pitch.
Ladapo can score from the edge of the area, by making space for himself to shoot from inside the penalty box or by arriving inside the six-yard box to finish team moves.
He’s clever when it comes to reading the gaps between defenders and then exploiting to finish or create chances, while also being able to pick up good positions inside the area to create space for others.
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He can run with the ball but, perhaps most importantly, can operate with his back to goal. This can see him drop deep, draw defenders with him and then lay the ball off for attacking midfield runners. He’s then mobile enough to get back up with play to threaten again himself. Conor Chaplin in particular should enjoy playing with him.
There have been questions over his work-rate during his time at Rotherham but that was playing in a very different Millers system. It remains to be seen how's used at Portman Road.
There’s been a sense throughout his career that Ladapo plays his best in games where his side are able to control possession. That bodes well for his time at Ipswich.
There are plenty of attributes for McKenna to work with there.
"Obviously (Michael) Smith and (Freddie) Ladapo are two really good, physical forwards who have different attributes,” the Town boss said, ahead of his side’s game at Rotherham in April. “Smith is dominant in the air, while Ladapo has that pace and is good one-v-one. That's a strong front pairing and we have to prepare for that as best we can, the same way we prepare and account for every team's main strengths.”
The Town boss has a clear picture of what he wants from his recruits this summer, with McKenna clearly feeling Ladapo fits the bill.
Where does he fit?
After Macauley Bonne and James Norwood’s departures, the 29-year-old joins a striking unit now including Kayden Jackson, after he signed a new deal, and Joe Pigott.
Chances are another striker will be brought in later this summer and it’s not impossible Pigott ultimately moves on.
McKenna played with one central striker and two attacking midfielders during the second half of last season and it’s certainly possible he’ll do so again come the opening day of the campaign.
Don't rule out a switch to a front two with one in behind, though. As McKenna has said, his football is about philosophy and style, rather than formations.
Ladapo’s played a lot of his football in a two but has demonstrated he can operate as a lone forward if needed, while Jackson was beginning to show just how well he fits McKenna’s philosophy before injury cruelly ended his campaign.
Both will be hopeful of starting on opening day but will face competition, both from each other and from any further forwards brought into the club between now and the end of August.
That’s what Town have got, but how did he get to this point?
Born in Romford, Ladapo spent time with Southend before ultimately coming through the Colchester youth system and making six senior appearances for the Essex club in 2012 and 2013.
All of his games for the U’s came from the bench and didn’t yield a goal, though he did play alongside a host of former and future Ipswich players including Freddie Sears, David Wright, Luke Garbutt and Tom Eastman.
Regular senior football proved beyond him with Colchester, though, with the young striker heading out on loan with Chelmsford, Thurrock, Bishops Stortford, Woking and Nuneaton in the non-league game before joining Kidderminster permanently in 2014.
Ladapo’s Harriers debut came in front of 25,000 at Sunderland in the FA Cup but just a couple of months later he was on the move again, heading to Hayes & Yeading on loan.
It didn’t work out there, either, with Ladapo then spending the first half of the following season on loan at Grays. He scored goals there, just as he did after joining Margate, once his Kidderminster had been terminated.
And that’s where his non-league journey stopped and he got his career going once again.
When Eagles Dare
Ladapo hit double figures in the first half of the season 2015/16 season with Margate in the sixth tier and had interest from league clubs higher up the pyramid.
But it was something of a surprise when Crystal Palace, of the Premier League, made their move in 2016, signing the striker for £50,000 and slotting him into their development squad. Maybe it wasn’t too surprising, given he had struck a hat-trick in his first game of a trial spell which eventually led to a full-time deal.
He showed promise with the Eagles, with hopes he could follow in the footsteps of Ian Wright and make an impact after forcing his way up from non-league in his early 20s, but it didn’t quite happen for him.
He did make one Premier League appearance in September of 2017, though, away at Old Trafford in a 4-0 defeat, but a real push for the first-team was always going to be difficult.
His spell with Palace did propel him back into the professional game, though, and has set him up well for the career he’s had since.
Loan spells with Oldham and Shrewsbury, as well as a brief time with Southend after his Palace release, were unspectacular but all proved to be useful parts of the journey.
