It was announced that David Sheepshanks' chairman role becomes 'non-executive' from 1st July. A birthday present a few days early some might think. Ever since Sheepshanks decided in January 2001 to renegotiate players contracts at a level that was unsubstainable should we be relegated - just months after promotion and before we had secured our Premier League place for the following season. We may have been fourth at the time, but as any Ipswich fan of the early nineties will tell you, at that time in 1993 - also our first season back in the top flight after a promotion - we were third, we finished the season three points clear of relegation. Sheepshanks' comments about how nobody could have predicted that we would be relegated in 2002, may have been true, but then nobody would have predicted we would have finished fifth in 2001 in the first place. Given Sheepshanks' comments in the past warning other chairmen of the boom and bust culture, and also in a interview with When Saturday Comes magazine stated that "We're not about that", it was kind of ironic that not only did his post-relegation desperation tactics reduce the value of the players, so we lost most of our best players on the cheap and entered administration. Not much of Sheepshanks' tenure since is anything to write home about. That said, he managed to spin the situation is such a way that he managed to pass the buck onto every factor he could (even the ITV Digital crisis, which came from a loophole in a contract that he helped co-negotiate) and survived as chairman, despite only Bradford being in a worst financial position of the ex-Premiership boomed and busted clubs. Now he gets to bask in the glory of finding the man that has saved the club. From the mess he created. We owe £12million more than we did, mind. And we owe it to our new owner, because in this post-Malcolm Glazer world, he can't be expected to pay for his own shares.
But, celebrating this could bite us on the arse, as reports suggest that should Owen Garvan turn down his contract extension, then we'll sell him, rather than risk him leaving at the end of his contract - despite the fact that as he'll be under the age of 24, we will be due compensation. Which is only likely to be at worst £1m less than his current market value. Given that our new owner is a reputed billionaire, who has invested £20million into the club, it seems folly to lose our best player for the sake of 5% of the investment made just six months ago.
Especially given Jim Magilton's record in the transfer market. Despite bringing in 17 permanent signings and nine loanees in the space of two seasons, we don't look at team. There is not a single player at the club who is a natural right midfielder, instead we play a target man (Jon Walters), a pacy striker with poor distribution (Danny Haynes), or a central midfielder (David Norris) there, and while Walters won player of the seaon on the basis of his first half-season of performances there, the latter half of the season has seen him found out to an extent in his new position, which is why he's started eight out of his last eleven games in his natural position. Also, as we spent months chasing him, talking about him in public, and then spent £2m on David Norris, we've got to play him somewhere, even if it makes him look bad. We've been linked with a lot of players so far this close season, but none of them play wide right.
As well as no natural right midfielders, we have two left backs at the club, but both are as likely to play this season as I am. Kurt Robinson is seventeen, and Magilton seems loath to use youth where possible. In Joe Royle's first two seasons, he gave debuts to ten youth players. Magilton has given debuts to just two. And there are people out there that will tell you that it's Royle who had the problem with youth. Matt Richards, Ian Westlake, Dean Bowditch, Lewis Price, Owen Garvan, Shane Supple and Danny Haynes all established themselves under Royle, yet the first player to leave the club under Magilton was Westlake. Price has also been sold, and Richards, Supple, Garvan, Haynes and most suprisingly of all Billy Clarke all seem to be on their way, while Bowdich is still waiting to find out if he will be offered a new contract. All of which would leave us with two players who have graduated from the academy (not including the 31 year old Richard Naylor) who have played first team football - Chris Casement and Liam Trotter. Casement hasn't played in 2008, and Trotter has played a handful of minutes since a harsh sending off against Portsmouth.
With that record with the youths, the transfer policy needs to be good, and certainly needs to improve over the summer if a promotion challenge is to be repeated. Some of the names linked are just scary, but fit in with Magilton's MO so far. If we look at his signings so far, they fall into 3 categories:
Irish (both sides of the border), or at least has represented them at some level:
- Alex Bruce: signed as a holding midfielder, but didn't last long there. These days is either a right back who drifts inside or a steady, if not solid centre-half. When we spent half the season trying to sign Gareth McAuley from Leicester, it wasn't Jason De Vos we were looking to replace.
- George O'Callaghan: Impressed in a three month trial. Made five starts before being shipped out first on loan to Brighton, then permanently back to Cork City.
- Jon Walters: Best player in the team.
- Nick Colgan: Likely to leave in the summer without playing a game.
- Alan Quinn: Like Norris, Sumulikosi and Tommy Miller, moves up and down the pitch in a straight line a lot. Not much else going for him. Least said about his free-kicks the better. Could also fit in the next group.
- Pablo Couñago: Ten goals in his first 24 games, two in his last 21.
- Tommy Miller: Was accused by fans of disappearing in a lot of games towards the end of his first spell. Made even less of an impact this time round.
Not Irish, not an ex-teammate.
- Dan Harding; Magilton's second signing was a virtual ever present in his first season, and has ended the second on the transfer list.
- Martin Brittain: Made an encouraging debut in the League Cup. Never seen in an Ipswich shirt again.
- Sylvain Legwinski: Player of the season in his first season. Barely seen in his second. Now released.
- Ian Miller: Looked solid in his debut. Never seen in an Ipswich shirt again. Now at Darlington.
- Jaroslav Drobny: Short term signing as back up. Now in Germany.
- Gary Roberts: Impressed in a three month loan spell. Unimpressive since. Transfer listed.
- David Wright: Still at the club, not on the transfer list. Is more likely to be played out of position or on the bench than his usual right back role (which he mananed once in the last ten games).
- Neil Alexander: Good, if not great keeper. Stayed six months, now at Rangers.
- David Norris: Good box to box midfielder. Like we haven't got enough of those. Has played in his natural position once. Great way to use our biggest value signing since 2001.
- Velice Sumulikoski. Good box to box midfielder. Like we haven't got enough of those. At least we play him in his right position.
So, Walters, Wright and Sumulikoski are the only three successes for me, and even Magilton hasn't been impressed with most of the others, given that they're mainly gone or going. And the jury is still out on Schumi. So when I hear of more mediocre Irish players (McAuley, David Healy, Alan Mannus, Peter Thompson, Ian Harte) ex-teammates (Richard Wright and god help us Titus Bramble and Jay McEveley) and other random, yet crap players (Dean Leacock, Carlos Bocanegra, Thomas Sorenson and most notably Emile Mpenza!), please forgive me if I don't get excited about the players we've been linked with, who I don't know anything about. If Pim Balkestein, Obinna Nwaneri, Marc-Antoine Fortune, Behrang Safari, Andreas Granqvistand Rahamat Mustapha are anything like those that have gone before, then let them go somewhere else.
Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with Irish players or his ex-teammates, I'd just rather we had the good ones, than the mediocrities we've seen so far.