‘There is no massive urgency there’ – O’Neill on whether Downes will be next to sign long-term deal
Ipswich Town handed Luke Woolfenden a new four-year deal this week. STUART WATSON spoke to general manager of football operations Lee O’Neill about the possibility of more contract extensions.
Ipswich Town general manager of football operation, Lee O’Neill, says there is ‘no massive urgency’ to follow-up Luke Woolfenden’s new contract with a similar longer-term deal for fellow homegrown star Flynn Downes.
On Wednesday, the Blues announced that Woolfenden – who was the subject of serious transfer interest from Premier League club Sheffield United back in January – had signed a new four-year deal at Portman Road (with the club holding an option to extend that by a fifth), making him the longest contracted player at the club.
The 21-year-old defender signed his previous deal in February 2019 (towards the end of a loan spell at Swindon) and still effectively had three years left on that to go. However, it was felt his impressive progress deserved recognition, while the club also wanted to protect one of its prime assets.
Downes, who is also attracting attention from clubs higher up the pyramid after playing a starring role in League One last season, is in a similar situation to above. He signed his last deal in March 2019 (as a first team regular) and is contracted until 2022, with the club holding the one-year extension option too.
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“We are very pleased to have got Luke’s contract done,” said O’Neill. “He had a very good season, is developing nicely and we still think there is a lot more to come from him.
“It’s great that he’s shown commitment to us and hopefully people appreciate that we’ve shown commitment to him. It also protects us as a club, meaning we won’t lose players on the cheap.
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“If we can develop enough players like him and Flynn then that’s what’s going to take us to the next level as a club.”
Asked if extending Downes’ contract was on the agenda, he said: “Flynn has effectively still got three years on his deal, so there is no massive urgency there, but we are always talking with players and their agents. Clearly we want to reward young players who do well for us and keep them at the club.”
Town recently handed exciting academy product Armando Dobra a new improved deal (2023 + one-year option) having turned down six figure transfer bids for the 18-year-old from Premier League club Brighton back in January.
Fellow academy graduates Jack Lankester, Myles Kenlock, Corrie Ndaba, Dylan Crowe, Tyreece Simpson and Tommy Smith are all contracted until 2022 (plus one year option).
“We’re obviously delighted that Luke and Armando have both signed long-term deals and, as a club, we want to hang on to our best players whatever age they are,” said O’Neill. “I think (owner) Marcus (Evans) has proved that down the years.
“Like any club though, if an offer comes in for a player you have to look at it. We had that situation in January and we turned down bids for players.”
Of the 41 players professionally contracted to Ipswich Town at present, just over half – 22 – are Playford Road products.
“The academy staff take great pride in seeing any young player wear the first-team shirt and what’s important is that we continue to provide a pathway for our homegrown players to progress from our academy into the senior set-up,” added O’Neill.
“We don’t know the financial situation we will return to when the new season starts, and we will clearly need a balance of senior players alongside some younger ones, but producing our own players remains one of the cornerstones of Ipswich Town.”
Meanwhile, 29 players are now heading into the final year of their contracts (full list below).
“Negotiations are always going back and forth with agents,” said O’Neill. “Things don’t always happen as quickly as we’d like, but that’s football.
“Being in the last year of a contract can sometimes bring the best out of them. If they are striving to get a new deal or a move elsewhere, that can motivate certain players. Everyone is different.”
IPSWICH TOWN CONTRACTS
2021: Holy*, Donacien*, Chambers, Huws, Judge*, Wilson*, Sears*, Jackson*, Nolan*, Bishop*, Nsiala*, Nydam*, El Mizouni*, Wright, Skuse*, Dozzell, Edwards, McGavin*, Drinan, Przybek*, Folami*, Morris*, Cotter, Clements*, Gibbs*, Andoh*, Z.Brown*, K.Brown*, Hughes*
2022: Downes*, Norwood*, Lankester*, Kenlock*, Ndaba*, Crowe*, Smith*, Simpson*, Crane*
2023: Vincent-Young*, Dobra*
*known to have a 12-month contract option