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Where Might This Lead?
Written by Moggasknockdown on Tuesday, 28th May 2019 15:39

As we draw stumps on the darkest season in the club’s recent history, it is hard not to reflect on Paul Lambert's efforts to revive our listing club with at least a degree of optimism for the future.

Many will rightly point out that the results have remained awful and that latterly (barring the Leeds game) the performances have been as insipid as they were under Paul Hurst.

But regardless of the unrelenting misery and remarkable levels of schadenfreude that has befallen the club over the last season, Lambert's charm offensive has been gallant and unerring, and his ability to galvanise the support has been generally rewarded with higher attendances and far superior atmospheres to that of his predecessors. Given his obvious connections elsewhere, and the levels of apathy he experienced upon his arrival, this has been no mean feat.

The detached and spiteful break-up of the Mick McCarthy years was as inevitable as it was tragic. Despite the undoubted alchemy that McCarthy was able to perform with such meagre resources, he was seemingly given too much power to run the club as he saw fit, with a fleeting care for long-term strategy (beyond his remarkable ability to return huge profits on several players purchased for a pittance) and a disdain and distrust of those outside the tent ‘pissing in’ which he always felt was inevitable as soon as results and performances tailed off.

Indeed, it is fair to say that McCarthy tried to improve style following the 2016/17 campaign, shrewdly acquiring Martyn Waghorn, Bersant Celina and Je Garner to support the undoubted talents of David McGoldrick and the initial results were positive. We were however a few bad results and performances away from the same baiting and jibing and bickering that would inevitably end in spiteful divorce.

His behaviour in the local and national media could often be crass, cheap and self-destructive which of course reached its nadir at Carrow Road in 2017, and from that point was irreversible. In truth, with slightly fewer partisan positions on both sides, we might still be sat here today listening to his pithy one-liners following another solid season in the Championship.

Skip forward 18 months, and the club is intent on an aggressive PR charm offensive which is, for all intents and purposes better late than never. Under McCarthy we were listing following the disastrous Paul Jewell years - but he had the grit, gumption and sheer bloody mindedness to create a team in his own image, which by and large was at the very least an effective combatant in a very competitive league. Following the public fallout and a very public change of direction from Marcus Evans, the appointment Paul Hurst was the accelerator to McCarthy’s handbrake.

The point, perhaps, is that Ipswich Town have been too reliant on the manager to hold the club together rather than a considered, more modern structure through which to run the club. The tail has wagged the dog for too long. Our approach is surely unsustainable (as our current plight demonstrates), and smacks of an owner who has been disengaged, and rather played at running a football club than wholly committing the time that it required.

McCarthy and Jewell especially reserved special praise for Evans as the non-meddling type. It was Hurst who first alluded to the potential issues of Evans hands-off approach, following his acrimonious exit in October. "Trying to have a relationship with the owner was difficult," Hurst admitted. "We spoke on the phone but with him not being around to speak to in person, it meant that there was a little bit of a void”.

Sour grapes? Maybe. But Lambert's subsequent statements about contracts and the recent appointment of Lee O’Neill as general manager of football operations suggest that there has been a dereliction of duty somewhere, and that structurally the club needed a reboot.

In truth, it feels like a club in a managed decline of expectations that aligns with an owner for whom it feels the required commitment is too hot to bear. The state of Portman Road is at times is a depressing epitaph of the Evans years, despite the early promise (and a lick of paint to the turnstiles) the team and general direction of the club have been moribund and rudderless.

That Evans has only latterly addressed the supporters directly, all rather feels like a desperate roll of the dice following the removal of the curtain by Hurst and Lambert to show the emperor without any clothes, and without a plan to boot.

The club has undoubtedly suffered against the backdrop of parachute payments and the artificial ‘doping’ of wage structures by ambitious owners scrapping and scrabbling to get in the top six to have a stab at promotion to the big time. To be clear, if we had any sellable assets left and a similar vanity owner allured and driven by the riches of Premier League buck, we would be doing the same.

