Seven-cap Nigerian international forward Sone Aluko is embarking on the next chapter in his lengthy football career, signing a 12-month contract with EFL League One promotion hopefuls Ipswich Town.
The Tractor Boys have an option to extend that contract by a further year, subject to his performances in the 2021/22 campaign.
Although Aluko arrived in Suffolk to very little fanfare, the former Reading, Rangers and Fulham man has improved week on week with his fitness and consistency.
Aluko spent most of the 2021/22 pre-season training with beleaguered EFL Championship side Derby County, who recently entered administration and received a 12-point penalty. The Rams did not have the finances to sign Aluko on a permanent basis and Derby’s loss was Ipswich Town’s gain. Ipswich are backed by a new US consortium – Gamechanger 20 – which assumed the helm at Portman Road back in April this year.
The investment has been something of a perfect storm for Ipswich, given that many other teams in the English Football League have had to cut their cloth accordingly in the last 18 months. Even the biggest sides in the Premier League sustained combined losses of £700m in 2020, which outlines the task at hand for many of the smaller clubs in the English pyramid. The funds from the Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS), which funded most of the takeover at Portman Road, have enabled Ipswich to compete with many Championship clubs in terms of transfer fees and salaries.
Aluko has been one of the surprise packages of Ipswich’s season so far
Aluko was one of 19 new faces through the door at Ipswich Town this summer, with manager Paul Cook undergoing a seismic revolution of the playing staff. Few anticipated Aluko being a regular in Cook’s starting XI, with many Ipswich fans expecting him to provide experienced back-up from the bench.
However, in more recent games, Aluko has started to demonstrate just why Reading were prepared to fork out £7.5 million for his services back in August 2017. A cool brace of goals at Cambridge United looked to help Ipswich on their way to a crucial away win, but Cook’s men succumbed to two second half goals and the spoils were shared. The following game, Aluko got on the scoresheet again in Town’s comfortable 4-0 away win at Portsmouth.
Following his two-goal display at Cambridge, Aluko insisted he was keen to “show the manager [he could] contribute to this team”. Having been out of the team since Ipswich’s 5-2 defeat at home to Bolton, Aluko said he had continued to “show desire” on the training field and sought to “make the [team] selections difficult” for Paul Cook each week. Cook recently praised Aluko for “getting up to match fitness” and working hard with the club’s director of performance Andy Rolls. Cook acknowledged that fans had only caught “glimpses” of Aluko’s potential in previous games, but his fitness work enabled him to make a big impact on proceedings against Cambridge and Portsmouth last month.
Blues boss Cook gives Aluko freedom from the flanks
Aluko has been utilised largely as an inside forward on the right-hand side of a front four in Paul Cook’s 4-2-3-1 formation. This role has enabled the 32-year-old to cut inside on his favoured left foot and pose real questions to League 1 defences. Aluko and his Ipswich teammates are starting to make their march up the League 1 table following a difficult start to the season.
However, in their last ten league games, Ipswich have registered 20 points on the board. At a two points per game average, Aluko and Ipswich are starting to demonstrate serious promotion-winning form. Upcoming league games against fellow promotion contenders Oxford, Rotherham and Sunderland will be stiff tests of their credentials before the congested Christmas period. Aluko has plenty of competition for his place with the likes of Wes Burns, Kyle Edwards and Conor Chaplin all vying for starting berths in this Ipswich front line. Although Aluko may not play every game between now and May, his skill on the ball and undeniable experience could prove decisive in some of Town’s closest League 1 encounters.
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