Sheepshanks: We had to accept Matt bid

NEWLY-PROMOTED Portsmouth see Matt Holland, Ipswich Town's 29-year-old club captain, as the man to stabilise their midfield now that they are back in the Premiership.

NEWLY-PROMOTED Portsmouth see Matt Holland, Ipswich Town's 29-year-old club captain, as the man to stabilise their midfield now that they are back in the Premiership, writes Tony Garnett.

Pompey, who won the Division One title impressively under the management of Harry Redknapp, have agreed a £750,000 fee with Ipswich Town, who are anxious to reduce their wage bill as speedily as possible. It seems ironic that Redknapp was the West Ham manager who let Holland move to Bournemouth on a free transfer in 1994 because he wanted first-team action.

Holland still has three years remaining on his current contract at Portman Road, said to be worth £20,000 a week. Last summer he rejected the chance of a move to Aston Villa preferring to stay in Suffolk in a bid to help Ipswich made a speedy return to the Premier League.

Holland stayed at Portman Road during the January transfer window when Ipswich desperately needed to make a significant sale to stave off going into administration, a fate that followed the following month.

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The move is not imminent because Holland, who has yet to agree personal terms, is away with the Republic of Ireland squad who face Euro qualifying matches against Albania and Georgia on Saturday and next Wednesday.

Holland may feel that he needs Premiership football to maintain his international future. On the other hand he and his family are happy in East Anglia so he will probably drive a hard bargain with the help of agent Jonathan Barnett.

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Terry Venables, the former England manager who started last season in charge of Leeds United, wrote in a newspaper column that he felt Holland's international displays had deteriorated since he no longer played regularly at the top level.

Portsmouth chief executive Peter Storrie claims there is still some way to go before the deal can be completed. He said: "We have spoken to Ipswich about Matt. Unfortunately, though we would ideally like to keep wraps on these sort of things until it's a done deal, the news can leak from various other sources.

"So yes, we have enquired but to be fair to Matt we still have to talk and agree terms with him and nothing is going to happen for at least 10 days."

Ipswich chairman David Sheepshanks said: "As I think has been well understood by our supporters over recent weeks, most regrettably and reluctantly we have been obliged to consider the transfer opportunities for our much admired and outstanding captain Matt Holland.

"For any club outside the Premiership it is not just about transfer fees but also the size of wage commitments. "Matt was not on huge money by Premier League standards, but nevertheless on a level that is simply unaffordable in Division One.

"The state of the transfer market is such that while there is interest in a player of Matt's pedigree, the very best fee that we have been able to obtain is £750,000 from Portsmouth. This is particularly tough to digest when a year ago much higher values were being spoken of.

"It is now up to Matt to discuss personal terms with Portsmouth. Clearly if he decides to go he will be a huge loss but by the same token we have every confidence that Joe Royle will be able to replace Matt in his team and build his Ipswich Town side for the future."

Holland was staying tight-lipped about his future last night, preferring instead to focus on his Republic of Ireland duties.

He said: "I'm obviously aware that Ipswich have accepted an offer from Portsmouth and the phone hasn't stopped ringing with people wanting to know my thoughts.

"But my club future will take a backseat to Ireland for now. We have two massive games coming up and all I am concentrating on are the matches against Albania and Georgia.

"I am not going to let anything distract me from that.

"We need six points to get us back on track for the European Championships finals and helping Ireland get them is all that concerns me for now."

Holland joined Ipswich from Bournemouth for £800,000 in the summer of 1997, a deal that meant that George Burley was unable to secure the green light from the Board to sign Kevin Phillips from Watford as well.

Holland's service to Ipswich has been phenomenal.

He has played 314 first-team matches and simply hated the rare occasions when he was left on the bench.

The transfer market has taken a dip since last summer when Villa agreed to pay £4 million for Holland. Now, with Ipswich's financial problems so well documented, they are being forced to sell stars at way below what the market value used to be a year or so ago.

The departure of Holland, one of a long list of Ipswich Town's first-team captains who have been a credit to the club, will be a blow when it happens. It is a fact, though, that the players on the highest wages at Portman Road are beyond the means of Ipswich Town's budget now that they are in the Nationwide League.

How does Holland compare with the great Ipswich Town captains of the past, men like Jimmy McLuckie, Tommy Parker, Andy Nelson, Bill Baxter, Cyril Lea, Mick Mills, Terry Butcher and Tony Mowbray?

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