Opinion: My top three managerial targets should PL leave this summer…

Our columnist, Matthew Francis, takes us through his top three replacements should Paul Lambert leave this summer.

Being in lockdown is rather bizarre. You live in your own little bubble, surrounded by work and distractions, and only venture out for a brisk walk or a trip to the supermarkets. Sometimes, there’s moments of bliss when you forget the global pandemic and think ‘I wonder how many we’ll lose by this weekend’ or ‘who will replace Paul Lambert?’ Ultimately, these thoughts have become rather contrived and their meaning has been rendered obsolete. We all still want what’s best for Ipswich Town Football Club, but our attentions have turned to remedying the world, rather than forcing out a tyrannical owner and an inept manager. 

Despite this, I will still be focussing on these subjects for this week’s column. As hinted last week, I will be focussing on the potential recruitment of a new manager, even though this period of suspension has likely saved Paul Lambert’s job. I will present three potential Lambert replacements, all with varying backgrounds and identities, assessing how their philosophy and style would benefit the club both short-term and long-term. 

However, there is an important thing we must do first, and that’s acknowledge the good work done by the club over the past week or so…

In The Face of Adversity…

In these uncertain times, we all need lifting and I think it would be fair to say that the work done by the media team at Portman Road has been ace. Frequently putting out content, varying from thanking NHS staff to the upcoming kit world cup, they have kept us constantly entertained in a time that feels so far removed from the norm. The coverage this season has been superb and the constant communication and interaction between fans and club has kept the spirit alive in Ipswich’s footballing community. 

The players have played their part as well, with captain Luke Chambers having made several calls to elderly season ticket holders, comforting them in this time of uncertainty and loneliness. Lambert, to his credit, has offered to waive his entire wage for the duration of this suspension period and the club have ensured that non-playing staff are retained and have a job to return to when this all blows over. It would be simple for the club to buckle under such strict financial pressures, but fair credit to all involved who have stood up in the face of adversity, to ensure safety and security for every member of the ITFC family.

There are many more weeks of adverse and unsure conditions ahead, but the football club are putting out the right encouraging messages to keep us all together in a battle that, in the end, we will win. 

Who’s Next?

Time to besmirch the positivity by reminding us all that, regardless of the season’s current conditions, we’re still 10th, 7 points off the play-offs and haven’t a hope in hell of making an immediate return to the Championship. Unfortunately, despite the recent signing of a bumper five-year-deal, the fault of poor performances and the atrocious league position lies at the feet of the manager. Lambert may have galvanised the fanbase and brought back some much-needed happiness to Portman Road, but his reign is coming to a natural end; Here’s my three picks to replace him.

Candidate One – Nigel Adkins

Personally, this man would be my first choice if Lambert was to depart the club in the summer. Why? Because of his time at Southampton. Adkins took the reigns at Southampton with the club languishing in League One. Their fall from grace had been completed in 2009, with off-field problems seeing them slump from the Premier League to League One in the small matter of four years. The club were in a dire state and needed someone to steady the ship. Adkins took the reins and the club never looked back. 

Adkins took a side full of average players and top youngsters and turned them into an all-action side, guiding them to back-to-back promotions. After only three years in charge, Adkins had guided Southampton from League One to the Premier League, a terrific achievement. Along the way, he created superstars, with the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jose Fonte part of his first starting eleven at the club. Now, don’t get me wrong, Adkins’ story has parallels to that of Lambert. Both guided their teams to back-to-back promotions, but there is a key difference: Adkins developed young players and sold them for a profit, Lambert, arguably, has never done that. Adkins ensured that Southampton had an identity as a club that produced top young talent. Since 2012, despite ‘The Saints’ flirting with relegation a few times, they have remained a Premier League club. A lot of that is owed to Adkins; through profit and diligence, he ensured their long-term future, something Town desperately need. 