Evans's approach has been to seek quick fixes by employing those with promotion on their CV, which has ultimately fallen short as a strategy. The question remains as to whether there is now a coherent short, medium- and long-term plan in place to ensure that this really is rock bottom, or whether we will continue this slide whilst expectations are managed further downwards by a hierarchy retreating back into their shells and scuttling off into silent anonymity again.

We should, in my opinion, be looking at clubs like Brentford and Preston for inspiration - both have teams with saleable assets based on strong recruitment and shrewd judgement with their managers who fit into a rounded structure and can be replaced on a like-for-like basis.

Whilst Brentford do not have an academy, they do have a process that they believe in and has generated success on competitive but not eye-watering budgets. It seems then that we must decide on what model we would like to follow and try to back it completely even in adversity. This was perhaps the curiousness of the Hurst appointment as the antithesis of McCarthy - why bring him in and let him tear up the squad if only to abandon it 14 games into the season? That is perhaps for another day.

In fairness to Evans, he has committed to the category two academy which has started to show signs of promise in the 18s and 23s last season and may yet form a credible direction of travel for the club.

A strategy of homegrown youth which, whilst admirable, must be complemented with shrewd recruitment, and is something that will certainly energise fans, even we have to stomach the occasional dispiriting sight of an exceptional academy prospect sold before we are even exposed to them at first team level.

An academy-first approach is not likely to be an immediately fruitful strategy and will no doubt have its detractors from within our fanbase should results suffer. It will require experienced hands and an assimilation of both a management structure that is prepared to stake its success on it, and a lot of patience, but the rewards are potentially much more satisfying and will be enjoyed by all.

Let us not forget, it was a strategy derived by David Sheepshanks following the mess of the 1994/95 campaign that saw persistence after four years of heartache rewarded under the twin towers in May 2000.

The club had balanced astute transfer business over the years with academy products led by a management team with blue in their blood and it culminated in one of the greatest days in my life, watching Matt Holland lead the team up the famous steps to collect the trophy - a sense of pride and connection with a team that has yet to be bettered. since.

Of course, there are many variables to success and luck/injuries are certainly a couple but it seems to me that identity and a long-term strategy is at the heart of what we need as a club right now. Who knows, Lambert could really be on to something. ITID




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monty_radio added 17:51 - May 28
Given a fair and following wind, Lambert probably has enough in his tank to take this current squad back up. But, while O'Neill seems willing and adaptable, and Evans face and voice are better known, none of this adds up to the root-and-branch restructuring that you (and Hurst) call for.

Lambert, while earnest and committed, is the old style of manager, and the club is largely still the old style of club. A large dose of good fortune might well be an entrance into better things which filter down to the way that the club operates. Or not.

When you witness the army of people that the Top Six employ, and the wages they command, you see that we haven't yet got started on the route to a modern structure. Yet, given Town's natural status and reach perhaps these things are but a pipe-dream anyway.
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atty added 21:21 - May 28
What makes you think McCarthy could have had another solid season. We finished 16th, our lowest position for over 60 years. He would have lost Waghorn, Garner, maybe not Diaz, but probably Webster. Quality of loanees up reducing every season. Would have been on a hiding to nothing without major investment. We did him a favour not renewing his contract.
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Moggasknockdown added 21:52 - May 28
Perhaps. I can’t dispute the timing being right, and I was certainly in the camp for change. I guess it is pointless wondering, but I am not sure he would have tolerated all of the departures- however the point really is that until we apply a more effective structure to the management of the club and become less reliant on an individual at the top of it, any success will always be limited and short lived due to the lack of funds Evans is willing to commit (compared to similar sized clubs in the championship). Lambert could well have enough, which would be fantastic in the short term but You cannot be one bad appointment away from relegation and a complete rebuild, and have a chance to compete at the level we want to. The gap financially between L1 & champ is large enough, and will surely get greater with the disparity of TV revenue and general income.
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RegencyBlue added 07:37 - May 29
Lambert has worked wonders with the clubs PR but whoever our manager is becomes almost irrelevant whilst Evans remains the owner!

