Charting Ipswich Town's Rise: The role of their 'collective ...

Last week, we undertook an EFL-wide data analysis to uncover where clubs were signing players from outside of England, with many sides recruiting from Germany, France, and Denmark, to name a few. Our research established that 172 players across the Championship, League One and Two, were signed from outside of England, with England’s second tier having a particularly high transfer activity in this area. However, title contenders Ipswich Town are one of the teams not following the trend of recruiting from around the globe, with the Tractor Boys currently having just one player in their squad who they signed from a club that isn’t in England.

Ipswich Town - Figure 1

When it comes to recruitment, Ipswich CEO Mark Ashton shed some light on the club’s approach to the transfer market, stating previously: “it’s a collective, collaborative approach” between himself, performance manager Andy Rolls, sporting director Gary Probert — who he’d worked with before Ipswich at Bristol City — and manager Kieran McKenna, who identified recruitment as “a big area where we can make immediate gains” back in 2022.

This recruitment analysis looks to go deeper into Ipswich’s player recruitment – discussing key factors such as where the club looks to recruit from, who they look to recruit, and how they’ve seemingly highlighted Premier League players as key targets.

Signings breakdown – where have Ipswich recruited from?

The aim of this analysis is to shed some light on the recruitment tendencies from Ipswich as they’ve found immense success without following the emerging trend of dipping into European markets. But there may be a reason for that – Ipswich boss Kieran McKenna has gone on record in recent months stating that the club can’t be as “aggressive in the market” as they’d like to be, citing FFP issues as a major factor in this. Of course, the two may not be related, but those transfer issues could have resulted in Ipswich having to be a bit more shrewd in their recruitment business and look a little closer to home. So, where did Ipswich sign their players from?

Ipswich Town - Figure 2

If you read the aforementioned data analysis of EFL transfer activity from last week, this first graph will be familiar to you. It serves as the bedrock of this recruitment analysis, the statistics show that Ipswich have just one squad member that they picked up from a club outside of England. They didn’t have to go globetrotting to find this player, though, as George Edmundson joined from Scottish giants Rangers – the centre-back is closing in on the third anniversary of his arrival to Portman Road. It is worth noticing that the transfer activity of the other 23 clubs in the division differs greatly from that of Ipswich, with the second-lowest total for players signed from outside of England being four and many clubs having more than five players of that description.#

This breakdown shows us just where Ipswich’s current batch of players came from. A promising stat straight out of the gates is having four academy graduates featuring in a title-challenging campaign. Elsewhere, as we mentioned, there are nine players that came from the EPL, signifying that Ipswich rank it high on their list of priorities when building a squad.

Ipswich Town - Figure 3

They also like to bring in talent from fellow Championship clubs, with seven of their current crop being signed from other clubs in their league – players such as Massimo Luongo, Sam Morsy, and Lewis Travis all meeting that criteria. Ipswich show a similar urgency in recruiting League One players, with six members of their current squad being from the third tier. One of their top signings from League One is Scottish CB Cameron Burgess, who joined the club in 2021 from Accrington Stanley.

Recruiting from League Two is not a high priority for the Tractor Boys, but they have demonstrated the determination and urgency required to get any fourth-tier gems before another club beats them to it. The most recent is prolific forward Ali Al-Hamadi, who the club signed from AFC Wimbledon in the January window for £1m after he impressed in the opening half of the campaign. Al-Hamadi has adapted well to life in the Championship, with his physical presence suiting Ipswich’s tactics nicely.

Youth & experience: striking the balance

At the time of writing, Ipswich’s first team (including youth players who have made first-team appearances) has an average age of 26.7 years, an indicator that they see the importance of having both young blood and old heads present. The Tractor Boys also rely heavily on squad depth—they’ve made 187 substitutes this season in the Championship, the second-highest total in the division. This segment of analysis looks at how youth/experience can be preferred in certain areas of the pitch for McKenna.

Ipswich Town - Figure 4

We start by analysing the defenders. Leif Davis has played more minutes than any other outfield player at the club, and his performances of consistent high quality have even led to calls for the left-back to be called up to the England squad.

In terms of a unit assessment, though, it is interesting that three of Ipswich’s four first-choice defenders are aged 25 and under, with only Burgess in that four being older than 25. In fact, apart from the Scotsman, Ipswich only have one other defender older than 25, indicating that the Tractor Boys prefer younger players at the back to ensure they have pace in crucial defensive areas.