I know his last three jobs at Hull, Reading and Sheffield United haven’t exactly made him the most prized asset in the world of management, but the parallels between 2010 Southampton and 2020 Ipswich are striking. We have top young talents, players with ability being played out of position and goal scorers that are in desperate need of confidence. Whilst I’m not suggesting Adkins could make James Norwood the next Ricky Lambert, he would certainly go a long way in reviving the club and once again giving the town, and the team, a much-needed identity.

Candidate Two – Gus Poyet

An option likely out-of-reach but an option nonetheless, is former Chelsea star Gus Poyet. Having managed both in England and abroad, with varying degrees of success, Gus Poyet is a man that oozes class and passion. His first job, at Brighton, was arguably his finest time as a manager, guiding the Sussex club to the Championship and nearly, the Premier League. His time at the club was defined by working within a decent budget, generating income through player sales and competition winnings. During his time at Brighton, he signed the likes of Ashley Barnes, Liam Bridcutt and Craig Mackail-Smith, all of whom proved to be great successes for his Brighton side. He also oversaw a phase of transition for the club, smoothly guiding them into the swanky AMEX Stadium. He is a man that thrives under pressure and always wants more, personality traits that could only benefit our club.

In recent years, Poyet has spent time managing in Greece, Spain, China and France and whilst he hasn’t been able to find success, he’s never lost that passion for the game. Assisted by former Town star and fan-favourite Mauricio Taricco, could Poyet be tempted to take up the mantle at Portman Road? A shake-up is certainly needed and a man like Poyet could be just the character to provide such a shift. 

Known for his high tempo style of play and desire to keep improving, Poyet has always managed to get the best out of his players. A man with Town connections and a desire to get back into the game, the Uruguayan could prove an interesting option moving forward. 

Candidate Three – Nathan Jones

The Paul Hurst experiment was a disaster. There were many reasons behind the unfortunate failure that followed Hurst’s appointment, and not all of them were due to a loud-mouthed assistant. On the face of it, Hurst was a decent candidate, having taking Shrewsbury from the foot of League One to the Play-Off Final in a single season. He had worked within a tight budget, seemed self-assured and was young. However, he lacked a footballing philosophy. 

Nathan Jones has a clear philosophy. His exciting, quick style of play guided Luton from League Two to the Championship and whilst he may not have been in charge when the club were officially promoted to the second tier, the job was already done before he’d left for Stoke. His time at Stoke was less than ideal and has hurt his reputation somewhat, however, he’s still a great manager. As I keep saying, Town haven’t had a clear identity or philosophy for years, and they are crying out for one. The players have lost their passion and that’s because things keep changing. Lambert tries 14 formations in the space of 90 minutes and is baffled when none of them work; but that’s obviously down to the players having no clue what their roles are. There would be no such problem with Jones. 

Look at it this way: He’s a young manager with a great love for the game who has a proven track record of playing attractive, free-flowing football under a strict budget. For Town, he ticks all the boxes. Whilst there may be reservations that he is the second coming of Paul Hurst, I believe it would be unfair to tarnish Jones with the same brush, especially considering the latter actually understands the tactical side of the game. 

While most of us would love to see someone like Butcher, Burley or even McGreal in the Town dug-out, I truly believe that someone like Nathan Jones, surrounded by the right people and supported by legends of the club, could flourish into a top-drawer manager and turn Town into a true footballing force once again.

Which one of my choices, if any, would you go for?

Another Week Off

The uncertainty around the football season continues and with the correspondents from the EFL, Premier League and UEFA all being as easy to understand as a Paul Lambert press-conference, there’s no way of knowing when normality will return.  

It’s funny really. Two months ago, we all would’ve been devastated if the season was called off but now, we couldn’t care less. Regardless of whether this season is ended via completion or expunction, it has been a complete mess. Feel free to Tweet me your candidates for the next Town manager, I look forward to seeing who you guys suggest. 

There’s a long road ahead, with no real end in sight, but I continue to wish you all the best and thank you for taking the time to read this piece. 

Stay safe!

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