Paul Newman: Time is running out for Keane to stop Ipswich's decline
The Football League Column: 'No players have to be sold. The owner takes a long-term view of such matters'
Monday 13 December 2010
Ipswich Town have lost six Championship matches in succession and lie 18th in the table. They recently drew the lowest League attendance at Portman Road for 11 seasons and have made losses of £12.67m and £14.18m in the last two financial years.
At most other clubs it would be time to batten down the hatches, but Simon Clegg, their chief executive since April last year, expects Marcus Evans, Ipswich's owner and the man sustaining those losses, to sanction further forays into the transfer market next month. "Every transfer window that I've gone into since I've been here – that's the last three – the owner has made additional funds available to strengthen the squad," Clegg said. "I don't see any difference going into the next window."
Will Roy Keane still be in charge when the window opens or will he have been thrown out of the door by then? "I would like to see it out, but that is out of my hands," the manager admitted after Saturday's 1-0 defeat away to Preston North End, the Championship's bottom club. "Don't ask me questions about things I have no control over. Nine defeats in 11 is not acceptable. The run we are on is not acceptable. I have been in football since I was nine years of age and this is just not good enough. It is poor at any level, in any league, in any country."
Ipswich's owner, who took over in December 2007, is a wealthy businessman. His company, the Marcus Evans Group, employs more than 3,000 people and has a wide range of interests, from providing corporate hospitality at sports events to making films, representing Hollywood stars and organising conferences.
Evans was reported to have already spent £12m on players when he appointed Keane in April last year, with Ipswich ninth in the table. In Keane's first full season his team took 15 matches to register their first win, although steady improvement thereafter saw them finish 14th. His 69 League matches in charge have produced just 21 victories. Since beating Sheffield United last month they have lost to Derby, Barnsley, Hull, Norwich, Swansea and now Preston.
The club are running at a loss of more than £5m a year, without counting the additional resources made available to strengthen the squad. Clegg insisted that Evans' commitment remained strong, although he said the owner "will obviously be looking to recover some of those costs when we reach the Premier League".
Next month will provide some windfalls – Ipswich play Arsenal over two legs in the Carling Cup semi-finals and travel to Chelsea in the third round of the FA Cup – but the drop in League attendances is a concern. Gates never fell below 19,000 last season, but the last three have all failed to reach that figure, with the 16,978 crowd against Swansea nine days ago the club's worst in the League since 1999. While many would regard Ipswich's attendances as healthy given their form and the current economic (not to mention meteorological) climate, the cash flow from match-by-match sales has clearly slowed given that there are 14,264 season ticket holders.
What effect will the fall in crowds have on the club? "It means that my owner will be required to put his hand even deeper into his pocket to support the activities of the club," Clegg said. Was there any danger of players having to be sold? "Absolutely not. That's not the basis on which we're operating this club. I have a very generous and supportive owner and he takes a long-term view of such matters."
Clegg added: "The No 1 thing that will bring crowds back into Portman Road is winning matches. The entire business model revolves around what you're doing on the pitch. When you're doing well everything is buoyant: conference and banqueting sales are up, matchday ticket sales are up, season ticket sales, shop sales, everything is up. And when you're doing less well then that has an impact across all aspects of the business."
Keane admitted his team now face a relegation battle but stressed he was up for the fight. "You wouldn't believe how much this is hurting," he said. "I am a proud man and I don't like getting beaten. I am still absolutely determined to turn it round."
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