All change for Ipswich

NO club better illustrates football's current cash crisis than Ipswich Town.They are not alone – every club is suffering – but no other outfit can match the amazing turnaround in players at Portman Road.

By Mel Henderson

NO club better illustrates football's current cash crisis than Ipswich Town.

They are not alone – every club is suffering – but no other outfit can match the amazing turnaround in players at Portman Road.

Take a look at this squad picture, taken less than a year ago, and you will find that more than half the 30 players on parade have either departed or been told they have no future at the club.

Thirteen have said their farewells, while a further five have all been offered free transfers in the hope that they will move elsewhere and help to slash the annual wage bill.

There has also been a change of manager, with George Burley axed, while his assistant, Dale Roberts, tragically passed away earlier this year.

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Don't forget, too, that the Portman Road exodus was already under way before the Town staff posed at their annual photo-call.

Titus Bramble fetched a £5million fee from Newcastle, while Gary Croft, Ashley Nicholls and Alan Connell moved to Cardiff, Darlington and Bournemouth on frees, and veteran goalkeeper Mike Salmon quit the game.

Add in seven under-19 youngsters who were also shown the door and it means an incredible 25 players have left in the last 12 months.

Ipswich have had little choice, the cash crisis biting so hard that the club plunged into administration in February and only emerged at the end of May.

The need to introduce fresh funds, while at the same time reducing an annual wage bill that had spiralled beyond the £24m mark, created a whole new set of problems. Town found themselves hamstrung by a depressed buyers' market, with values plunging lower than Jordan's neckline.

Okay, we all know Ipswich were trying it on - and I don't blame them -when they placed a £10m price tag on skipper Matt Holland this time last year.

But the £4m Aston Villa were ready to hand over in August last year, until the player himself scuppered the deal, seemed a realistic valuation.

Look no further for proof of a rapidly declining market than Holland's recent £750,000 departure to Charlton - that's £50,000 less than Town paid Bournemouth for him six years ago.

Not that selling players on the cheap is anything new in this neck of the woods, of course.

In March of this year Ipswich had to come clean about the twin sales of Darren Ambrose and Hermann Hreidarsson, to Newcastle and Charlton respectively, for what seemed a giveaway £1.8m.

What supporters had failed to appreciate, until chairman David Sheepshanks spelt out the stark reality of the situation, was that Ipswich's very existence was under threat at the time.

But for being able to bank the cash for Ambrose and Hreidarsson - Ipswich were viewed as a club in distress and therefore not restricted by normal transfer deadlines - the club would not have been able to pay its way through to the end of the season.

Town have been hit harder than most, although some would say that many of their problems were self-inflicted and they were not merely victims of the transfer market crash.

But consider, purely on its financial merits, this week's move by David Beckham from Manchester United to Real Madrid.

If any player was going to fetch top dollar, surely it was the England captain and one of the most instantly recognisable sporting icons in the world.

However, Beckham's £25m price tag is £5m less than United happily handed over to Leeds for defender Rio Ferdinand 11 months ago.

His £30m valuation was the going rate at the time and if the Old Trafford powers-that-be decided to cash in now they would be looking at a loss of more than 50 per cent on their significant investment.

The Beckham transfer highlights the slump in player values. This time last year, based on the money forked out for Ferdinand, the Spain-bound ace would have been rated in the £50m bracket.

It is all relative and helps to explain why Ipswich had no alternative but to accept £750,000 for Holland, bearing in mind their reluctance to pay him £2 million over the next two seasons in accordance with the terms of his contract.

The mass exodus from Portman Road, dating back to Bramble's move less than a year ago, has swelled the club coffers by almost £10m.

That figure would have been higher but for the £1m handed over to Finidi George just to send him on his way recently.

Maybe Town appear to have been over-generous, but the bill would have been twice as high had the Nigerian remained on the payroll for the final two years of his lucrative contract.

They face a similar dilemma over record signing Matteo Sereni, the Italian goalkeeper who is at loggerheads with the club over his immediate future.

"Report back for pre-season training on July 2," demand the club, while their record signing insists he is staying put in his homeland.

Understandably, having paid £5m for Sereni in 2001, Ipswich are keen to recoup a chunk of their investment and unwilling to grant him a free transfer.

But other clubs' reluctance to pay a fee, combined with Sereni's £20,000-a-week wages, could ultimately force their hand.

We have reached the stage in football where multi-million pound transfer fees are going to be the exception, rather than the norm.

Players are far more likely to see out their contracts then move elsewhere, although exceptional talent will always be in demand by those who can afford to spend big.

Ipswich boss Joe Royle's challenge - and he only narrowly failed in the most demanding of circumstances last season - is to win promotion on the cheap.

Starved of funds to invest in new talent, and perhaps far more likely to be saying farewell to at least one more senior star before the big kick-off in August, he will have his own ideas of how to achieve that goal.

I expect him to work the loan system to Town's advantage, seeking out Premiership talent to supplement his thin-on-the-ground squad.

That is one sure way of avoiding the trap into which Ipswich fell in a big way when, buoyed by finishing fifth in the Premiership two years ago, they splashed out big money and committed themselves to long-term contracts which proved unsustainable following relegation.

The club is still paying for its 2001 spending spree, when £15m was lavished on players whose value has depreciated rapidly since then.

It doesn't matter whether Ipswich over-indulged themselves, or if they are merely victims of football's changing climate, they are definitely counting the cost.

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