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2 May 2016

Town owner on Mick, investment, the beautiful game, big money signings and getting to the Premier League

Today's matchday programme carries an exclusive, in-depth interview with Town owner Marcus Evans. Here is that interview.

Marcus Evans hoped he would be the owner of a Premier League club by now. 

Having taken over at Portman Road in December 2007, he has spent millions trying to get there but in August, Blues will kick off in the Championship again.  

Don’t dare suggest to the owner though that his desire to reach the top flight may have dimmed a little in that time. Don’t question either that if he had known the rocky road Town would have travelled down for part of that journey, he might have looked the other way when the possibility of becoming the owner of a football club came up.  

He backed Jim Magilton with million pound plus signings of David Norris and Luciano Civelli, then watched the Argentine winger suffer a cruciate ligament injury two months after arriving at Portman Road that would rule him out for two years. 

He appointed one of the most high profile figures in the game in Roy Keane, a manager who had taken Sunderland from the relegation zone in the Championship to promotion to the Premier League inside eight months. He backed that appointment with more millions spent on the likes of Grant Leadbitter, Lee Martin, Carlos Edwards and Tamas Priskin. 

Paul Jewell followed. A manager with a proven track record of getting clubs out of the Championship, having guided Bradford and Wigan to the promised land - and kept them there. More million pound signings followed including Michael Chopra, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Paul Taylor, plus a number of experienced recruits, players who had played at the highest level like Lee Bowyer and Jimmy Bullard.

When Jewell parted company with the Club in October 2012 he said his biggest regret was that he hadn’t been able to repay the faith and backing the owner had shown in him. The two are still friends.

Town were at the bottom of the Championship then, five points adrift and heading for League One. When Marcus began the search for a new manager, he rang Mick McCarthy on Jewell’s advice. It proved to be the right call. Relegation was avoided, progress has been made and it took a red card to Christophe Berra in last season’s Play-Off semi-final defeat at Norwich to derail Blues’ push for a first return to the top flight since 2002.

Top of the table in August and with Mick in charge of the strongest squad he’s had in his time at Portman Road, expectations were high for this season. Those expectations of at least a repeat of last term’s top six finish finally ended last week though with a goalless draw against an expensively assembled Middlesbrough.  

Marcus admits he is as frustrated as any other Blue that a season of promise has drifted into disappointment but the determination and desire is burning as bright as it was back in December 2007 to get the Club back in the top flight. 

“Would I have walked away eight years ago if I had known what investment it would take, what would lie ahead? No way,” the owner told the matchday programme.

“It’s been a great journey and there is still a long way to go but we are all determined to get there. 

“When I took over here I was hoping we would get to the Premier League in five years. I never had a firm expectation though. I realised that in football there are so many factors outside of your control. 

“I have learnt to expect the unexpected in my time in the game. Just look at what is happening in the Premier League this season. Look at Leicester. They were in the same league as us two years ago. A year ago they looked to be going down. Now they could win the Premier League this weekend. 

“Look at Aston Villa. A giant of a club. They were in the top six of the Premier League what four or five years ago. We will be playing them next season.

“We had a rocky first few seasons here and I learned a number of lessons in that time. Stability has come over the last three seasons under Mick though and I believe that with investment in the right place, we can build each year towards promotion. I have still got that driving ambition and will to see us in the Premier League. 

“I see the biggest factor in owning a football club as having a duty to the supporters to make sure the club is stable and free from controversy and then providing the right conditions for a manager to work towards a long term plan. 

“We are constantly looking to build and improve for the future and continuity of management is a huge factor in that. 

“Mick came to the Club when we seemed to be heading for League One and has turned us into a club that is competitive at the top end of the table. Everything he has achieved in his career is an indicator that he can build a promotion winning squad.”

One look at this season’s top six suggests that a promotion winning squad costs money but Town’s acquisitions have mainly come from players at the end of their contracts. International players mind, Daryl Murphy, Christophe Berra, David McGoldrick all arrived on frees.

So have those big money signings in the early days that didn’t come to fruition swayed the owner to go in another direction?

“I will look at transfer fees. If Mick identifies a player that will cost us say a million, then we will look at it and discuss it,” explained Marcus.

“In addition to that, we lost some good players in the past who were out of contract and I decided that top of my list is to invest in players who have proven themselves as being regular members of the team and that involves paying competitive wages and not allowing them to run down their contracts. 

“I will look at transfer fees and we made a substantial bid for a player in January that was turned down but I will always weigh up how best the money we have available can be spent. 

“I work closely with Mick on that obviously. I spend the money and he has the fun! But seriously I feel we work well together. 

“I provide hopefully a stable environment into which new players want to come and existing players want to stay. He works to get the best out of whatever squad we have available and we both look at how I can support a year on year improvement in the squad. 

“Mick’s shown an excellent recruitment in his time here and we invested in the squad last summer which I felt was a step up from the previous year when we got to the Play-Offs. 

“Ultimately injuries have held us back this year from reaching our full potential. I think the injuries to our creative players have had a big impact. 

“I’ve heard the criticism of our style of play at home games over the last month or two but I think any team would be affected by the loss of their most creative players, their most influential players and we have clearly missed David McGoldrick, Teddy Bishop, Ryan Fraser and Daryl Murphy. 

“Teddy has been out for the whole season, David and Ryan for half of it and Daryl has missed a lot of games as well. I’m told between them they have only started just over a third of the League games this season. 

“It has proved difficult to replace them like-for-like in the loan market. We plan and budget for injuries but some players are harder to replace than others.”  

Stability is a reoccurring word that Marcus drops into the conversation when you talk about Ipswich Town. Every Championship club runs at a loss and Blues are no different with the owner often required to plough six or seven million in a year to offset a deficit. Not a season goes by without this club or that club facing financial oblivion. Bolton the latest to survive - just - not before the trapdoor to League One opened. 

Town fans know the pain of administration and Financial Fair Play rules were brought in to try and put a business head into the crazy world of football. Has it worked?

“At the moment it appears to be a total farce,” argued the owner. “However let’s wait and see if the Football League does its job and I appreciate that legal wheels sometimes grind very slowly.

“The lack of parity in the game certainly makes it harder to compete. This season there were nine clubs benefiting from parachute payments and there will be something similar next year. 

“That gives them a massive financial advantage but under Mick’s guidance, we have been able to compete and as I said, but for long term injuries to key players, we may well have equalled what we achieved last season in finishing in the Play-Offs.”

Town complete the season against MK Dons today and Derby next weekend and Mick has hinted that he may give youth a chance in those games as he looks at next year.  

With the Club investing more than £2m a year in the Academy and additional significant investment on a new 3G pitch planned for the summer, it’s clear Marcus values the importance of homegrown talent.

“The Academy is very important to this Club,” he added.  

“We have seen the likes of Andre Dozzell, Teddy Bishop, Josh Emmanuel and Myles Kenlock emerge through into the first-team squad over the last year or two and I know our Academy and Mick have big hopes for other young players coming through our ranks. 

“While we have ambitions of being a Category 1 Academy, it shows we can find and nurture the future Ipswich Town players of tomorrow while remaining at our current status. 

“Andre will be playing for England U17s in the European Championship next week and we have three other boys in the standby squad which is obviously very encouraging for the Club. I’d be very surprised if any other Championship club is that well represented.

“We believe the Academy will continue to provide homegrown players for the first-team squad.”

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