He has brought us Division 3 football for the first time in over 60 years and still doesn’t seem to get what the problem is, namely him. I don’t see any sign he intends to change his modus operandi in any meaningful way so whilst I hope I’m wrong I fear the relentless decline will continue.
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Facefacts added 09:50 - May 29
Hopefully the recruitment will be good this summer. Two or three new players will probably be brought in. Nothing can be done about bringing in a new owner with a much higher level of investment in player recruitment and wages. Eg. if Ellis Harrison is sold because another club will pay a fee for him, and Paul Lambert doesn't really rate him, and he brings in a replacement, eg. the Tranmere striker - that change must bring goals or there was no point letting Harrison go. We've been there before, suddenly players who leave us stay injury free and score bagfuls of goals, and this would be for a League One rival. This is the transfer market pool we are swimming in now. The decline is there for all to see, but there's nothing that can be done about it. Ok to praise Mick McCarthy for being a solid Championship mid table manager, but look at the players now that he didn't go out of his way to manage well: Jack Marriott was told to find another club, but look at him now, his finishing is Premier League quality, the dink over the keeper in the Play Off Semi Final was fabulous. The goal in the Final was great, quick feet, too. I wish someone in the Irish press would ask Mick about how the hell he didn't develop Jack Marriott and get £20M - £30M for him, instead of giving him another 'open goal' question to criticize ITFC supporters. Kieffer Moore (who looked really poor even to my eyes) and Tyrone Mings were managed ok because we got good money for them. The further you slide, the better you have to manage your squad, and only let players go if they can command a fee. Look at Blackpool holding on to Tilt last summer. We need to get more streetwise in the transfer market, and no longer be a soft touch. I actually think Paul Lambert is pretty similar to Mick McCarthy in that he will only give a player one chance. If he lets the manager down, that's it. You're left to rot. It's the school of Sir Alex Ferguson. For Janoi Donacien, the 'one chance' must have been at Aston Villa, as he's been given no chance at all here. For me, that's the main worry about Paul Lambert. Forget the PR, what's he actually like at getting the absolute best out of the players he has? Some of these young players have to be given second, third, fourth chances to make mistakes and learn from them.
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Moggasknockdown added 11:49 - May 29
That's a really fair point on giving younger players chances to learn (I think all-round patience is key). My point is really that the manager should be part of a functioning structure without the autonomy that previous incumbents have enjoyed. It is a concern that many players leave ITFC and flourish. Perhaps it is purely circumstantial- i.e. Marriot may have had more game time if he had been around the season following the playoffs. Similarly Matt Clarke would have been behind Berra and Smith as LF CB, and was a make-weight in the Webster deal. Totally agree with the Kieffer Moore observation. Didn't look like a functioning athlete when I watched him and it is easy to have 20:20 vision with hindsight now he is banging in the goals. Let's hope that Lambert can spot a player too, and hope that these types of players will now flourish with us, rather than elsewhere as they will have to be given opportunities in lieu of any investment from Evans.
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BlueandTruesince82 added 15:23 - Jun 1
I think Evans gets a rough ride on the involvement front. I agree the structure needs change, as football has developed the way the club has been run hasn't and a buffer of DOF or similar is v much needed. On the other handI sense Evans has always been available to managers even if that hasn't been face to face and his view has always been let the football men make the football decisions. Mick, PJ and now Lambert all allude to having a good relationship with him so I would put Hursts comments down to sour grapes, disappointment and perhaps not having the ability to to operate in that climate.

Modern managers do need more support though, running even just the football side of the club is a far bigger task than it once was and the double act of manager and AM can't be expected to shoulder all of that. Advise, yed, identify targets, set a value (opinion), all of that but they need someone to bounce ideas off, someone to play devils advocate and challenge thinking. A manager of course has to accept that though and Mick wouldnt countenance such a thing ever.

The club needed a kick up the arse in many respects and maybe this is it but I fear a few seasons down here and worry we could be another Coventry.
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