Sheepshanks: Time to look forward

IPSWICH Town chairman David Sheepshanks has outlined the strategic thinking behind the departures of six senior players.The Blues supremo has also talked about his excitement at capturing two highly-rated strikers and how the fresh blood will have a positive impact on their promotion challenge.

By Derek Davis

IPSWICH Town chairman David Sheepshanks has outlined the strategic thinking behind the departures of six senior players.

The Blues supremo has also talked about his excitement at capturing two highly-rated strikers and how the fresh blood will have a positive impact on their promotion challenge.

Although the pain of missing out in the play-offs again is still being felt around Portman Road and beyond, Sheepshanks is determined the club will once more pick itself up and be ready to meet the new challenge.

Sheepshanks said: “It is time to look forward. The end of last season was a very bitter pill to swallow because we were so close but we blew it.

“We should have been celebrating a magnificent season and clearly huge numbers of fans feel the same way. I have lost count of the number of supporters who, throughout the summer, have gone out of their way to tell me they know that my colleagues and I are bitterly disappointed..

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“But you can't dwell on disappointment in this job because the new season soon comes around and you have to get on with the job.”

Sheepshanks insists the board backed manager Joe Royle all the way and did everything it could to maintain Town's push for promotion after getting to pole position over the Christmas and New Year period.

Sheepshanks said: “Unfortunately the failure to be promoted has its financial implications.

“Last season we were carrying a wage bill that was massively reduced from what it was three years ago but was still way too high, and that in itself exacerbated the problem.

“As we made more money from gate receipts during the year we invested more in the team, particularly through the loan system. We brought in David Unsworth and James Scowcroft at very considerable cost, in an effort to consolidate our position and invest in achieving promotion.

“That didn't come off but we genuinely did everything possible as far as we could within the financial limitations to row the boat out to win promotion.”

Missing out on stepping back into the Premiership has seen key players Darren Bent, Kelvin Davis, Tommy Miller and Shefki Kuqi move to top-flight clubs.

Sheepshanks said: “The consequences were that we had two really good players with one year left on their contract and each had a transfer value attached to them.

“Darren Bent made it absolutely clear for the last year that he would not sign a new contract if we were not promoted.

“We therefore did as good a deal as we could do and I have not heard anyone say it is not a good deal.

“If you exclude the Champions' League clubs then it will be one of the biggest deals of the summer.

“I was sad to see Darren go but it was a reality and everyone knew it.

“We didn't expect a bid for Kelvin Davis but once we had a bid we had to consider it.

“The initial bid was a lot less than the £1.25m we got for him from Sunderland and we ended up with £980,000 net and almost £1m for any player outside the Premiership is a very significant sum.

“It was an unwelcome bid in many ways but welcome in some respects and that is because we have two excellent young keepers in Lewis Price and Shane Supple.

“Lewis is on the verge of the full Wales squad and in the 10 games he played we lost just once, in the League Cup at Doncaster when the whole team was woeful, drew six and won three.

“And clearly pushing him all the way is another excellent young keeper, in Shane Supple.”

Sheepshanks was also disappointed to see Kuqi and Miller leave, but could not prevent them from moving on.

He said: “Shefki is a wonderful guy and I'm sorry to see him go but the reality is we tried to get him to sign a new contract. A year ago he was a free transfer, but then he had a wonderful season in proving Joe Royle and other judges wrong, and by the turn of the year we were offering him a new contract.

“Shefki would have loved to have stayed, he adored the club and the people but he made it clear that if we weren't promoted he wanted to try the Premiership.

“That is not to blame Shefki or his agent in any way because you have to recognise the differences in the economy of this division and that of the Premiership.

“Blackburn have offered Shefki a contract of double the salary he was on here. Fans have to ask themselves what they would do if an employer offered to double their salary?

“It was the same with Tommy Miller.

“It was spelled out to Tommy in the spring that he would be getting a new offer although we never got down to details so he knew that we wanted to retain him.

“And again I don't blame Tommy, Sunderland doubled his money.”

Pablo Counago and Drissa Diallo were not offered new contracts and Sheepshanks believes they kept the Spaniard longer than they should have.

He said: “Pablo is a super guy. He had a wonderful season when he scored 19 goals but this last year was disappointing for him with a mixture of injuries and poor form. He also suffered because Darren and Shefki were in such good form.

“But also we paying him a figure not far short of £1m a year and we had a poor return for that investment.

“The rationale to keep him at first was because if he could score 19 goals in one season he would do even better the next and would play a major part in getting us to the Premiership but that didn't happen. So we afforded a wage bill we could ill afford and when you are paying that sort of money in this division, albeit on a hangover of Premiership wages, you are looking for someone to be gee whiz, bang, in front of goal and he wasn't. I'm sure he was as disappointed about that as we were.

“As with Drissa Diallo, I'm sad to see them go and wish them all the best for the future, but all this is the consequence of not being promoted.”

Sheepshanks now wants supporters to focus on the future and is excited about how the team is shaping up.

He said: “Now we have very much rebalanced the books and we are in a position to bring players in. I'm very excited about Sam Parkin, who is a big coup. We have read the letters and e-mails criticising us for not bringing in young players but Sam is a 24-year-old who already has a terrific goals record.

“We have also recruited Nicky Forster, who like Sam is a very intelligent player, and Joe has spent some time a lot of time over the past few months thinking about who he would like to bring in and he has been keen on Nicky for some months.

“I'm looking for big things from him and from the partnership with Sam.

“Dean Bowditch has not been forgotten and will be competing with those two guys for the striking spot. Everyone is hoping Dean can use the experience he gained at Burnley to play a major role in the first team this season.”

Sheepshanks also responded to the critics who have vented their fury at him and Royle since the season ended so disappointingly.

He said: “I have seen the criticism that we do not have enough young players in the team but the reason for that last year was we had a bit of gap between the 17-year-olds of high pedigree but not quite ready and those 20-year-olds who did not have quite enough skill - with exceptions.

“Gerard Nash for example was very unfortunate with injuries and he might very well have been involved in a shake-up of the team, as would Scott Barron and Scott Mitchell if they have been fit.

“We have had three very hard years and sadly we seem to be on the same run as we did in the late 1990s.

“Each year we had to shot ourselves in the foot financially but ironically still got stronger and because of the talent of our manager and coaching staff, the perseverance of everyone involved, we eventually got to the Premiership.

“I understand the fans who are upset who write thoroughly hurtful letters expressing their views but it is not as if we have anything but the best interest of the club at heart.”

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