Paul Jewell and the Further Decline of Ipswich Town
“We want players here who are going to be here for the long term. Players who buy houses here, who settle in the area. It’s a brilliant club, great supporters but we want players to come here to be part of that community rather than being ships in the night having a last pay day at Ipswich… we want to build for the future rather than do a quick fix because I think it’s going to be a long-term job.” — Paul Jewell, 17th August 2012
“Listen, to go longer-term, sometimes you have to go short-term.” — Paul Jewell, 19th October 2012
And with that quote, the transformation of Paul Jewell into David Brent was complete. Jewell was speaking after bringing the number of loanees at Portman Road to a staggering 8 (EIGHT). Like Brent, Jewell’s inglorious tenure at Portman Road has seen him exposed as a man out of step with the modern world, showing increasing levels of crass desperation in his efforts to be liked, while his empire crumbles around him.
“You will never work in a place like this again. This is brilliant – fact. And you will never have another boss like me. Someone who’s basically a chilled-out entertainer”
Inheriting his office from Roy Keane in January 2011, it wasn’t hard for Jewell to instantly cut a more avuncular figure than his predecessor, in his dealings with players, supporters and the media. At his introductory press conference, there was palpable relief amongst the assembled hacks at facing the cheery moon-faced Scouser, always ready with a quip, in contrast to the death stares that had frequently been cast across the table during the Keane era.
But whilst Keane’s overly disciplinarian approach had evidently failed to galvanise his squad in the way that he hoped it would, over time it became clear that Jewell’s approach was markedly different. The fear that Keane instilled in his players seemed to stifle them on the pitch: under Jewell, levels of motivation and engagement slid steadily away, to the point where whichever collection of half-fit strangers he cobbled together for his last few games in charge simply wandered around the pitch looking confused.
As football managers go, Jewell seemed to be relatively well-liked by his players, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he was respected. Like a schoolteacher who tries that little bit too hard to be popular, then finds that he can’t control his class, Jewell’s attempts to instil sporting or tactical discipline came across as bizarre, almost petulant on occasions. “I’m not talking to him”, he announced to the press after Lee Martin had been sent off in last season’s jaw-dropping 7-1 reverse at Peterborough. Quite how this snarky public reprimand was supposed to motivate the ex-Manchester United man is unclear.
Some of Jewell’s signings seemed to suggest that personal discipline wasn’t the quality he most prized in his recruits. Sure enough, Jimmy Bullard and Michael Chopra took an unorthodox approach to a “team bonding” session last March when they left early to take an impromptu mini-break in Newcastle, returning late for training two days later. Towards the end of last season, Jewell announced that he wanted a fitter squad and would be bringing them back early for pre-season training. No more Mr Nice Guy! Ah but hang on — fast forward a couple of months into the summer and Bullard is shooting the breeze with Danny Baker on 5 Live. “Our manager Paul Jewell wanted to bring us back early for training”, he mentions, sounding slightly embarrassed. “That didn’t go down too well with the lads”. And sure enough, the plan has been amended: players are given “individual fitness plans” to work on, rather than being asked to report back early as Jewell had previously indicated. Credibility fading rapidly.
“The thing is though, no-one’s dispensable in my book, because we’re like one big organism, one big animal. The guys upstairs on the phones, they’re like the mouth. The guys down here, the hands”
There was a brief period under Jewell, around September 2011, when Town started to play some enjoyably expansive football, using a narrow midfield diamond formation. It lasted for a few games but was somewhat illusory: ripped apart by the first team who realised that all they had to do to stifle it was to get their full-backs bombing forward into the space on the wings. Like a man with good taste in hip-hop, Jewell had no Plan B. He’d announced himself as a 4-4-2 advocate on arrival at the club, and spent his tenure tinkering with formations and systems to no discernibly positive effect. Fans can sometimes get overly dogmatic about styles of play, but ask any Ipswich fan to describe the team’s style of play under Jewell and you’ll likely be met with a shrug. It was never quite clear what he was aiming to achieve, or what personnel he was trying to assemble to achieve it.
I say “assemble”, but that would suggest that any of the squads that Jewell put together had some kind of cohesion to them. Of all the criticisms aimed at Jewell, perhaps the most consistent and damning was the constant short-termism of his thinking and actions. In the summer of 2011, flush with cash from the sale of Connor Wickham, Jewell went on a spending spree, bringing in 13 players on deals of varying lengths. It didn’t go well: very few of those signings are at the club now. By contrast, summer 2012 brought — we were told — a more long-term, constructive approach, as illustrated by the quote at the top of this article. There was, briefly, a sense of encouragement as Jewell seemed to be making more selective choices in the transfer market, such as goalkeeper Scott Loach. Fans began to think that Jewell might actually be thinking beyond the end of the current season.
