Marcus Evans on the money game; the repercussions of relegation; new arrivals before the window closes and a promotion challenge...
Marcus Evans has written his traditional start of season matchday programme column which will appear in Saturday’s edition for the game against Sunderland. Here is the column in full…
The season ahead
As we all look forward with excitement to this season, the team at Portman Road and at the training ground have been hard at work since the final whistle against Leeds in preparation for a year where quite rightly our goal is for a return to the Championship.
It’s been a difficult summer at the Club with a re-organisation taking place to meet the financial repercussions of relegation; however these challenges have been met with professionalism right throughout the Club.
I am pleased to say that the reorganisation is complete and we are now set to go with the structure required to support the team’s promotion push.
Last year’s relegation, as I am sure all fans realise, has had economic consequences for the Club and the effects add considerable strain to our finances and bring to the fore decisions relating to balancing short-term and long-term investment decisions.
At the top of my list of long-term priorities has been, despite the considerable drop in revenues which is close on £9 million, a determination to maintain and in fact grow the Club’s investment in the Academy. This runs to multi-millions every year and not just for one year. So I have looked to ensure that these funds remain available year on year going forwards and are not risked by overspend on other long-term contract commitments.
Cash made available to improve fans’ matchday experience at Portman Road
I also put cash aside for some much-needed investment at Portman Road to improve your matchday experience. There has been a substantial outlay on a new CCTV security system to increase supporter safety; plans are in place to improve the speed of service across all bars in the concourse area; we are looking at upgrading the PA system; the North Stand roof will be the first to get a clean up with the other stands to follow and even the ticket office has had a makeover!
Other improvements around the stadium are at the planning stage. These range from simple painting and decorating to much more substantial and long-term projects - and significant financial outlay.
The training ground also required a number of planned infrastructure improvements to meet the requirements of an elite Academy and first-team environment.
The money game
The cost of running a football club isn’t exactly a sexy subject for most fans. However it’s a fact of life for those of us in that position and who are looking to run a club on a secure and sustainable basis.
I have to make sure that we can meet our commitments not just this year but for the next two, three and four years with many contracts having long-term implications.
The hard facts are that a trickle of cash from the Premier League and the Club’s normal revenues aren’t enough, on their own, to enable us to compete in this league let alone the Championship. Hence the need for my additional investment each year.
There is annually a big hole in our finances (and most non Premier League clubs) which has to be plugged by me in order to support the wage policy and provide transfer funds. This year has been more difficult than when we were in the Championship with my annual support going mainly - despite player wage reductions due to relegation - to support the Club’s core financial requirements. One of the questions I am asked all the time is where does all the money go from our transfer sales? The short answer is back into the Club and you would be surprised at how far a large amount of money DOESN’T go in the football world.
So when balancing the Club’s budgets, I have many issues to consider. I have an amount of money I put into the Club each year and I have been consistent with that support every season. This results in a budget being available through the Club’s own income plus my annual support which has to be spread across a number of areas including wages; stadium and training ground infrastructure; improved contracts to existing players; Academy costs and transfer fees to name some of the bigger areas. There are plenty more.
In most seasons I have been able to organise the Club’s finances so that with the benefit of my annual support we have been able to invest, to a certain extent, in the transfer market. Income from transfer sales and sell-ons in that time have helped to boost the overall budget which has mainly gone into the squad by way of additional wages or transfer fees. When you sell a player though, or get a sell-on fee, that rarely comes in one hit. It is spread over two, three, sometimes four years.
This year, with relegation costing the Club up to £9 million, any income from player sales/sell-ons has been swallowed up by the financial gap caused by the drop into League One. That said we do have funds available for a further two or three new players the manager and I would like to secure before the end of the window, to bring that bit extra to the squad and I hope that those we are targeting can be secured on terms that work for Ipswich.
I also want to ensure that, going forwards, we have funds to strengthen in January if we see gaps or injuries appear in the first half of the season.
