Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Season 2012-2013: The Reckoning

“My experience of Derby is maybe that I tried to change things too quickly, to change the world overnight.”
Paul Jewell, Ipswich Town Manager, January 2011

 “I think one of the mistakes I made was to try to cram everything into one year. You need to get players who will be here in three to four years and get them settled. Maybe that's one area I haven't got it quite right."
Paul Jewell, Ipswich Town Manager, December 2011

The latter of the two statements, made with Jewells new-look Ipswich Town side in the midst of a seven game losing tumble towards the relegation zone, provides a poignant axis upon which to assess the success and failure of the 2011-2012 season. The purpose of the statement provides the basis on which to assess the potential for success in the 2012-2013 season.

When reviewing the season just past, its inescapable that its journey was critically defined by the transfer window that preceded it. Paul Jewells direction and transfer policy was comfortably the most debated aspect of the season; which in itself is some feat, coming in a season that also saw players appearing in court, banned from the club and sent to rehabilitation clinics.

An initial policy to build a side on a long-term plan was quickly ditched in favour of a “Supermarket Sweep” style dash through the transfer market, collecting high-profile ageing players for a short-term stab at promotion, with little in the way of any clear objective as to how these players would be used.
The result was a mix and match approach, or “trying to find the right formula” as Jewell put it, as the manager wrestled with accommodating four central midfielders into the same team. Short term success with an ill-fated diamond formation soon made way, ushering in the seven successive defeats as mentioned previously. 

Whilst the issue of who sanctioned the change of policy has been much debated, CEO Simon Clegg made it clear that Jewell was, and is, responsible for transfer targets. That this short term plan went so disastrously wrong was unsurprisingly badly received by supporters, yet what perhaps damaged Jewells reputation more seriously was his insistence throughout it that he was operating to a long-term plan and the resultant pleas for fan patience.

However, events turned in Jewells favour in January, as the loss of loanees, coupled with injuries and suspensions, led to a new look formation and style, infused with energy from players who had waited patiently through the first half of the season. The new system staunched a seven game winless streak with a spectacular and, perhaps for Jewell, career changing 5-1 victory over league leaders West Ham.

Right on cue, the season moved into yet another phase as ten games reaped seven wins and only two defeats. The club began to move quickly in a positive direction up the league table, mimicking the kind of turn around which had occurred almost a year earlier, when Jewell first took charge of the club. This period of the season produced a series of performances which indicated a potential within the squad beyond anything which had gone before it.

Yet, as had been the case 12 months previously, and with supporters thoughts beginning to engage the idea of a play-off push, the momentum slowed and the season tailed off with a run of form that, for the first time in a turbulent season, actually resembled the lower-midtable finishing position. 

Which brings us to those two statements.

Paul Jewells spell as manager of Derby County was probably the most tortuous of his career so far. That he made mistakes is beyond question, that he has learnt from them was the leap of faith which Marcus Evans and Simon Clegg took when appointing him as Manager of Ipswich Town. That he demonstrably repeated the same mistakes brings a big question to pass on his managerial acumen- if it was wrong, why follow something against your better judgement?

Notwithstanding questions about the strategy, the way it was implemented was catastrophic. The failure was not so much narrow, as seismic- a one-year strategy intended to achieve long-term goals in a short-term period? The relegation zone was surely a long way from anyones goals.

Which brought us to the “Ground Zero” moment in December, when effectively Jewell had to accept failure and start building a side all over again. At this point, Jewells reputation at Ipswich Town remained almost entirely on the signings of Aaron Cresswell, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Michael Chopra- the future.
Since that point, the emergence of Tommy Smith, Luke Hyam and Andy Drury in the first team, allied to the sparkling performances of Lee Martin in the second half of the season, have further added credence to Jewells acknowledgement in December of the right way to build a team. They offer a sign to supporters that, if he is to continue along the same path, there can be more of these players, more of these signings, there can be hope. Finally.

Yet, those same supporters remain guarded. Jewell lost huge supporter trust over that period prior to December, when it was evident to supporters that they were watching a short term plan, built with players that didn’t actually fit into any perceptible plan, yet were being told the opposite. Towards the end of the season, as form tailed off, there were those mistrusting whether Jewell really had opted for a radical new strategy in January, or whether he had simply had no choice, as they watched experienced players, including those soon to be released, continue to perform at the expense of long-term prospects.

By his own doing, Paul Jewell now walks a managerial tight-rope. Supporters appear happy to allow him to build the long-term plan he was setting out to build a year ago. But this time, the safety net is removed; if Jewell makes a false move this time, he will be left to fall.