Opinion: My Five Point Plan

Matt Francis takes us through his very own five point plan after the seemingly failure of the one laid out by Town owner Marcus Evans.

My Five Point Plan

In 2016, when Town were still dreaming of promotion to the Premier League (those were the days), Marcus Evans released a statement outlining a five-point-plan that would provide sustainability and stability for the club. Evans stressed the importance of the academy, the wage and transfer budgets, a free-flowing style of football and a stable management team. In four years, the wage and transfer budgets have decreased, two managers have been sacked and there is certainly free-flowing football played at Portman Road, it’s just a shame it’s always the away side displaying it. Evans’ plan has been mocked and scrapped and it looks like the club has lost sight of its philosophy. At the end of the day, in any walk of life, it’s the next ten years that’s the most important, not the next ten minutes. Short-term strategies and gap-stuffing techniques have seen our great club slump into the League One penitentiary. Therefore, it’s time for a brand new five-point-plan. This time, it isn’t multi-million-pound business extraordinaire Marcus Evans pitching it… It’s me. 

Academy Investment

I’ll give credit where credit is due and say that Marcus Evans has kept his promise with academy investment. Roughly £2 million is ploughed into the academy every year, aiding running costs and recruitment/development. Town’s academy has always been a large part of its identity with stars like Kieron Dyer, Jason Dozzell and Darren Bent all rising from the Playford Road hub. Obviously, that strategy must remain the same; developing players is a vital part of the club’s future success. 

Armando Dobra could be the next academy graduate to make his impact on the first team Pic: ITFC Website

However, there is one change that I would make. I would double the investment into the academy every year, stressing the importance of foreign youth recruitment from nations such as France, Holland or the States. Whilst this extra investment would ultimately effect the club’s transfer budget, intelligent recruitment and scouting strategies would allow for the club to recoup any losses through the sale of their top stars. Brentford are the shining example of this strategy and whilst their foreign exports don’t rise from their academy, they continue to develop top stars year after year, allowing them to build an exciting, creative side that are destined for the top flight. 

With top-tier youth recruitment, Town would be able to put themselves on the map as a developmental club that offers young stars an opportunity to develop and learn the ropes in one of the toughest leagues in the world (whether that be League One or The Championship)

Community is Key

The most heinous act committed by Marcus Evans during his reign of terror was the scrapping of the club’s community trust. For me, that act is the single biggest red flag to indicate Evans’ lack of care/understanding. To be fair, since the arrival of Paul Lambert, Evans has reinstated the community trust and has once again engaged and invested with the people of Suffolk, and beyond! 

Community engagement is vital to the club’s future prospects as not only does it make for a positive, familial atmosphere, it also entices the next generation of poor souls that are doomed to support Ipswich Town for the rest of their lives. Through Town’s community trust, you can begin to create a bond between club and supporter that hasn’t been there for many years. In terms of non-footballing aspects, I believe this to be the single most important element in the long-term future of the football club. 

Feeders and Affiliates 

In case you hadn’t noticed, football is an incredibly competitive industry. The disparagement in wealth between the Premier League and League Two is exponential. This means that clubs, like Town, are unable to make the whole-hearted investments required to once again become a top club. Each year, three teams scrap it out to survive the drop in the Premier League and three teams below, in the Championship, scratch and claw their way into the promised land. The wealth divide between the small and big clubs results in an ugly lack of class in the English lower leagues. With the FA emphasising the importance of youth development, it baffles me that this idea hasn’t already crossed Evans’ mind. 

Luke Garbutt is one of four Everton players to have spent time at Town in the last four years Pic: ITFC Website

Every year, Town loan in 3-4 players from Premier League clubs. From Fraser to Lawrence, Celina to Dos Santos, Town have benefitted from the continued borrowing of players from England’s elite clubs. Whilst some fans may not agree with the loan model, it’s one of the only ways that clubs like Town are going to remain competitive. Like it or not, Marcus isn’t going to stump up more money for the manager to spend, so the loan market becomes vital. However, loans still cost a fair whack, with Paul Lambert suitably noting that Connor Wickham’s wage was ‘No normal’. 

Therefore, I would set up an affiliate club. Be it Tottenham or Everton, Man City or Arsenal, the opportunity to take players on loan, for a cut price, and aid their development is an attractive proposition for any side. Top clubs don’t worry about the cost of a £2,000 p/w 19-year-old, therefore they can allow that player to leave, on loan, without a large sum being paid by the loaning club. An affiliate scheme would allow the club to have a hand in the development of top young stars, earning themselves a positive reputation, as well as remaining competitive in the league. We’ve seen with Luke Garbutt this year what a loan player can provide and gaining that, yearly, for a cut price, seems like an obvious way for Town to regain their status as a consistent second-tier side. 

Buying and Selling

Every year, the buzz of the transfer window rolls around. You sit, scrolling through social media, awaiting that day’s news. Will you sign a hot-shot youngster? Will you sell your best player? Will Leon Best actually earn another professional contract? Obviously, all that excitement dissipates when you remember you support Ipswich and the closest thing your club is buying this summer is a new turnstile and a Kinder Bueno (other chocolate bars are available).

