Marcus Evans on how Town can compete for that Premier League prize plus Mick, the critics and the Ipswich Way
As we move into a new year, as at all football clubs, a range of questions are being asked by the supporters. What are the plans for the months and years ahead? Do we have a realistic strategy for promotion? Who is going to score 20 + goals a season for us? Plans for the Club to move forwards are always at the front of my mind.
This has been a tough season so far, and, no excuses, we haven’t lived up to our potential with results and on occasions performances being below the standards of the last two seasons.
That said, I am not the only one who has seen bright points and I believe if we follow the strategy outlined in this article then we will not be that far away from competing, once again, at the upper end of this league. There is a tremendous spirit within the squad and management team.
We are starting to see the development of a new group of regulars in the first-team line up, with some excellent scouting resulting in the successful additions this season of Grant Ward and Adam Webster. We are looking for similar additions but more of this later.
Financial Fair Play, which was brought in to level an increasingly uneven playing field, hasn’t worked. Parachute payments for clubs relegated from the Premier League stand at £89m over three years, £40m of that in the first year. Newcastle and Norwich spent more than £100m between them on transfer fees in the August window as they chase an immediate return to the Premier League.
There were nine clubs in the Championship who benefited from parachute payments last season. There are eight this year who have that advantage. It all adds up to a division that is getting more competitive by the year. The average parachute club starts with a £20 million per season head start over the rest of us.
With three promotion spots and triple that number in parachute clubs, a valid question is - how can we continue to compete?
I am 100 per cent committed to the Academy and have recently invested over £1 million in new infrastructure and additional staffing. I believe our efforts of the last few years are starting to pay off.
Josh, Myles and Andre are starting to feature in the manager’s plans. We had three players in the England squad at last summer’s U17 European Championship, a squad that was almost entirely made up of players from Premier League clubs.
Thanks to the work of the team at Playford Road as well as the many supporters who contribute to the Academy, I feel that this cornerstone of the Club’s strategy is on target.
We are at the top end of Academies in the Championship, especially if you disregard the likes of Newcastle and Villa who have benefited from many years in the Premier League. The aspirations for the Academy is to continue to attract the best players in the area and the best coaches to achieve our goals.
My annual investment enables the Club, over the last few seasons, to pay wages for the core of our squad at the higher end of the Championship, when you take in the parachute factor. This ensures we keep those players who we feel can contribute most to our success.
It also enables us to attract experienced players ahead of many of our competitors as well as bring in important loan players from Premier League clubs. Investing our player budgets - whether on fees or wages - to get the best results is what every club is aiming at and I feel that overall we have achieved and beaten expectations from where Mick set off over four years ago.
*To make annual investment funds available to purchase players in the early stages of their career and to assist in their development
It would be great to be able to spend freely and without the need for choices to be made between buying younger players for the future and already proven Championship players.
However without parachute revenue the fees commanded (regularly Championship fees are now £5 million and recent deals have been as high as £15 million) mean our club needs to be focused on spending its money on those that are up and coming.
Last summer’s transfer fees whilst not excessive were still over £1.5 million and spent on some great additions to the Club, with both Grant and Adam more than fulfilling the criteria of promising players. When you add in loan fees and wages needed to attract Premier League clubs to release Tom Lawrence, Jonny Williams and Conor Grant, as well as signing Leon Best for the year, then the outlay becomes around the £4m mark on new additions to the squad.
I have always tried to back our managers for as long as is realistic and I have no plans to change that policy.
* To develop a team to play attractive and exciting football
I am well aware of the criticism of certain sections of fans who, on occasions, feel we are not playing the ‘Ipswich way’.
All I can say to those fans, whose criticism in my mind is a welcome indication of their passion for this great club, is that everyone at Ipswich Town wants to win; to be promoted and play great football.
That aim is central to every decision that is made regarding the playing squad and if we are not meeting people’s expectations, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t striving for these aims at every turn.
All I ask is for your continued fantastic support on the pitch for the team at all times. I hardly ever hear any critic saying the players are not doing their very best in every game and for that reason alone many of you have told me, quite rightly, the team deserve our wholehearted commitment.
As I know from talking to the players, the 12th man factor really can - and has helped us win games in the past.
It was great to see so many of you at the Boxing Day game against Fulham but we can’t deny that attendances have been falling away somewhat this season - an indication of the disappointing results we have had this year.
No one is more frustrated about that than Mick and the players and no one is working harder than Mick, his staff and the players to turn it around. Mick is vastly experienced and I’m confident he can get us progressing again.
Our MD, Ian Milne, the staff and myself are looking at creative ways of getting supporters back to Portman Road, including pricing strategy and I know there are plans to consult supporters about this. Although football being the way it is - we all know a winning team is the best way of filling the stadium.
In summary, a focus on the Academy; a competitive wage structure; careful use of our transfer budget on developing players and a stable management team are factors which I believe provide us with the best chance of promotion out of the Championship, which as I noted earlier is one of the toughest - and getting even tougher - leagues in the world.
The results of these efforts will be up and down, as is the nature of football. Our basic goals, if not our ultimate goal, have been achieved to a greater or lesser extent in the last two seasons.
This season is one where a certain amount of rebuilding is taking place and whilst recent results have been disappointing to everyone involved at your club, it does not mean that the long term plan is not the right one to aim to compete in the very challenging, non-level playing field in which we find ourselves.
The differences in league payments to each club is huge however I am committing sums of £5million and more per annum, at the start of each season towards the annual budget, enabling the Club to plan from a financial perspective competitively for the upcoming campaign. This money I feel is well spent and I believe can take us a long way towards achieving the success we all want.
These sums have on occasions been greater and would eventually be unsustainable without the benefits of transfer revenues from time to time to offset the Club’s running costs, which is why you don’t always see penny for penny of transfer fees received spent on transfer fees coming in, with sums committed also to squad wages and Academy development.
There are those that feel my investment plan has no chance of success and that without huge sums of investment, I am throwing good money after bad. If I believed that, I wouldn’t be making the investment.
And whilst there is no certainty I believe that a reasonable level of investment used to support the key points noted in this article will over time provide us with a consistent season by season foundation for promotion.
Of course there are 23 other clubs all following their own plan as well and other than the three clubs that succeed, 21 of those plans fail each season and have to start again.
I will continue to do everything I can to ensure that the success we want is just around the corner and that we are promoted.
Finally, a big thank you for your wonderful support - and to all of our fans and staff who I know share the same goals - here’s to a great 2017.