IT has been all change at Portman Road since boss Joe Royle arrived at the helm 22 months ago.And to illustrate the point, not one player who started Royle's first match in charge - against Slovan Liberec in the second round of the UEFA Cup on October 31, 2002 - has begun in a Coca-Cola Championship fixture this season.
By Elvin King
IT has been all change at Portman Road since boss Joe Royle arrived at the helm 22 months ago.
And to illustrate the point, not one player who started Royle's first match in charge - against Slovan Liberec in the second round of the UEFA Cup on October 31, 2002 - has begun in a Coca-Cola Championship fixture this season.
It has been a remarkable transformation brought about by the Blues' grave financial position rather than Royle's desire to bring in his own players.
An annual wage bill of around £20million during Town's relegation season from the Premiership in 2001/02 has now been cut to £5million.
Royle has been forced to blood the latest crop of talented youngsters from the famed Portman Road academy with three of his young guns, Darren Bent, Ian Westlake and Matt Richards, named in the England Under-21 squad to face Ukraine at Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium next Tuesday.
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Big-money stars have been replaced by free transfers and loanees, making Royle's job of lifting Ipswich back into the top flight a much stiffer task than he imagined.
“I came to Ipswich looking to lead the likes of Matt Holland, Jamie Clapham and Hermann Hreidarsson back into the Premiership,” said Royle. “But it has turned out to be much different.
“We have a new team now and they have all done great in the circumstances. They are a smashing bunch and we are looking to make a big impact on the promotion scene.”
The team Royle selected for the home match against Czech Republic side Liberec - after Tony Mowbray had briefly been in charge following previous manager George Burley's departure - was: Andy Marshall, Chris Makin, John McGreal, Wayne Brown, Hermann Hreidarsson, Darren Ambrose, Jim Magilton, Matt Holland, Jamie Clapham, Pablo Counago and Alun Armstrong.
Thomas Gaardsoe came on for McGreal, Finidi George for Ambrose and Darren Bent for Counago with Bent scoring the only goal of the game.
The unused substitutes were James Pullen, Tommy Miller, Jermaine Wright and Fabian Wilnis.
Of the 18 players in that squad only Magilton, Counago, Bent, Miller and Wilnis remain on the books at Portman Road.
“It normally takes much longer to transform a team, and we have been forced into achieving it much more quickly,” added Royle, who still does not know if he will be forced to part with more players.
His talented youngsters are most at threat if another season or two in their current league looks likely - with the fat cats from the Premiership waiting to pounce.
On the other hand, Royle is set to be given the go-ahead by his board to enter the market and bring in a full-time player or agree a season-long loan.
This is set to happen at the end of the month when the Premiership transfer window closes until the New Year. Over the next two weeks, Royle has the capacity to bring in a short-term loan in similar
fashion to the two-month deal he agreed with Wigan for Tony Dinning last weekend.
Meanwhile, Westlake has spoken of his excitement at earning an Under-21 call-up.
“Obviously I am delighted to be named in the squad, especially alongside Rico and Benty,” said the midfielder, who was set to make his 50th senior appearance for the Blues at Derby today.
“It's a testament to the hard work that the academy has put in to the development of young players at the club and also the coaching we have received at senior level here.”