Steve dedicated to finding right players
IT'S January, the transfer window is open and doesn't Steve McCall know it.Far from ticking over, Town's chief scout has moved into overdrive as the club tries to seek out the new players they believe can make a difference.
By Mel Henderson
IT'S January, the transfer window is open and doesn't Steve McCall know it.
Far from ticking over, Town's chief scout has moved into overdrive as the club tries to seek out the new players they believe can make a difference.
Town wouldn't say no to an end-of-season finish in the play-offs but that has never seemed a realistic proposition this season and the focus has always been fixed on next term and beyond.
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Why? Because they have a new manager in place and they accept it will take time for Jim Magilton to stamp his own mark on the club.
They confirmed they didn't quite measure up to the task last season when they were 15th, their worst finish for 40 years, so changes were inevitable.
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In a significant backroom shake-up, new boss Magilton sacked chief scout Colin Suggett and replaced him with McCall, who was previously first team coach under Joe Royle.
McCall's task may not be made any easier by the fact that the club's financial predicament is still a long way from being resolved, but despite a lack of spending power a new-look team is beginning to take shape.
Defender David Wright, a player who was not available when Ipswich first approached Wigan about him earlier this season, has arrived.
And the search continues for another Mr Right, a proven marksman within Town's budget and up to the task of sharing the goalscoring burden alongside Alan Lee.
McCall can sift through extensive files and log into a computer database comprising thousands of players across Europe and beyond whose career records are consistently updated.
But only one thing - money - will ultimately determine whether Ipswich can pursue their interest in a specific target or will have to turn their attention elsewhere.
McCall says: “You can watch as many players as you like but when you eventually get round to asking their clubs 'How much?' there is often no point going any further.
“We have to accept the budget that we must work within. We have money to spend but not an awful lot and it doesn't help that prices seem to be creeping up again.
“Clubs that can afford it are spending huge sums of money on players who, to be honest, we think are pretty average.
“Rising prices encourage other clubs to ask big fees and that can put other players out of our price range.”
Wright was recruited after Magilton made it a priority to sign a right-back and the one-time Crewe player ticked all the right boxes
McCall heads a network of 10 scouts dotted around Britain that includes two ex-professionals in Martin Dobson and Alan Harper, who both number Everton among their former clubs.
They are out and about checking players at all levels and once a target is identified he will have been checked several times and by different club representatives.
McCall adds: “First and foremost we are looking for the necessary quality. If we are going to improve we must find players who are better than those we have.
“Before we got Gary Roberts in from Accrington Stanley we must have had him watched seven or eight times by five or six different people - scouts, coaches and the manager.
“You know you are not going to see him play well in every game, which is why you check a number of times.
“We can't afford to make mistakes, either, so we also do background checks. We are interested in a player's character - what sort of person is he?
“There are times when you might decide not to touch him. On other occasions, though, you take the rough with the smooth and decide you can manage a player even if you have the odd concern.
“Manchester United might never have signed Eric Cantona if they had decided his temperament was suspect, so you need to be sensible about it.”
Modern technology means that clubs are bombarded with DVDs from agents trying to secure the best possible deal for their clients.
McCall laughs: “Agents are always pushing their players and I've seen discs that include just three action clips claiming to feature players' best three goals.
“The trouble is, they could quite easily be their only three goals - and they might be from four years ago. Put it this way, we take it with a pinch of salt.
“These days we can get round it by asking if we can get players in on trial. If we do, and we think it warrants it, we might play them in a closed-doors game.
“We've had a few trialists this season but not an excessive amount. Timing is a big thing, too, and if I'm looking at a certain player I occasionally stand behind the goal rather than sit with the other scouts.
“I've done it a few times and it's quite interesting, the feedback you get from fans as you listen to them. It's another way of having your card marked.
“The game is evolving all the time and players are moving more freely than ever before. It means you have to have your wits about you.”