How Ipswich owner Marcus Evans' five-point plan stacks up two years on
PUBLISHED: 06:00 10 January 2019
Pagepix Ltd 07976 935738
Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans launched his five-point plan for success two years ago. ANDY WARREN looks at how the club has fared since.
Marcus Evans released his blueprint for success at Ipswich Town in December 2016.
In the owner’s introduction to his ‘five-point plan’ he began with an overview of where the club find themselves within the financial landscape of the Championship.
He discussed how the much-maligned Financial Fair Play initiative has failed in its bid to ‘level the playing field’ while also pointing out just how reliant the most wealthy clubs in the league are on parachute payments following relegation from the Premier League or unsustainable backing from ownership.
He added: “I believe if we follow the strategy outlined in this article then we will not be that far away from competing, once again, at the upper end of this league.”
Fast forward two years and Ipswich Town are facing up to the real possibility of playing in the third tier for the first time since 1957.
To provide a significant ongoing financial commitment to the club’s academy, enabling a steady flow of players into the first-team
Evans’ investment in the Ipswich academy stands at £2million a year to ensure it runs smoothly, while the addition of a new, top-rated, 3G pitch at the end of 2016 cost an additional £750,000.
The academy has a large staff, including a number of former players such as Kieron Dyer and Titus Bramble.
The Blues’ academy is currently at ‘Category Two’ status, after Category One was missed out on by just 0.3% during the audit in 2014. A Category One academy is something Ipswich continue to strive for, with that status bringing increased recruitment power and the chance for Ipswich’s young teams to play higher-level opposition.
Evans is also among the leading voices when it comes to striving for added protection for clubs’ young assets after Ben Knight left for Manchester City for just £1million earlier this season.
The Ipswich Under 23 and Under 18 teams are first and second in their league respectively, with Jack Lankester the most recent in a line of young players to break through into the first team.
So far this season, seven homegrown players have featured in the first-team while, in addition, Tristan Nydam and Josh Emmanuel have been out on loan.
Both Paul Hurst and Paul Lambert have this season stressed the need to impress a universal playing style throughout the club, highlighting just how important producing young players is to Ipswich’s strategy.
To provide a sustainable and competitive squad salary budget
There are two very important parts to this point of the plan but unfortunately for Ipswich, the nature of today’s Championship means they are largely conflicting.
The last set of accounts show the Blues to be spending 108 per cent of their turnover on player salaries, which totalled £18.53m last season, with that figure growing steadily over the last few years.
The nature of Ipswich’s summer recruitment – experienced Championship players departing and the arrival of players from lower down the pyramid – mean that figure is likely to have dropped for the first half of this season, though significant investment in wages is being made during the January window.
Investing more in wages than the club is turning over fits the trend in the Championship, where it’s difficult for clubs to make a profit.
But that wage bill, without added support from Evans, is above a sustainable level.
Ipswich’s wage bill sits in the bottom third of the Championship so, in competitive terms, the Blues are at a disadvantage when compared to the majority of teams in the second tier.
To make annual investment funds available to purchase players in the early stages of their career and to assist in their development
As part of the plan, Evans made it clear he could not and would not compete with the rising costs of Championship transfer fees, which now sees players change hands for more than £15m in the second tier.
He used the £1.5m combined cost of Adam Webster and Grant Ward in the summer of 2016 as an example of his strategy in action, with those deals following the £3m sale of Daryl Murphy to Newcastle. He added that with the addition of loan players (including Jonny Williams and Tom Lawrence) that summer’s investment in the squad totalled £4million.
A similar approach has continued since.
In the four completed transfer windows since the plan was introduced, 19 players have been signed on permanent deals and a further 12 loaned in.
Many fit the mould outlined by Evans, including Emyr Huws, who was 23 when he signed, while profits have also been turned on more experienced players Joe Garner and Martyn Waghorn just a year after their signing.
Those deals, along with the departure of Adam Webster, funded the rebuild job under Paul Hurst and now a January rescue bid under Lambert.
Much of Hurst’s transfer business fitted the bill of bringing in players ‘in the early stages of their careers’ with the likes of Kayden Jackson, Ellis Harrison, Jon Nolan, Gwion Edwards and Janoi Donacien all in their early to mid 20s and seemingly on an upward trajectory from the lower leagues.
The intent has been there but, sadly, many of the deals have not worked out as hoped. Huws has been sidelined by injury for almost his entire Ipswich career, since signing permanently, while it’s widely accepted too many players were brought in from the lower leagues during Hurst’s one transfer window.
Much of the money gained from the sales of Waghorn, Webster and Garner has been used on new recruits, which include the loan signings of Trevoh Chalobah, Matthew Pennington and Jon Walters, with further outlay again coming this January with temporary moves for Will Keane, Callum Elder and Collin Quaner.
Maintaining a stable management and coaching team
Ipswich’s managerial situation was the definition of ‘stable’ during the six years of McCarthy’s reign.
But his departure has triggered a series of events which has seen the Blues have three full-time managers in a calendar year.
Paul Hurst’s arrival saw him bring assistant Chris Doig, fitness expert Nathan Winder and physio Chris Skitt with him, with compensation paid to Shrewsbury for his services.
All four left the club following Hurst’s sacking, with Lambert’s arrival seeing Stuart Taylor (assistant), Jim Henry (fitness coach), Matt Gill (first-team coach) and Jimmy Walker (goalkeeping coach) arrive.
That turnover will have come at considerable expense.
Hurst’s sacking came once Evans came to the conclusion a change was needed to try and survive in the Championship, with the owner insisting in the plan that he will continue to back his managers for ‘as long as is realistic’.
To develop a team to play attractive and exciting football
This point of the plan is, in many ways, out of Evans’ hands.
In parting ways with McCarthy and a style of football perceived as ‘negative’, the Ipswich owner has made the managerial changes necessary to try and fulfil this part of his plan.
Hurst’s Ipswich showed promise during pre-season and flashes of the high-energy, entertaining football the former boss spoke about following his summer appointment, but in reality he was never truly able to put his brand on the field.
Lambert, on the other hand, has transformed Ipswich into a ‘front-foot’ side who use the ball quickly and instinctively, with his side’s games undoubtedly leaving supporters entertained. The results have not followed accordingly, though, with the Blues now 10 points adrift of safety.
Of course, the fact Ipswich’s financial resource is significantly behind the Championship’s leading clubs brings limitations in this regard.
The entire basis of Evans’ five-point plan is a strategy for Ipswich Town to be competitive on the field in a division where they are unable to compete financially.
It was about finding advantages where possible and hoping lightning could strike, as it so nearly did in the 2014/15 season when the Blues made the play-offs.
In truth, all five sections of the plan are points the majority of football clubs up and down the league pyramid will aspire to.
Evans has stuck to his approach but, the stark reality is, barring a miracle, Ipswich are now facing up to the fact next season may well see them playing in League One.
There has been bad luck and poor decisions made along the way, of course, but it’s all resulted in the position Ipswich Town currently find themselves in.
It’s stating the obvious to say the plan hasn’t worked and, two years on, it only serves to highlight the growing importance of money in the second tier and the disparity Ipswich Town find themselves facing.
Lambert has already begun to conduct his own root-and-branch review of how the club is run and it remains to be seen what plan will be in place to help the club recover from a nightmare season, whichever division they find themselves in come the summer.