Darren C of Vital Ipswich was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to give us a fuller picture of our new 31 year old centre half.
With thanks to Darren.
1 – How disappointed are Ipswich fans to see McAuley leave?
Whilst you will find a number of Ipswich Town fans who didn’t rate him, I think Gareth McAuley had more admirers than critics at Portman Road. He won the Supporters’ Player of the Year award for 2009/10 and was pipped by one vote for the Players’ Player of the Year award this season.
I actually saw him play many times for Leicester City before he arrived at Ipswich and personally I have always been impressed with his defensive abilities, so I was pleased when he arrived in East Anglia albeit for a rather inflated £1.1 million price tag. He was arguably worth it though; there haven’t been many players in the Town team that have stood out in recent years but McAuley was arguably one of the few that did, and from the opinions I have heard, I know I will not be alone in regretting his departure – especially as we didn’t get a penny out of it.
2 – What type of centre half can we expect? Is he a ball player, a tough tackler or more of an organiser?
I think McAuley’s greatest strength is his head; alongside Damien Delaney at centre-back, the pair of them repeatedly proved an impenetrable barrier for every aerial ball that was sent their way. He works well as a leader too, serving as skipper for our team on many occasions and recently becoming captain of the Northern Ireland side as well. He also weighs in with a few goals here and there, but his passing could probably do with a bit of work!
3 – How much are you going to miss his presence, was his key for your team or do you believe you already have a suitable replacement?
Opinion is divided, but I think it’s safe to say we’d rather have been preparing for next season with him still in the squad.
Plenty would say he was a key member of the team and he and Delaney had certainly developed a good understanding at the heart of our defence. The most worrying sign for me would be the manner in which we suffered six straight defeats after he got injured in November; our defence was clearly missing him at the time.
As far as a replacement goes, we’ve been linked with a few players, but nobody that really strikes me as an obvious equivalent at present. We’ll cope though – McAuley is by no means irreplaceable, and I’m confident Paul Jewell will be keeping an eye out for someone suitable.
4 – At 31 he’s making the break to the Premiership rather late, especially as I assume he was first choice for you. Do you think he’s going to struggle to establish himself at the Baggies, or should we expect him to be simply cover? I know little about him, but Northern Ireland Captain would imply he does think he’s got a good shot at becoming a first choice here, do you think that’s right?
Well McAuley was a bit of a latecomer to football – I believe he didn’t turn professional until he was 24 – so it’s taken him longer than most to get this far.
At 31, this could well be his only shot at Premier League football, so I don’t think he’ll be settling for a place on the bench. Whether he really can cut it as a regular in a top flight defence however is very difficult to say at present. On a free transfer though, I think it’s a shrewd gamble by Roy Hodgson.
5 – I suppose I’m leading to, do you think he’s got a shot at ending his career on a high, or as he was linked to Rangers where almost everybody accepts the league is of a slightly lower standard, has his Premiership move been based on ending his career with a better bank balance?
Unlikely that’s his attitude given how Roy likes his battlers, but just wondered if the relationship with the fans has been soured in that direction or you think it’s a good move for him to make on a purely footballing basis?
As I say, this could well be his last opportunity, so as long as he can break into your first team – which will be a challenge – it is a good move for him in footballing terms. Did the money play a part though? I’m not sure. Our fans might be a bit sceptical because after some considerable wrangling, Ipswich did actually offer McAuley the terms he wanted on a new contract. Everybody expected him to put pen to paper, but he never did, raising suspicion that he’d been tempted by a more lucrative offer from elsewhere. I don’t know whether Rangers actually ever put in an offer, but I should imagine he’ll be on a more generous deal at The Hawthorns than he was at Portman Road. Make of that what you will.
6 – Finally, do you think he abandoned you, was he let down by the club in new contract negotiations or has he earnt the right to make the step up and it’s just unfortunate you can’t demand a fee for him?
He was messed around by Ipswich, there can be little doubt about that, and he was by no means the only one. How exactly Roy Keane managed to leave us in a situation where we had 21 players out of contract this summer is absolutely beyond me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of our players just got fed up with not knowing where they stood.
I think McAuley has been fortunate to walk straight into a Premier League club like this, but based on his time with Leicester and with us, he has proven himself at Championship level and does deserve his chance at the next level. I wouldn’t say he abandoned us; his departure was a little abrupt and unexpected given how he had agreed terms, but with everything that has happened and where we find ourselves as a club, I don’t think many Town fans would begrudge him an opportunity elsewhere.
Here’s wishing him the best of luck with the rest of his career.
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