Ipswich’s best left-back is sat in the stands... so is there any way back for wantaway Knudsen?
- Credit: Archant
Jonas Knudsen has not played for Ipswich Town since Boxing Day. ANDY WARREN looks at the argument for and against bringing him back into the side.
How do you solve a problem like Jonas Knudsen?
Ipswich manager Paul Lambert certainly hasn’t minced his words when discussing the Dane’s situation in recent weeks, which has seen the 26-year-old left out in the cold and sidelined since the 3-0 Boxing Day defeat by Queens Park Rangers.
It’s clear Knudsen is keen on a new challenge following nearly four years and 150 appearances in an Ipswich shirt, with the Danish international’s contract up in the summer. And that’s fair enough.
Throughout January it was a case of when he departed, rather than if.
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There’s been plenty of transfer interest since he returned from the World Cup in the summer, both at home and from abroad, and it seems both player and manager were left surprised that it didn’t result in a move before the January transfer window closed.
But what should happen now?
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Lambert’s been clear in his words when asked about the issue, suggesting that the Dane has been badly advised and that the situation ‘has not worked out very well for him’.
Most notable, though, are the words ‘you tend to think you are a better player than you are’, which followed the Blues’ loss to Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday.
Is there any way back from that?
It would be quite some turnaround if we were to suddenly see the Dane back in Lambert’s first-team from this point.
The reason this is a real debate is the fact that the Dane is still the best left-back in the Ipswich Town squad.
Three successive managers have thought so. He was a permanent fixture on the team-sheet under Mick McCarthy, used heavily by Paul Hurst despite a drop off in form following the World Cup and was Lambert’s first-choice until the final week of December.
This is a player who played in the last 16 of the World Cup just seven months ago and, while he has perhaps not hit the heights of Aaron Cresswell and Tyrone Mings before him, has been a dependable performer throughout his time at Portman Road.
In his place Myles Kenlock has shown promise but lacks the physicality of Knudsen and remains raw, despite now being 22, while loanee Callum Elder has shown himself to be neat and tidy but with plenty still to learn.
If the remaining 16 games of this season were simply about planning for Ipswich Town’s future, blooding young players and working with a squad who will be here next season then there would be no debate to be had, but Lambert and his players are fighting for Championship survival.
The involvement of Knudsen is a particularly timely discussion as the Blues’ next game sees them travel to Carrow Road, given he’s twice scored goals in derby games with Norwich and would bring a physical edge and a heart-on-sleeve approach lacking in the Ipswich team.
His involvement would also help ease Lambert’s loan conundrum, too, with only five of his six loanees able to be used in any matchday squad.
But you can see it from Lambert’s point of view, too.
The Ipswich squad is packed with players who may not be with the club beyond the summer, yet only Knudsen has told his manager he wants to leave. The likes of Collin Quaner, James Collins and Alan Judge have opted in to the Blues’ cause while, by Lambert’s reckoning, Knudsen has opted out early.
What message would it send if a player keen to move on continued to be selected?
And is the left-back’s head in the right place to suddenly be thrown back into the first-team fold?
On the pitch the Dane’s game is notable for commitment, desire and heart, and he’s the type of character who would enter the field of play intent on giving his all for a cause he has largely enjoyed fighting for since his arrival in 2015.
But his next contract should be the biggest of his career as he reaches his peak years, even if he missed the optimum window to move on and maximise his earning potential in the weeks after the World Cup.
It would only be natural, then, for the 26-year-old, who became a father for the first time in the summer, to take his eye off the ball slightly and allow his performance levels to drop, even subconsciously.
Pulling out of a 50/50 tackle here, not throwing himself wholeheartedly in front of a block there, all because a small part of him is protecting his next move. It’s only natural, but not what Ipswich Town need.
This is a complex situation which has and will test Lambert’s man management skills.
The Blues boss has stressed he will always make decisions based on the best interests of the football club.
He has a big one to make here.