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Page last updated at 16:56 GMT, Thursday, 23 April 2009 17:56 UK

Ipswich's bold ambition


Roy Keane news conference

By Saj Chowdhury

Just when you think the football season had wrung itself dry of surprises, up pops another.

Ipswich Town's appointment of Roy Keane as their new manager has come from leftfield, but for club owner Marcus Evans the arrival of one of football's most colourful and controversial figures is a clear indication that he has big plans for the Suffolk club.

Town fans have been waiting for Evans to signal his intentions for the Suffolk outfit since late 2007 when he bought an 87.5% share.

The publicity-shy businessman must be hoping that the former Manchester United player can turn Ipswich from Championship underachievers to Premier League material in much the same way he did Sunderland.

It is a bold and brave move, but a risky one.

The owner, whose company the Marcus Evans Group took on the club's £32m debt, prefers to plot his moves away from the spotlight.

League champions: 1961-62
Runners-up: 1980-81, 1981-82
FA Cup winners: 1978
Uefa Cup winners: 1981

Few know what Evans even looks like - he did not show at Keane's news conference - or how old he is, although he is believed to be in his 40s. He may have made many visits to Portman Road but does not sit in the directors' box.

He has so far done his talking through statements like the one on the club website which is littered with jargon such as "business portfolio" and presenting the club to an "international audience".

All that is a far cry from the days when the blue-blooded Cobbold family ruled Portman Road before former Etonian David Sheepshanks took the reins. It was an old boys, no-nonsense talking club. Evans' arrival marked the start of a revolution.

The owner will leave new chief executive Simon Clegg, who was the successful Team GB's chef de mission at the 2008 Olympics, to transmit his vision.

The thinking behind Clegg's appointment is that here is a man who is experienced with dealing with the media, big egos and has a good track record of sporting success having guided Team GB to a record medals haul in Beijing.

The former major in the parachute regiment also still holds some influence at the British Olympic Association, and some have suggested that may help an East Anglia bid to become more involved with London 2012.


It all sounds utopian for Ipswich. The problem is Clegg has never been a football man, while Keane breathes the game.

You only have to look at what happened with Sir Clive Woodward at Southampton to see how things could go wrong.

The England Rugby World Cup winning coach was appointed as Performance Director but never fostered a good working relationship with heart-on-sleeve manager Harry Redknapp.

Clegg and Keane will have to iron out any issues from the outset if the two are to help realise Evans' dreams.

Keane is, of course, something of a law unto himself. He comes to Portman Road having been in the wilderness since quitting his high-profile job at Sunderland last December.

Sunderland boss Ricky Sbragia welcomes Keane's return to football

During his 27-month stay he took the Black Cats into the Premier League at the first time of asking but left the club struggling in 18th.

Some say he was criticised by majority shareholder Ellis Short for spending £80m on players then leaving his new signings languishing in the reserves.

Reports at the time also suggested he fell out with some of the players, while he was also subjected to abuse from the fans in games earlier this season.

These factors may have contributed to his exit, but his volatility may be the most important factor in whether Ipswich escape the Championship next season.

Russell Osman, a member of Town's playing alumni, believes Keane's presence will benefit the club.

"We've been lacking a little bit of steel in the make-up of the side and Roy will try to add that," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"He might bring in a few players in the summer. Hopefully the club will be promoted next season."

That optimism has been missing for a small club in Suffolk that has achieved a lot in their history.

For many of the younger fans of the club, they have only known success through the stories told by their elders.

Ipswich won the league under Sir Alf Ramsey, while Sir Bobby Robson helped them to the FA Cup, Uefa Cup and led them to runners-up in the league on two occasions. Both managers went on to coach England.

By the end of next season, Evans, Clegg and Keane will be hoping Town's supporters have a new tale to tell.

"I'm very lucky to get this opportunity," said Keane.

"I have a two-year contract but I'd like to get the team back in the Premier League in one year. If I wasn't up for challenges I'd be walking my dogs."

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see also
Keane sets Ipswich promotion goal
23 Apr 09 |  Ipswich
Keane appointed Ipswich manager
23 Apr 09 |  Ipswich
Keane resigns as Sunderland boss
04 Dec 08 |  Sunderland
A bitter end for Keane
04 Dec 08 |  Sunderland
London to offer financial rewards
03 Mar 08 |  London 2012
Ex-Olympic boss takes Ipswich job
21 Apr 09 |  Ipswich
Cardiff v Ipswich
24 Apr 09 |  Championship

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