Town owner on where it's gone wrong; the way forward; new signings; investment; selling the Club; the Blue Army and more...
Marcus. Let’s start with the past before discussing the future. You tried something different last summer. You went for a younger manager from the lower divisions in Paul Hurst. Do you regret that decision?
No, I don’t regret the appointment as I think it was the right decision for the Club at the time. It was the decisions made after the appointment that I regret and in hindsight, which is a wonderful thing, I am sure both myself and Paul Hurst - who is a totally decent and hard working person by the way - would make different decisions if we had our time again. However, we are where we are.
Where do you, personally, think it went wrong then?
Again, with hindsight, I think we should have been tweaking a squad that proved to be competitive last season rather than making wholesale changes so quickly. The addition of players inexperienced at Championship level mixed in with a group of experienced ones may well have succeeded but it takes time to adjust to making that step up to the Championship and that step up becomes even harder when so many are making it at the same time.
So you regret signing so many players from the lower divisions?
The obvious answer is yes because of what I have just said about the time it takes for players to settle in at Championship level but I recall asking Sir Bobby [Robson] at one time ‘what if anything in your opinion is the one thing that I should do as an owner to support the Club’ and he said ‘back the manager 100 per cent until you know it’s time for a change’. That’s what I’ve always done and will continue to do as best I can .
What is the strategy going forward then?
The long term investment I have put in place has made us competitive in the past and the ongoing consistent investment to support the strategies of stable management, a strong Academy and competitive wages for experienced players I believe will make us competitive again. In terms of the Club’s immediate outlook , it’s a massive kick in the teeth that we are struggling this year because I feel behind the scenes we, as a Club, are providing the best service since I became involved that we have ever done for a manager. We have put a structure in place that provides us with continuity in the way all the teams play from Academy to first-team; we have improved scouting and sports science support; we have appointed a general manager football operations in Lee O’Neill who is working closely with Paul and myself and in Paul we have a manager not only focused on winning football matches but doing so in an entertaining style. This season has been the most challenging one for me as owner but working alongside Paul and Lee, I’m determined that the rebuilding process that is now taking place will get us going in the right direction again. I’ve already released a statement with Paul clarifying that Paul and I have agreed that this journey will continue wherever we play our football next season, which provides the vitally important stability and management that I’ve spoken about so many times. We have a progressive, experienced manager determined to play football on the front foot with a support team and owner completely behind him. Let’s see where it takes us.
You are clearly backing Paul. Six players have arrived this month. Will you continue to back him in the transfer market?
I think we have done some good business in this window with players who can make an immediate impact and we are already looking ahead to the summer. So yes I will.
Do you feel that the levels of investment that you are prepared to make can enable the Club to be competitive?
There is always going to be a wide range of the level of investments in clubs each year and I ultimately believe that the strategy that I have in place for Ipswich can make us competitive. Every year there are likely to be six or seven clubs with parachute payments; this year it’s seven with parachute payments ranging between £25m and £50m per annum. In addition there will be clubs with new owners or relatively new owners looking to invest £20m or so a year for a few seasons in the hope of promotion. So from a financial perspective, Ipswich will be at a disadvantage to at least half the clubs in the Championship. However, and this is the key point; none of these budgets are sustainable. It tends to now be a different 10 or 11 clubs each year, within reason, that are in this position. The likes of Bolton, Hull, Wigan, Reading, QPR and Sunderland have all been in the ‘Money Club’ in recent years. None of those clubs started the season as likely promotion contenders and Sunderland started the season in League One.
What do you say to those who argue we are in the position we are in now because of lack of investment?
I don’t agree with that at all. We are in the position we are in due to last summer’s unbalanced transfer dealings. This is not to knock the players we brought in as I believe all of them can settle into playing at this level however we needed more experience to help bring our new players through and if you look at the last five or six seasons before this year, we did just that with a similar level of budget and we averaged a league position of ninth or 10th so in fact we have eaten into the top half of the table which from a financial perspective would be reserved for those clubs with increased financial clout. So during the last six years, a strategy of stable management, developing youth mixed with bringing in experienced Championship players alongside some developing players and all within a sustainable budget did make us competitive.
Are you not tempted to throw £15m, £20m at it for a season or two and see where it takes you?
I did throw a lot of money, if you want to use that term, at it in the early years of my ownership and it got us nowhere. The key word here is sustainable. If I were to invest £15 to £20m per year at the Club over three, four, five years, I would, like we have seen with other owners, tire very quickly if not successful. Some fans would say that’s worth the risk but I don’t think so. If I were to take that risk and then decide enough is enough, where does that leave the Club? With zero investment each year the Club almost certainly ends up perpetually in the lower regions of the Football League. There are plenty of examples of clubs that have done that. I am simply not prepared to leave the Club in the lurch and my investment is based upon keeping the Club competitive long term, not just with a roll of the dice for two or three seasons. I would rather provide consistent and steady investment and try to breakthrough using the strategies that nearly worked under Mick.
When you spoke in an interview with iFollow at the end of last season, you said you would ‘do what’s right for the Club’ if there was an offer to invest in the Club. Is that still the situation?
I would like to be very clear, the Club is not for sale and nor do I want to sell the Club. I will continue to do my absolute best for Ipswich Town. However, if someone comes along who wants to follow a higher risk route, then if that what’s best for the Club and the incoming party show they are in for the long haul, I would step aside if it is best for the Club. It has to be the best for the Football Club though.
Finally what do you say to the supporters who are here through thick and thin?
I was talking to Paul about the fans the other day. He has been amazed by the Club’s support given our position in the table. I want to thank everyone of them for making Paul and his staff so welcome and I want to thank them for getting behind the team so much. The atmosphere at the Rotherham game was amazing. The fans seemed to keep the ball out of the net on occasions, such was the noise from behind the goal in the North Stand. So if there is a message, it’s please stick with us. It’s a team effort and the supporters are the most important part of the team. Owners and managers come and go, fans are forever and I will do everything I can to see those fans see entertaining football in return for their loyal support.