Every fan, including me, can see how money could be spent but I have the task of matching desire with reality and whatever the pressures I will never do anything to risk the Club’s financial security. As always, I can assure every supporter not a penny is coming out of the Club into my pocket. It never has. It goes back into the Club’s budget and yes, as I have already said, that does include funds for transfers and additional wages when we find the right players at prices we can live with.
A healthy mix of players at different stages in their career
On the pitch our plan remains the same - to play attractive, winning football supported by a stable management team with a healthy squad mix of some young players, some highly experienced and some still developing but with a large number of appearances under their belt.
I feel, with the players we have added in the summer, as well as agreeing longer term contracts with existing players - Freddie Sears being the latest - we now have an exciting mix of talent ready for the challenges ahead. Most of the players coming back from injury will be ready to go in weeks, not months, which will further strengthen our options.
Last season was a difficult time for some of the 2018 additions to flourish but having had a year to settle in, this is the year they can really get going.
For the first-team, this summer has been as much about keeping our best as bringing in new additions. We have worked hard to keep all of our key players and while every player has a price at which monies can be reinvested for the benefit of the squad overall, I have wanted to do everything I can to avoid making the same mistake as last year by letting key players go when I could not replace them.
In terms of strengthening, as well as bringing in James and Tomas on permanent deals, we have added Luke Garbutt from Everton. He is in the last year of his contract and could be looking for a new club next year. So there is a long-term plan behind some of our loans.
That long-term plan also includes having the cover to allow some of our younger players to go out on loan and get valuable experience playing first-team football elsewhere. We have seen the benefits of that with Luke Woolfenden for instance, who played over 30 games for Swindon last season. He has returned to us far better for the experience and ready to compete for a place in our first-team.
Will Norris has also joined us on loan from Wolves, which has freed up Bart to go out on loan to the Championship. He remains an Ipswich player though and will return to Portman Road at the end of the season.
I am pleased that we have signed new contracts with Freddie and Myles Kenlock. Again, that is all about the long-term.
Looking at the squad from front to back. James Norwood is an exciting addition, Jordan Roberts has played up there, Kayden has looked good in pre-season and we are all excited to see what he can do with a run of games in front of him. Of course, we have Freddie to come back in and we are still on the look out for another additional striker.
The midfield is awash with talent
In the middle of the park we have so many options, giving the manager an enviable task of picking who to start. We have a great mix of experience and developing players in that area and it’s great to see Alan [Judge] in the squad, despite approaches from elsewhere.
I fully understand why a move to QPR would have appealed to Alan for personal and professional reasons but I must point out that he has always been totally professional in the way that he dealt with a difficult, personal situation and I know that he will be giving everything to the team this season as always.
I am looking forward to seeing Luke [Woolfenden], after his year on loan, challenging Toto and Chambo. We have also added James Wilson on a short term contract to add competition in the middle of defence.
In goal we have a huge prospect in Tomas challenged by the highly-thought of Will so there is real competition in that department.
Judge the manager on the cards he has been dealt
And one final point I want to make is that I hope everyone will judge the manager on the cards he has been dealt by me and not just on our expectations.
I know that expectations quite rightly are high and that due to Premier League parachute payments and big spenders in the Championship, we have gone from a team with a budget in the bottom 10 of the Championship to a team with a budget in the top 10 of League One.
However, please reflect on the fact that I have asked Paul, along with his coaching staff to accept the challenge of developing a team, not just for this year - which absent any player sales will be without the benefit of any significant transfer budget - but for the years ahead as well.
He will be giving our younger players a chance and they will need time and support along the way. This league has some big teams and experienced squads to pit against our developing talent. We are not the only club aiming for a top two position.
That said, be assured that everyone is working at full throttle to get the most out of the group and have a season we can be proud of.
Let’s have a great season and if your support is even half as good as last year (but let’s crank it up a notch) then you will be more than doing your part to push us over the line.