Five Stars: Ipswich Town's best players in the 21st century
You would think the task of choosing your team’s best five players of the last decade or so would be relatively easy. For some clubs, success has been in short supply for the majority of that time. One such example is Ipswich Town, whose selection is provided by Damon Threadgold from The Real FA Cup.
The main problem with trying to identify the best five Ipswich players in the last ten years is that the last ten years have included about six or seven of the worst years I can remember as an Ipswich fan. Together with that, there’s been five different managers – meaning players have come and gone, usually fleetingly and at the whim of equally disposable managers of other flighty teams.
Because of this transience, the following five players will most probably not feature in the top 5 of many other Ipswich fans. With the possible exception of one player…
The Daily Mail, just two years ago, said FIFA’s world player of the year line up included “the best players in the world (and Xavi)”. You’ll find a minority of Ipswich fans who have the same naive view about Magilton, despite him being Burley’s own tiki taka mechanism. Let’s get this straight, reader, I AM NOT COMPARING JIM MAGILTON TO XAVI in any other way than him being the fulcrum of the side.
A spiky, opinionated prompter, ‘Magic’ often berated team mates, often wound up the opposition and, crime of crimes, frequently passed sideways because that was where possession could be retained or a route around the obstacle found. It is true that he shied away from Hollywood balls more often than he might but that was the main reason Ipswich often dominated teams, because we didn’t give the ball away. You know, like that Barcelona and Arsenal try to do? Keep it, frustrate the opposition, build up pressure. Oh – and he also scored a hat-trick in a play-off semi final after winding up Mick Whitlow into getting sent off.
In truth, Ipswich only ever got to see Reuser’s brilliance in Hitchcockian then terrier-like cameos. In his early days at Town, Reuser was often injured or not trusted to fulfil his more defensive duties but, when off the leash, either one of his feet could dash any opposition. He didn’t get a Dutch cap for no reason (before getting badly injured and never getting another).
Latterly, he tried to add an industrious dimension by scuttling around like David Batty but this unnatural act only really succeeded in draining more swiftly the little left in his tank. He still had it though. Any freekick given within 30 yards and Reuser was likely to be deadly.
Giovanni Dos Santos
As if to illustrate my opening gambit about fleeting appearances at the stadium formerly known as Fortress Portman Road, Giovanni turns up in the five despite just four goals and eight appearances with the Suffolk Punch on his chest. When you terrorise, score, assist and then hammer the penultimate nail into Norwich’s Championship coffin, you’ll not be forgotten in Suffolk.
Admittedly, it was Championship defences that this ex-Barca and recent World Cup player was terrorising but he’s the kind of player who can actually justify £30 match tickets. For that brief month, it was thrilling watching Ipswich pick up the ball in midfield. There was an air of expectancy every time he got the ball, it harked back to better times and, even though I didn’t even witness much of it live, the lift it gave the club was startling.
The last person to score a Premier League goal for Ipswich? As Ipswich bowed out of the top flight with a whimper, along with Marcus Stewart’s legs, the new boy in Town was smashing his big league cherry. As much as the exotic import excites, home-grown-youngsters-made-good are somewhat more fluffy and rewarding. Pace, directness and a surprising eye for goal coming in from the corner of the box, Darren was never the most gifted.
But his attributes complemented the power of Marcus Bent and the guile of Pablo Counago in 2002/3 when they bagged 53 goals between them. Two years later Ipswich’s attacks were less fluid and more direct but he and Shefki Kuqi were always followed forward by Tommy Miller from midfield – those three managed 55 goals. Often it may not have been pretty but Ipswich were at least never dull with Bent in the side. Another promotion fail meant Bent left for the Premier League. We knew we’d not be back there with him for a while but we didn’t expect him to do quite so well.
The Fifth Beatle is tricky to choose. Pablo Counago’s role in that first season forward line after relegation was beautiful to watch. He’s had two or three good seasons since but was also distinctly lost in some of the teams the last three managers have put together. Mark Noble, Neil Alexander, Sylvain Legwinski, Ivan Campo, and Sixto Peralta all provided other cameos of distinction and brief joy. Darren Ambrose burned so brightly but for not much longer, Matt Holland ran, Hreidarsson gave everything, Shefki chased crisp packets and De Vos and Gareth McAuley provided the wall at separate times during the decade. But, no, for me, Pete Best has to be…
I’m not a huge fan of the tribal aggression that goes with local derbies, I’m more from the shouty and facetious hip hop battles school of rivalry but Fab really didn’t much like Norwich and that was always quite endearing. He was also quite good but he’s here partly because he’s the one player who smiled with us fans in the decade’s few good times, mourned with us through the latter mire – and he still turns up on the terraces every now and again. Brilliant.
He was prone to rushes of blood to the head but he was quick, good going forward, not a bad crosser and, not always being the best positionally, had a mean line in last ditch tackles. When they worked he looked brilliant coming out of defence with the ball at his feet and his opponent on the floor. When they didn’t, which was undoubtedly too often, it usually resulted in a card and a direct shot at the keeper from a white spot 12 yards out. Given the Dutchman’s flamboyance and the number of good penalty savers Ipswich have had down the years, I put his lunges down to very elaborate showboating.
So, there you go, five diverse talents linked by blue and white and a very large horse. It’s just a shame you can’t package the best bits of all them and stick them into a team with five unfussy reliables. If we’d had that over the last 10 years, Ipswich might not still be treading water in the Championship in a desperate attempt to emulate the seemingly pointless existence of Coventry City.