What went wrong?

IT gives me no pleasure to pen George Burley's managerial obituary.But, as I have written countless times on the subject, when you are in the results business – and you are not delivering – there can only be one outcome.

By Mel Henderson

IT gives me no pleasure to pen George Burley's managerial obituary.

But, as I have written countless times on the subject, when you are in the results business – and you are not delivering – there can only be one outcome.

Football is a cut-throat business and, while Ipswich are not renowned for sacking managers, they had obviously reached the point where they had lost faith in Burley.

Rumours of his demise gathered pace in recent weeks, as Town lurched from one disastrous league result to another.

It seemed the last-gasp win over Wimbledon last weekend might represent an upturn in fortune and trigger a turning point in the season.

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But instead Ipswich were dumped 3-0 at Blundell Park on Tuesday by a Grimsby team who had mustered just one goal, and point, from their previous five home games.

That humiliating defeat was the last throw of the dice for Burley, who was told last night that his time was up but still took part in his regular weekly tennis session with the same group of friends.

I suspect the case against him had been mounting for some time, but one win in eight games is a sad statistic that probably says it all.

Not that the 46-year-old Scot was without support, with the pro-Burley brigade feeling it was still too early in the campaign for the axe to fall.

But the anti-Burley brigade had a ready-made argument – the case against him, in their view, centred on the club's spectacular fall from grace over the past two seasons.

It seems a long way off as we survey the current scene, but how can we forget that less than 18 months ago Ipswich finished fifth in the Premiership?

They did not just defy the bookmakers and other experts, they even confounded themselves by far exceeding their expectations as a newly-promoted club.

Burley was crowned Manager of the Year and given a lucrative, long-term contract that should at least guarantee he is laughing all the way to the bank.

He clearly believed he could steer Ipswich on to an even higher plane and, armed with unprecedented funds, he set about strengthening a squad already rich in talent and, more importantly, spirit.

In came foreign stars Matteo Sereni and Finidi George at a combined cost of £8 million and other reinforcements – Thomas Gaardsoe, Tommy Miller and Ulrich Le Pen – pushed the total well beyond the £10 million mark.

Andy Marshall and Pablo Counago also arrived as Richard Wright and James Scowcroft headed for the exit door.

Quite simply, the changes did not work. Money was wasted and Town's form slumped, to the point where relegation looked inevitable at the season's mid-way stage.

This was always going to be a season where the manager was on trial. It would not surprise me, in fact, if the board laid it on the line to Burley before a ball was even kicked in earnest.

Ipswich, in common with other relegated clubs, are reeling from a cash crisis that made some people think the manager was fireproof; that the club could not afford to part company because the compensation sum would be too great.

But Town have seen fit to take the plunge and Burley, the third longest-serving boss behind Alf Ramsey and Bobby Robson, becomes the eighth managerial casualty this season.

Burley would have celebrated eight years in charge in December, which meant that only Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and Crewe's Dario Gradi had been in their jobs for longer.

We all remember the incredible high of May 2000 and an unforgettable play-off final win over Barnsley at Wembley.

But that was not the only occasion to savour under Burley, with the following season and Town's subsequent return to Europe incredible achievements that many felt were beyond him.

In my view his transfer market record, at least his buys over the past two years or so, has contributed significantly to his downfall.

There is the ludicrous situation of Ipswich paying the wages of an international player to do nothing more than sit in the stand and watch.

Maybe Amir Karic trains on a daily basis, but he is an outcast at Portman Road, collecting an estimated £7,000 a week in return for doing next to nothing.

He will be playing for Slovenia against France this week, yet he cannot even win a place in the Ipswich reserve side.

His transfer fee was £800,000 and he was given a four-year contract, which I calculate as approximately £2 million down the drain.

That sum increases when you take into consideration the deals for Sereni, George and Le Pen, two of whom have already been discarded with loan moves back home.

As I wrote in a post-mortem following relegation last season, the estimated cost of these expensive mistakes must be close to £10 million, money that a club who have lavished cash on upgrading its stadium can ill afford to write off.

Not that Burley is entirely at fault, of course. The deals were sanctioned by the board, after all, and while they would argue that they were merely backing the manager's judgement, it could also be argued that they overstepped the mark.

Overall, however, Burley can walk away with his head held high. In times like this, when recent events can cloud your judgement, it is easy to forget the good times.

When he was appointed in December 1994 he had a massive salvage job on his hands, since Town were as good as relegated and the off-the-field picture was far from healthy.

In conjunction with the efforts of chairman David Sheepshanks, he brought about stability and four heartbreaking play-off attempts reinforced the view that he was the best man for the job.

That view was enhanced in the first season back in the Premiership, but Ipswich could not continue to surrender league points this season without something having to give.

It has been a miserable 2002 for the club and, reluctant as Sheepshanks will have been to make this decision, few supporters would dispute that it is the right one in the circumstances.

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