Ladapo failed to score in his 10 Southend appearances in 2017/18 which probably meant, when he signed for Plymouth as a free agent ahead of the next season, he did so with little fanfare.
But little did everyone know, he would use the next 12 months to send his career hurtling upwards.
The only problem was, his 19 goals came in a Pilgrims side which was ultimately relegated to League Two.
But he had, at long last, proven his ability at League One level and has stayed there (and higher) ever since.
The Pilgrims’ relegation meant an offer in the region of £500,000 from Rotherham was difficult to turn down, particularly given Ladapo had made it clear he did not want to stay at the club in the fourth tier.
He was on the move again.
Ladapo’s move to Rotherham made him the Millers’ record signing and his start was a perfect one, as he netted within 30 minutes on his debut to help his new club win at Wimbledon.
And on the face of things his time at the New York Stadium was a happy one, helping his team win the League One title in his first campaign with 17 goals in all competitions and then adding nine more during his season in the Championship.
He scored 15 times in season three to help his team win promotion for a second time, with a Wembley win in the EFL Trophy, too. But there’s more to the story of 2021/22 than just goals we’ll get to that.
Paul Warne played with a front three during much of his early time in charge of the Millers, with Ladapo and Michael Smith both vying for the central striking role in the team. Ladapo did play wide on the right on a handful of occasions and looked effective, but it’s in the middle he did his best work.
There have been plenty of highs during his three years in South Yorkshire, but scoring in two different Rotherham victories against Sheffield Wednesday, at Hillsborough none-the-less, will take some beating.
In all he made 123 appearances for the club, with 78 coming from the start. He scored 41 goals on total.
On the list
We can’t ignore how Ladapo’s time at Rotherham came to an end.
The striker handed in a transfer request in January, before making his feelings known publicly soon after. There was interest, both from Sheffield Wednesday and from Scotland, but he remained at the New York Stadium once the transfer window had closed. An awkward situation.
Though Warne admitted his feelings towards his striker had changed, the Millers boss spoke of a player who was continuing to work hard in training and was thus still available for selection. Many have spoken of his love of football and a desire to better himself.
He played 10 more matches for the club after the window closed, scoring three goals and also getting onto the pitch at Wembley as his side won the EFL Trophy.
But his season ended early, with Warne no longer considering him for selection after a lacklustre display from the bench against Burton on April 19.
"I have got no issue with Freddie, I obviously know he wants away because he put in a transfer request,” Warne said. “That is still the situation.
"Freddie thinks his football life is elsewhere and I've got no problem with that. I am not here to keep players against their will.
"There is no ill-feeling with Freddie. His goals this season and in the last campaign were fundamental to our success.
"I didn't want it to end like this but we can't have people here who don't want to be here.
"Football is a business so everything has to be weighed up."
Despite Rotherham holding a 12-month extension option, Ladapo was released and was able to join Town on a free transfer.
There was the possibility of extending his deal in a bid to gain a fee, but ultimately it was decided a clean break was best.
The manner of Ladapo’s Rotherham exit has inevitably led to questions over his attitude.
Tyreeq Bakinson arrived at Ipswich with similar clouds over him, following Nigel Pearson’s public comments, but all at Town will tell you of a good character and the midfielder’s professional approach to his game.
You never truly know all sides of the story.
But perhaps a good gauge of Ladapo the person comes from Rotherham’s first-team coach Matt Hamshaw, who offered a balanced assessment of the striker’s time at the club and ultimate departure.
“The train has come to the end of the track on this one,” he told the Rotherham Advertiser. “Some of the timings of his decisions haven’t been great, but then again we’ve all made mistakes, haven’t we?
“He might not even think it’s a mistake. Looking back, he might think he should have handled the situation in a different way.
“You can’t take away what he’s done for the club. He’s a good kid and he’s been fantastic for us. He’s scored a good number of goals; some important goals. If the ball is in or around the box you always fancy him.
“And I do think he’s improved during the time he’s been with us. He’s worked hard on his game. He takes time to watch his clips and learn from them.
“I know people might have an opinion on him because of what’s gone on, but they haven’t seen him in training. He’s dedicated to his craft, dedicated to trying to be better every day.
“We wish him well. There are no hard feelings from our end — he might say something different but there genuinely aren’t.”