Cottagers Confidential: Since Marcus Evans took over ownership, Ipswich Town have seemed to be content to just finish mid table year after year. Does the ownership group have any ambition of pushing the club to finish higher? And if not, how do the supporters feel about this?
Turnstile Blues: I'm not sure that anyone is "content," exactly. Under Paul Jewell, we were grateful not to be relegated and I think Mick McCarthy has done a great job to get us where we were last season. The owner, Marcus Evans - we're part of his global business, Marcus Evans Group - has stated quite explicitly that he wants ITFC back in the Premier League. To quote from the MEG website: " [ITFC] continue to mount a serious challenge for a return to the Premier League. With a highly recognized brand, a loyal fan base and a history of producing and attracting some of the game’s top players, Ipswich Town’s ambition to compete at the highest level never wavers. The long-term backing and commitment of ME ensures that anything – and everything – is possible for one of the football’s best-loved clubs"
That said, as a supporter, I don't recognize that strategy at all and I don't see that "backing and commitment" as being there, either on a short-term or long-term basis. Under the current and previous two managers (Keane, Jewell, McCarthy) there seems to have been a policy of giving the manager quite a lot of money in his first season and then he's been expected to spend very little in subsequent seasons, having to make do with free transfers and deal in the loan market. The result has been that quite a lot of money has been squandered on some superannuated players (like Ellington, Bowyer and Chopra) in those first seasons and then managers have had to sell some of our best young prospects (Rhodes, Wickham and Cresswell), theoretically in order to bring in funds to build up the squad. But there's no real evidence that the money recouped from those player sales is actually spent on buying new players (all McCarthy's acquisitions this summer have been on frees, with the possible exception of goalkeeper, Bialkowski) or even on wages. FFP is often cited as the explanation for this, but there's been the same distinct pattern with all the managers since Evans took over.
What we do know is, that if there's a long-term strategy, it's not working very well. We failed to achieve Category 1 status for our academy - something dear to the hearts of most Town fans - and the infrastructure of the club appears to be deteriorating.
Fans are, as always, divided. Many understandably just want promotion at any price, hoping that the vast revenue from being in the PL (and with parachute payments if we become a yo-yo club) will get us out of our current financial predicament. We have a debt of around £82m - almost all owed to Marcus Evans himself. Others, like me, don't think there's a sustainable plan and worry about what will happen when the owner inevitably decides to move on.
CC: Mick McCarthy is a manager most Fulham fans are familiar with due to his various stints in the Premier League. He has a reputation of being good enough to win in the Championship but not good enough for the Premier League. Is this a fare assessment and what is your opinion of how he's done at the job so far?
TB: McCarthy's done really well at Portman Road. We finished 9th last season even though our top goal scorer, David McGoldrick, was injured half-way through. In some ways, we over-achieved, and that was mostly, I think, down to Mick and his assistant, Terry Connor.
I don't think any failure to succeed at the highest level is McCarthy's fault. He has many of the best qualities to be a top manager. The financial inequities in football now make it an almost impossible task to sustain any achievement in the PL. I've no doubt, though, that with the right support, he could do at least as well as a Steve Bruce or a Mark Hughes.
McCarthy & Connor are rightly popular at ITFC and have done a fantastic job with very little to work with, either in terms of the squad that they inherited or receiving substantial financial backing but it's hard to see how we're going to take that next step up. It will take a magician to get us promoted when we're competing with clubs who are willing and able to spend millions on players, as we have seen with QPR, Hull City and Leicester in the last two seasons. Mick has already declared that he isn't a magician. I'm hoping he's wrong.
CC: As with every season, there are a lot of unknowns going into this Championship campaign. Which three teams do you have pegged to go up this season? Which three to go down? Where do you expect Ipswich to finish?
TB: This is such a tough question because the use of loanees is so common now that teams' performances can change dramatically during the season. The three clubs that have come down have a massive financial advantage over the rest of us and I think two out of the three may well go back up. Norwich City are, of course, the exception.
However, I think that Wolves, Reading and Derby all have canny managers and look as if they could do well, if they have the luck and so I'll make those my 3 teams to go up with Sheffield Wednesday as the dark horse.
I hate predicting relegation, but unless Blackpool sort their off-field problems out, they must be candidates, and I'm not sure Charlton or Rotherham are going to do well enough to stay up but it's too early to tell.
I'm going for Ipswich to finish between 7th and 10th this season. If we don't have any bad luck with injuries, we may do better than last season, but I'm afraid that it's mid-table mediocrity for us again.
CC: Finally, could predict the lineup and name a player or two Fulham supporters to keep an eye on? Do you have a prediction for the outcome?
TB: Lineup (what I think it'll be, not what I'd like): Gerken (GK), Parr, Smith (if fit), Berra, Chambers, Tabb, Wordsworth, Hyam, Anderson, Murphy, Bajner
Players to watch out for: McGoldrick, unfortunately he's not fit so won't start, although he will hopefully be on the bench. I like what I've seen of Henshall in pre-season, although McCarthy hasn't apparently - he didn't play well in the friendly against Leyton Orient last week. Hopefully, he'll be a sub. New boy, Bajner is an unknown quantity but he appears to know where the net is and is also worth looking out for as he has one of the worst goal celebrations we've seen for ages.
Score: 1-0 but that's probably the triumph of new season optimism over reality.