UPDATED: Joel Ward chose Crystal Palace over Ipswich Town for football reasons
JOEL Ward chose Crystal Palace over Ipswich Town after assurances that he would start the season as the Eagles’ first choice right-back.
We understand that the Portsmouth man – who was at the centre of a tug-of-war between six Championship clubs – had grown frustrated with his versatile tag.
And while Blues boss Paul Jewell and owner Marcus Evans had impressed Ward during negotiations, the fact that the 22-year-old was seen by the Town manager as someone who could play in many positions was a drawback to the player himself.
Whereas Palace boss Dougie Freedman is expected to start Ward at right-back, his preferred position, with Nathaniel Clyne destined to move to the Premier League.
Ward last night completed his switch to Selhurst Park on a four-year deal for �400,000.
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Sources close to Palace suggested that they had watched the defender-cum-midfielder more than 20 times last season.
The move was seen as something of a coup after Palace beat off the challenge of Ipswich, Leeds United, Burnley, Sheffield Wednesday and Blackpool for his signature.
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It also ends a five-month pursuit of the player by Jewell who first declared his interest in Ward in January.
He met with the player in March with a view to a loan signing but on both occasions Portsmouth refused to sanction a deal.
The Ipswich manager had never hid the fact he was looking to sign Ward in the close season, following Pompey’s financial problems and subsequent relegation, but he was pipped to the post by Freedman.
Ward left Portsmouth with words of praise ringing in his ears from manager Michael Appleton who also hinted that the player had grown restless by playing in different positions.
Appleton said: “I have said it enough that if he was given an opportunity in my squad next season, he would be competing at right-back. This season, in an ideal world, that would have been his position, too.
“But we had to mix and match a lot of the time and he helped us out by filling in all sorts of positions.
“I think he will now get the opportunity to nail down a regular position at his new club and that will be at right-back.”
Palace assistant boss Lennie Lawrence was understandably delighted to beat off competition from his Championship rivals and convince Ward that his football was best served in South London.
Lawrence said: “Joel has been a long-term target for Dougie Freedman and this signing is a real coup for the football club.
“We have had severe competition for his signature from other championship clubs and he has spoken to them as you would expect him to do.
“We are absolutely delighted he has chosen us and we firmly believe that he will be a Premier League player one day and he obviously sees us as his best way forward in terms of his career.”