Stuart Watson’s Sunday Verdict: Take a calculated risk Marcus – it’s in Ipswich Town’s DNA
PUBLISHED: 17:38 08 April 2018 | UPDATED: 17:38 08 April 2018
It’s time for Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans to take a risk and reinvigorate this football club with a bold managerial appointment.
The crux of his five-point plan is to overcome an uneven financial playing field by identifying young players with potential and developing them further. So why not take the same approach with the biggest piece of recruitment of all – the manager?
You only have to look at the men who have enjoyed underdog success stories around English football – Eddie Howe, Sean Dyche, David Wagner, Dean Smith, Neil Harris, Chris Wilder, Nigel Clough to name a few.
There are plenty of interesting and exciting options out there.
Look at the way the Cowley brothers, Danny and Nicky, have galvanised the people of Lincoln in the space of two years with infectious positivity, considered recruitment and impassioned community work. Crowds there have gone from 2,500 to 10,000 sell-outs.
Look at the remarkable four-year project of Maurice Steijn at unfashionable Dutch club VVV Venlo on a shoestring budget. The thought of Town rekindling their proud Netherlands connection has clearly struck a chord.
Look at the super jobs Paul Hurst (Shrewsbury), Paul Cook (Wigan), Darrell Clarke (Bristol Rovers) and Nathan Jones (Luton) are all doing in the lower divisions.
A well-contacted and ambitious former player who has been studiously learning the coaching trade, has a clear playing philosophy and who is waiting for the right opportunity to come along, like Everton’s David Unsworth or former Blues striker Shefki Kuqi, should warrant serious consideration too.
Popular ex-Blues defender Tony Mowbray, who is enjoying success in League One at Blackburn, would tick a lot of boxes.
Taking a risk is in Town’s DNA after all. Just look at the background to Town’s most successful bosses. The Blues have had just 15 permanent managers in their 82-year professional history and there is a pattern regarding the ones who have left their indelible mark.
Sir Alf Ramsey was 35 and was coming towards the end of his playing career at Tottenham when Town, recognising his bright football mind and ignoring his lack of experience, gave him the job in the summer of 1955. The rest is history.
Sir Bobby Robson was 36 and had been sacked by Fulham after failing to prevent them sliding into the Second Division. John Cobbold saw something in him. The rest is history.
George Burley was 38 and had limited managerial experience at Ayr United, Motherwell and Colchester when the Blues plucked him from the fourth-tier. The rest is history.
Returning to the core values of this football club is crucial. Now, more than ever, a positive figurehead is needed to come in like a breath of fresh air and win over hearts and minds. The next man off the managerial merry-go-round is unlikely to do that.
Town fans want a manager who feels proud and grateful of the opportunity to come to their beloved Blues, not one that simply sees it as the next place they are passing through. Roy ‘I hated the colour blue’ Keane has made it clear he never felt that connection. Mick McCarthy, five-and-a-half years into the job, still talks more about his own ‘brand’ than the badge. It’s no wonder apathy currently rules.
McCarthy’s latest comments, following Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Brentford, were telling. On his decision to revert to pragmatic mode after Easter Monday’s entertaining and open 2-2 draw with Millwall, he said: “If you think we are as good as every team and we can just go out and play how we want... because we can’t. So you have to do what’s needed.”
It’s that defeatist attitude which has rankled among fans. This squad may be inexpensive and injury-ravaged, but to essentially say the only way they can be competitive is to make every match a war does them a huge disservice.
That rhetoric has seeped deep into the mindsets of the players. Christophe Berra said ‘we’re not Barcelona’ in his last year at the club (no-one is expecting that). Luke Chambers, Cole Skuse and Jonas Knudsen have all been quick to talk down expectations in recent times too, entirely missing the essence of the frustrations.
Here’s another couple of examples. When asked if the players had been disappointed that a home game against relegation-battling Hull had been postponed because of the snow, Adam Webster replied: ‘Yes, because we’d spent all week working on how to stop them (not beat them)’.
Ryan Fraser once revealed that Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe asked him why he’d taken a safe option late on in a draw. He replied ‘because I didn’t want to risk defeat’. Howe said ‘well what about gambling on a win?’ It’s not hard to work out where the flying Scottish winger had picked up such cautious habits.
The ‘careful what you wish for’ phrase, so often used as a throw-away line by outsiders, is patronising. Those who have sat through the last two years of forgettable fare are right to want more. Football is about a sense of hope and, right now, that is in short supply.
No doubt about it, Ipswich Town Football Club is a hugely attractive proposition to manage. You may not get mega money to spend, but you will get that most precious of commodities – time. Working for a patient and non-interfering owner is a rarity these days. Whoever takes over will be inheriting the core of a good squad, an academy that is producing again and won’t have to move on any high earners or bad eggs. And, with several loans and contracts coming to an end, they will have the latitude to add their own men.
The post-McCarthy doomsday scenario many have painted is pessimistic in the extreme. Fans are waiting to be swept along on a ride. The blue touch-paper is waiting to be lit at Portman Road. Town just need to find the right man to do so.