4 July ~ A story that threatened to drag on all summer has concluded within a week. A protracted bidding war over Ipswich Town’s 18-year-old England Under-21 international Connor Wickham never materialised, with Sunderland being the only bidders for a player whose final transfer fee could exceed £12 million. Steve Bruce gets a player he has admired for a long time – two years ago he offered Grant Leadbitter, Carlos Edwards, Dean Whitehead and Daryl Murphy in an attempt to sign the current Championship Young Player and Apprentice of the Season.
The initial £8.1m that Sunderland have paid looks like a huge amount for a teenager, but Wickham has the potential to be the complete centre-forward. He has a great first touch, is comfortable with the ball at his feet and is good in the air. He has the confidence to take players on, as well as the intelligence to bring others into play.
At 6ft 3in, Wickham is also naturally strong and has pace that belies his size. His intelligence on the pitch is way beyond his years, and he knows where the goal is – an example of most of these qualities was shown with a goal scored against Sheffield United in February. Starting from inside his own half, Wickham used pace, power and skill to ease through the Blades defence before placing the ball into the net, scoring one of the best goals scored at Portman Road in years.
While his nine goals in 41 games in 2010-11 may not seem a major haul for a striker, Wickham was in and out of the side through injury in the first half of the season and spent a lot of the time playing out wide as part of a front three. After Paul Jewell’s arrival as Ipswich manager, however, Wickham was one of the first names on the teamsheet, starting 21 of Jewell’s 23 games in charge. Such was the faith placed in a player who had just turned 18 that Jewell felt confident to loan out two of the club’s four strikers.
With owner Marcus Evans’s intentions unknown (see Csaba Abrahall’s article in the latest WSC for further details) we can only speculate on the reasons for Town cashing in on Wickham this summer. Whether the fee will go towards paying back the £50m-plus that the club owes Evans, or go towards rebuilding a squad that has so far lost five regulars plus a handful of squad players, remains to be seen. With Michael Chopra and Nathan Ellington already signed before Wickham’s departure, the centre-forward position was one Paul Jewell already knew he needed to strengthen, and now Wickham’s departure leaves bigger boots to fill. Rob Freeman