215 Tractor trouble
Having long been regarded as the quintessential well-run "family" club, the recent announcement regarding Ipswich Town going into "temporary (?)" administration was one that was indicative of the seemingly insurmountable financial chasm between the Premiership and the Nationwide leagues.
Suddenly, a club renowned for being more financial prudent than Gordon Brown, finds itself in debt to the tune of £45 million - largely as a result of plunging through the Premiership trapdoor last season.
In keeping with so many clubs who suffer the fate of Premiership relegation, Ipswich have been hit by the three usual suspects:
1. the loss of Premiership TV revenue from Sky
2. the collapse of ITV Digital
3. transfer fees that are falling faster than Ashley Cole.
Whereas a year ago, the club could rely not only on Rupert Murdoch's millions, but, if deemed necessary, the potential transfer value of the likes of Matt Holland, Hermann Hreidarsson, Marcus Bent and co. Now however, with the transfer market suddenly crashing back to something approaching realistic levels, the inflated figures of even a year ago are no longer being paid. In a further sign that the market is now very much a buyer's one, Newcastle United recently made a derisory offer of a mere £3 miilion for Ipswich youngsters Darren Ambrose, Darren Bent and Matthew Bloomfield. Generous though the offer was, it was turned down. However, the mere fact that it was made at all was a further indication of the new realism facing clubs, especially those in need of a cash injection.
Many of Ipswich's current money worries relate to their transfer policy at the beginning of the 2001-2 campaign, when fresh from finishing 5th in the Premiership the previous season, they invested heavily in new players in a misguided attempt at establishing themselves in the top flight. In came Matteo Sereni from Sampdoria for £4.5 million, Finidi George from Mallorca for £3 million and Marcus Bent for a similar fee from Blackburn Rovers.
All three have been less than shrewd investments. Sereni, after initially impressing, now finds himself on a season-loan at Brescia. George has been about as useful to Ipswich as a return ticket for a Palestinian suicide bus-bomber. Bent seems to be perpetually on the verge of moving to pastures new, having failed to secure a regular starting role.
Given the current financial predicament, the sacking of George Burley did seem somewhat ill-timed. Despite a few questionable forays into the transfer market (Ulrich Le Pen and Amir Karic), he certainly left a stronger team than that which he had inherited. The fact that he still had three and a half years left on his contract made his dismissal all the more bewildering, as the club are hardly in an ideal position to pay the remainder off.
Given the circumstances, Burley's successor, Joe Royle has made a decent enough start to his stint in the Portman Road dug-out. That said, given the players at his disposal, anything other than an end-of-season play-off spot will still be seen as failure. If the club fail in their attempt at an immediate return to the Premiership, it would seem almost inevitable that there will be a major summer clear-out, with the Bents, Ambrose, Holland and Hreidarsson all likely to move on. Should such a scenario ensue, it could be a while before Suffolk sees top-flight football again.