Burley tips Town for top two finish
THE facts and figures roll off George Burley's tongue like bullets from a sniper's rifle, each intended to make its mark.He arrived at Portman Road when he was 15, spent 14 years as a player, clocked up 500 first team games, and spent seven and a half years as manager.
By Mel Henderson
THE facts and figures roll off George Burley's tongue like bullets from a sniper's rifle, each intended to make its mark.
He arrived at Portman Road when he was 15, spent 14 years as a player, clocked up 500 first team games, and spent seven and a half years as manager.
So it is no surprise to hear Burley, who returns today as manager of Derby County, admit: "Ipswich are a club who will always be in my heart."
And the 47-year-old former boss, who departed in October last year, makes no secret of the fact that he expects them to be playing in the Premiership next season.
This is no attempt to play mind games in the style of Sir Alex Ferguson, but the considered view of someone who refuses to shirk the question.
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"I would make West Bromwich Albion and Ipswich my favourites for the top two positions," said Burley in matter-of-fact fashion, with not even a hint of bitterness.
"They are a very good team, an excellent footballing side, and when you look at who was on the bench at Nottingham the other night you get an idea of their squad strength.
"I even had Martijn Reuser sitting behind me in the stand at the City Ground and when he can't even get into the 16 it tells you a lot."
It is only just over two and a half years ago that Burley was crowned Manager of the Year after an unforgettable 2000-2001 campaign in which he exceeded all expectations by steering newly-promoted Ipswich to fifth place in the Premiership.
So how will he feel as he makes the long walk along the touchline, bypassing the technical area that he frequented as Town boss and continuing, instead, to the unfamiliar territory of the visitors' dug-out?
Burley said: "Going back will be sentimental for me, but I have to try to block all these thoughts out of my mind and concentrate on trying to get a result for Derby.
"Ipswich is still a big part of my life. The family still live there and I go back every Saturday night.
"After so many years at the club as a player and manager, there is a big place in my heart for Ipswich and that won't change. It will always be in my thoughts."
Burley sees today's game as important for both clubs - but for very different reasons.
He added: "While Ipswich need points towards their promotion target, we are looking no further than ensuring we stay in the First Division.
"That has been the target from day one. I knew I had to do a rebuilding job with free transfer signings and loan players.
"In most of our games this season we have fielded two 16-year-olds and I would think we must be the youngest team in the First Division.
"It is different to when I became Ipswich manager. I think the club had almost 50 professionals then, so while it was a rebuilding job the circumstances were not the same."
The Rams and Ipswich are both unbeaten in four-game runs that started when the pair met as recently as November 8 at Pride Park.
That one ended all square at 2-2 and both teams have now banked eight points from a possible 12, Derby also defeating Burnley and Wimbledon at home either side of a goalless stalemate at Millwall.
And there's another glaring similarity - both have had to take the heavy blow of relegation on the chin and reluctantly part company with a string of big-name players in order to trim huge running costs.
Derby have shown the door to 14 senior players in the past year, although Burley has only been in charge for the past five months in addition to a temporary stint towards the end of last season when he stabilised things.
He continued: "I am putting down roots. We have no money to go out and bring in new faces, but the players, staff and fans are all very positive. They realise the situation and have been very supportive.
"There are a lot of encouraging signs. This is a tight, tough league, and there is not that much difference between many of the clubs at this level.
"The Derby public have given me full backing, which I appreciate, and after just five months in the job there is still a long way to go."