There’s another trend with the midfield unit in terms of age/minutes but it differs from the defensive unit. Judging by the graph above, Ipswich favour experience in the engine room, with the three most involved midfielders this season being aged 29 and older. That isn’t to say that youth is underappreciated by the Ipswich boss, with players like Omari Hutchinson (on loan from Chelsea) and Nathan Broadhead (signed permanently from Everton) both playing important roles in their tactics.

Ipswich Town - Figure 5

Players with an asterisk next to their name were signed in the January window. Obviously, their minutes total will be lower, but they still had to be included, especially when a player like Lewis Travis, who brings the experience that McKenna likes in central midfield, arrives at the club. Jeremey Sarmiento is another young Premier League loanee on the wing, arriving from Brighton, and has provided an attacking spark in his limited game time so far.

Connor Chaplin is included, in our data, as part of the forwards’ unit as his role is effectively that of a second striker, and his presence in that role has been huge for Ipswich this season, contributing 21 G/A in the league so far. Over the season, the CF spot has been shared – first by George Hirst and Kayden Jackson, but since his February arrival, EFL veteran Keiffer Moore has been preferred by McKenna, contributing an impressive seven G/A in 12 games. As we mentioned, Al Hamadi has also played his role in Ipswich’s front line but has struggled to hold down a regular spot.

Shopping in the EPL

EFL clubs signing players from Premier League clubs is nothing groundbreaking; we see it every year; whether it’s loan deals or permanent transfers, they’re ever-present. Ipswich have followed this trend, with a sizable portion of their squad arriving from a top-flight team – as we saw, nine squad members fit this description, with some being on loan and others signing on permanently. Here, we take a look at the output of three of their top Premier League recruits, providing insight into the work done by the scouting team at Portman Road to ensure they’re signing a player that fits the club’s needs and suits their tactics.

Ipswich Town - Figure 6

20-year-old Chelsea loanee Omari Hutchinson has proven to be a shrewd signing – this is the winger’s first taste of senior football (apart from one FA Cup and one EPL appearance last season), and the Jamaica international has settled in very well.

Hutchinson shows a defensive desire, which is something McKenna is likely a big fan of, showing the know-how of when to make a challenge and how to break up opposition play. In attack, he is highly active in the box and loves a dribble, thriving in 1v1 scenarios. His goal contribution of 13 G/A is a testament to the player’s technical ability but also the coaching ability of McKenna and his staff.

Another player Ipswich have picked up from a London club is right-back Harry Clarke. In the January transfer window of 2023, the club signed the defender from Arsenal in a permanent deal after the defender impressed during various loan spells at Stoke City and Hibernian. McKenna is unleashing Clarke’s Arsenal pedigree, with the full-back showing consistency in his technical contributions.

As the graph above shows, Clarke is highly reliable in moving the ball forward, making more progressive passes per 90 and more passes to the final third per 90 than any other Championship right-back. The 23-year-old’s creativity offers another dimension to Ipswich’s attacking tactics.

Ipswich Town - Figure 7

Our final individual analysis involves winger Nathan Broadhead, another January 2023 window arrival, this time from Everton, and another player who has had his fair share of loan spells in the EFL prior to his permanent move to Portman Road. He got off to a flyer last season, joining the Tractor Boys in their promotion-winning campaign, chipping in with eight goals and six assists in 19 League One appearances. Broadhead has continued in similar form in the Championship too, recording a goals per 90 average that is only beaten by Crysencio Summerville in his position – Broadhead’s touches in the box per 90 average is another indicator of his presence and threat in attack.


Hopefully, this analysis has been insightful about Ipswich’s recruitment that led to them launching a Premier League promotion bid. Not many clubs make back-to-back promotions from League One to the top flight, but McKenna’s Ipswich Town are on the verge of doing just that, all while being bound to strict financial implications in the transfer market and avoiding the trend of shopping for players around the world. Their scouting of players in the English pyramid has proven to be more than effective, and they’re reaping the rewards now.

Ipswich Town - Figure 8

My name is Jack Manship, a Football Manager veteran. Currently working as a first-team regional scout for Doncaster Rovers.

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