A Supple change of direction

SHANE Supple’s decision to retire from football this week at the age of 22 was surprising enough. (Even Roy Keane seemed to be caught off-guard.) But the story has taken a new twist with the suggestion that the now ex-Ipswich Town goalkeeper has plans to become a chef.

Or as the Ipswich Evening Star put it yesterday: “Shane Supple, the new Gordon Ramsay?

Supple, who had been back up to Richard Wright at Portman Road, has quit football after declaring he had fallen out of love with the game – and has returned home to Dublin for a break while he thinks about what he wants to do next.

According to the Evening Star, Supple has the talent to follow in the footsteps of Ramsay (in the sense that he is an excellent cook – although given that every goalkeeper with any sense of self-preservation has to develop an ability to bawl out his defenders, it could well be that Supple is capable of matching Ramsay in the shouting stakes too).

It’s not strictly true to suggest, though, that Supple’s potential route from football to food exactly matches that of Ramsay. For a start, Supple’s career as a professional footballer has been considerably more successful than that of Ramsay, who never got beyond the trial stage at Rangers – a fact confirmed by the club’s historian earlier this year to clear up the considerable confusion surrounding Mr. Kitchen Nightmares.

Ramsay, then, didn’t have a football career to give up. Supple did. The Irishman’s decision to walk away, then, is a brave one. And because Supple has taken such an unusual step, the odd internet conspiracy theorist has inevitably thrown forward a suggestion or two that there is a bit more to the story.

(I won’t regurguitate those conspiracy theories here. You can find them if you really want to. Disappointingly, though, none of the theorists have yet suggested that Supple has been kidnapped by aliens, that his retirement has been driven by the BBC or that it’s all Gordon Brown’s fault. I’d give it about a week.)

Supple’s declaration that he simply wants to do something else with his life should be taken at face value. The timing of it, though, is not particularly helpful to an Ipswich team who are having a strange start to the season.

When Roy Keane took charge at Portman Road in April, he gave a typically straight-talking press conference, in which he slated Tony Cascarino and suggested that former Manchester United team-mates Steve Bruce and Mark Hughes could not yet be described as great managers.

Perhaps the best exchange, though, came at the end:

Reporter: When did your beard go?
Keane: I can’t remember. You lot worry too much about my beard.

Those reporters present at the press conference drew the conclusion that life at Ipswich under Keane would be entertaining, but questioned whether the Irishman’s second adventure into management might end as unhappily as his first.

Even though nobody’s destiny was ever decided in the first couple of weeks of the season (other than Bryan Gunn’s), Ipswich have not started well. One point from four league games, and a Carling Cup victory over League Two side Shrewsbury on penalties, is not the kind of stuff that suggests a promotion challenge is in the offing.

At the end of a testing week – which included a defeat at home to Crystal Palace on Tuesday night – Keane needed an impressive performance at West Brom this evening. But the only Ipswich player who really impressed was goalkeeper Richard Wright, the man Supple was understudying until this week. Had it not been for Wright, Ipswich could have suffered a thrashing.

Wright produced the sort of form that won him a solitary England cap during his first spell at Ipswich nine years ago. By my reckoning, the keeper made five more-than-decent saves in the first half as West Brom threatened to build up the sort of lead that might have made England’s cricketers jealous.

The best save of the lot was the last of those five, when he flew to his left a minute before half-time to palm aside teenage striker Chris Wood’s volley from the edge of the box. But by then, Ipswich were already 2-0 down.

Youssouf Mulumbu, a Congolese midfielder signed last February after a successful trial, drove in his first Albion goal after 10 minutes, seconds after Ipswich full-back David Wright had cleared Jonas Olsson’s header from a Chris Brunt corner off the line.

Albion’s second, seven minutes before the break, had a touch of class that suggests they could well make an immediate return to the Premier League following last season’s relegation. Robert Koren played a one-two with Wood and rounded Wright before slotting the ball into an empty net. It was too easy. Way too easy.

Ipswich were better in the second half, and would have pulled a goal back but for Scott Carson – another one-time England goalkeeper whose career stalled – making an outstanding double save to deny Alan Quinn and Liam Trotter. But had it not been for Wright, Albion could have had another two or three in the second half.

Wright capped an outstanding performance by saving Luke Moore’s penalty 15 minutes from the end. It was frustrating for the striker, but not for Albion’s fans, who took great delight in taunting Keane with chants of: “You’re getting sacked in the morning.”

He won’t be, but Keane has work to do with an Ipswich side who lie in the Championship’s bottom three with one point from four games.

“I always it was going to be a difficult job here,” Keane said afterwards. “But there’s no getting away from it – it’s going to be a massive, massive challenge over the next few months. It’s sink or swim for the players.

“You saw one team who’ve got every chance of being in the top three or four this season – and if you’d looked at us today, you’d be thinking that we can forget about any thoughts of promotion.

“We don’t look too much of a goal threat and we’re giving goals away. That’s a recipe for trouble. But we have to believe we can turn it arouns. It can be done.”

As for West Brom, they are looking very good – unbeaten after four league games, with 10 points out of a possible 12. And all that despite losing manager Tony Mowbray to Celtic in the summer and captain Jonathan Greening to Fulham in the week. New boss Roberto di Matteo seems happy with his lot so far.

He said: “Full credit to the guys for the way we played after losing Jonathan Greening to Fulham this week.

“Jonathan was a great servant to the club. But you’ve got to move on. When you split up with your girlfriend, you don’t stay single for the rest of your life.”

West Brom are getting used to life without Greening, just as Supple is getting used to life without football. For those that the young Irish keeper has left behind at Ipswich, a tough few months lie ahead.

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