It didn’t take long for that illusion to be shattered too. As the end of the transfer window approached, Town still lacked centre-half cover. As Jewell tried and failed to recruit someone to play alongside new signing Luke Chambers, fans were astonished as Damien Delaney — hardly Franz Beckenbauer but still a very capable centre-half at Championship level — was allowed to rip up his contract and leave “by mutual consent”. Having left Ipswich for nothing, Delaney is now a fixture in the Crystal Palace defence. Town, once again, scrabbled around the loan market and ended up with Danny Higginbotham, two years Delaney’s senior and — of course — only secured on a loan deal. What was that about long-term planning?
Town currently have eight loanees — nine if you count free agent Nigel Reo-Coker who has joined on a three-month contract. Richie Wellens huffs and puffs around, trying to get fit so that he can stake a claim for a place when he goes back to Leicester. Reo-Coker has made no secret of his desire to “get fit” at Ipswich and then look for a better contract offer when his deal is up. Meanwhile, tidy home-grown midfielder Luke Hyam — statistically the most successful player of Paul Jewell’s reign, in terms of points won while he’s been in the side — kicks his heels on the bench. Players like Hyam will only become the future of Ipswich Town if they can play some role in the present.
“Does a struggling salesman start turning up on a bicycle? No, he turns up in a newer car – perception, yeah? They got to trust me – I’m taking these guys into battle, yeah? And I’m doing my own stapling.”
One of those eight loan signings was Stephen Henderson, brought in from West Ham after Loach had made costly errors in a home game against Cardiff. “We just want to take Scott out of the firing line for a bit”, Jewell told the press. “I haven’t had a chat with him. We’ve brought someone else in to push him along”. Many fans were angered. Loach had made a far from perfect start to his Town career but was someone who supporters were prepared to get behind as he grew into the number 1 role: he had, after all, been given a 3-year contract just two months previously. That Jewell would cast him aside so quickly, in favour of another loanee, felt like a slap in the face for supporters who were desperate to see a team built that they could have an affinity with: not only that, but it seemed like a fairly damning self-indictment of the coaching capability that Jewell had assembled at Town. If the approach to players making errors is to instantly replace them with a quick-fix solution from another club, it doesn’t say much for what’s going on at the training ground in between games.
Back in August, before the influx of loanees, Lee Martin had spoken candidly about team spirit at the club. “There is a now a massive togetherness in the squad that I have not known since I joined three years ago”, he said. “I think because we have a smaller squad, it is naturally easier to get to know everyone. Before we had a lot of loan players who were probably playing for themselves rather than each other.” Of the team that started the 2-1 defeat at Hull recently, only three are contracted to Ipswich Town beyond the end of the current season. Martin isn’t one of them: his deal runs out next May. Should he leave for nothing next summer, he’ll be the latest saleable asset to have been allowed to drift away by a regime that doesn’t seem to understand why they need to be thinking beyond the end of the current campaign.
“You’re still thinking about the bad news, aren’t you?”
The Loach incident wasn’t Jewell’s only communications fail. His persona became tetchier with each passing week: he began to snipe at reporters and supporters, and his public criticism of players increasingly undignified. Managing a team on such a prolific losing run must make it a challenge to come up with original post-match soundbites, but Jewell vacillated wildly: on the one hand we were told that we should focus on the performance, not the result (“at this stage of the season”) — a week or so later the squad is being filled with panic buys “because we need results at this stage of the season”. Perhaps the worst misjudgement of all was to dismiss criticism from supporters “who don’t understand the game”. We might not know its inner workings but we know what endemic failure looks like, and for a long time it’s looked like the man in a diamond-pattern car coat who sits in the home dug-out at Portman Road.
Paul Jewell isn’t the cause of Ipswich Town’s problems, but he is a very prominent symptom. He’s a symptom of an administration that shows no regard for the need for a football club to have foundations as well as a fascia; a chief executive (Simon Clegg) whose every action and pronouncement further emphasises his lack of understanding of the bond between a club and its fans; an owner (Marcus Evans) who expects instant results and doesn’t understand why someone who once looked like a Successful Manager, and who was apparently recommended to Evans by his friends on the golf course, can’t magically make Ipswich look like a Successful Football Club. In that context, Jewell was little more than a facsimile of a manager: a composite Good Bloke and Experienced Pro who might as well have been a cardboard cut-out for all the strategic or tactical benefit he brought to the club. His successor will have the immediate priority of keeping Town in the Championship, but if he’s to have any chance of reversing Town’s seemingly unstoppable decline, he’ll need to be given a mandate to think beyond the end of the next accounting cycle.