Town’s transfer philosophy has been questionable at best, with the likes of James Wilson, Toto Nsiala and Ellis Harrison all being signed over the last two years. The reason I single out those three players is because they represent a baffling lack of care when it comes to recruitment. James Wilson was an out-of-contract 31-year-old when he signed, Toto Nsiala cost near to £1 Million and wasn’t even the best defender in League One and Ellis Harrison was a cheap capture that was flogged off for half the price the following summer. In conclusion, no one at Portman Road knows what they’re doing when it comes to recruitment. KVY represents intelligent business and as I said before, I will give credit where credit is due. 

James Wilson signed on a free transfer after being released by Lincoln City Pic: ITFC Website

However, more needs to be done. If Town can’t sign players, due to a small transfer budget, DON’T SIGN PLAYERS! Brining in new faces for the sake of it has stained the club for years and the impact on the wage budget is detrimental. If you haven’t got the money for a top class central-midfielder, don’t settle for an out-of-contract 33-year-old, PLAY A YOUNG PLAYER! Sure, they may take a while to adapt to competitive football, but it makes more sense both on-and-off the pitch to offer an opportunity to a young player to step up the plate. As fans, we all love new signings, but we also love it when an academy lad comes through the system and shines! This year, Town ignored the talents of Armando Dobra because Lambert didn’t deem him to be ‘ready’. Andre Dozzell is shunned every year in favour of more experience pro, why? The lack of trust in the young players is the most damming indictment on the club today and there’s no point investing heavily into the academy if you don’t have a manager who is willing to give them an opportunity. Win or lose, we can all get behind a team of local, hungry talents who are giving their all for the shirt, rather than a bunch of washed up veterans who were hunting for their next pay cheque. 

I would also urge Evans to sell at the right price. It’s an obvious thing to say but allowing your best talents to leave on the cheap is a naïve, idiotic thing to do. I’m glad the club sorted out contract extensions for Dobra, Dozzell, McGavin and Co. however, it is a shame it took them so long to pull their finger out. Regarding the likes of Woolfenden and Downes, It’s of paramount importance to the long-term prospects of the club that they are sold for a good price. Selling on the cheap will result in fan backlash, which results in negative crowds, which can impact results and performances. We all accept that we aren’t what we used to be and whilst the status as a ‘selling club’ is usually tarnished with negativity, being a ‘selling club’ that sells for the right price is not stupid, it’s a long-term insurance policy that assists the club’s tomorrow. 

Back the right man

Paul Lambert is not going to take Ipswich forward. His legacy as Town boss should, and in all likelihood will, be as a stopgap that connected the club with the fans once again. He isn’t an exciting manager who encourages expansive football, he is a man at the tail-end of his career, awaiting a future as a Sky Sports pundit. Despite my frustrations, I credit the man for the work he’s done and his impact on the club has been terrific. However, results off the pitch don’t provide any consolation for the dross on it. Lambert’s time as Town boss should be coming to an end and with light in sight, it’s time for Town to pick a boss with credentials, identity and belief. 

Is Paul Lambert the right man for you? Matt isn’t quite so sure… Pic:ITFC Website

Of course, every club is looking for that one great manager. However, it shouldn’t be that hard to pick a manager that suits your philosophy and needs, providing you have an actual understanding of what that is. When Hurst was hired, Evans simply went for the ‘anyone that doesn’t sound, look or act like Mick McCarthy’ approach. When Lambert was hired, Evans likely thought ‘I know him, he did well with another club in this county so surely he can do the same here’. Evans has no clue when it comes to hiring a manager and that’s why I would leave the decision in the hands of men that have been there, done that and know the club. Burley and Butcher would be excellent men to interview managers to see if they have what it takes to take the club forward. Of course, Evans can grill them on recruitment, finances and youth development, but having ex-professionals that love the club assessing any future manager’s mentality could prove vital to their success on the pitch, and with the fans. 

Ultimately, Town should be looking at a manager that has a positive reputation, has a passion to succeed and is willing to work with limited resources. They shouldn’t be taking punts on managers that have had one-off fluke seasons of success, they should be looking at man that can provide sustainability across the entire club. If and when they find Mr. Right, Evans needs to back him to the hills. Don’t give him the keys to the club, but give him an opportunity to impress, working with the stringent budget restrictions that is required in the current climate. If he excels, offer him further incentives to continually challenge his credentials as a manager. McCarthy was given too little, Hurst was given too much too soon, and Lambert seems to have found a mid-point, it’s just a shame he can think of nothing but his Champions League medal and Connor Wickham. Rewarding someone for their success is the mark of intelligent business and not only shows loyalty, it bestows a trust that is not often taken for granted. 

And there you have it! That’s my five-point-plan to take Town forward. Let me know your thoughts by Tweeting me (@MattWHF). Thank you for taking the time to read my column, I hope you’re all keeping well. See you next week!

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