How’s the season gone for QPR so far?
With eight games to go (and I use that caveat because we completely collapsed in our last eight games last season and nearly got relegated) we look like we’ve accomplished what we set out to do.
We were obviously a very silly football club for a few years at the start of Tony Fernandes’ reign as chairman, spraying money all over the place and wasting almost all of it. We saddled ourselves with mostly over-age, over-rated, under-committed, big name players from agents favoured (for, I’m sure, entirely legitimate and professional reasons) by first Mark Hughes and then ‘Arry Redknapp.
More problematic than the eye-watering transfer fees were the wages and the length of the contracts. These players weren’t very good, didn’t give a single s**t about playing for QPR, and were impossible to shift because even if you could find anybody stupid enough to want them they couldn’t afford the ridiculous deals we’d given them. This is all with hindsight, we were all excited by that period, we thought we’d made it, we were dreaming big, it turned out to be a disaster.
That couldn’t go on. One because it wasn’t working, two because it cost many hundreds of millions of pounds, and third because it was a flagrant breach of the new FFP rules – a fine north of £40m for our play-off winning season when we carried a wage bill just shy of £80m in the Championship is currently working its way through a legal process. But it takes some recovering from, you have to wait for contracts to run out, you have to ship a lot of players out, you have to impose wage caps – and none of that is really conducive to squad building which we desperately needed to do because the squad was no good. Standing still on the league table while halving your wage bill and halving it again is progress, and that’s what we’ve done.
Obviously, though, rattling around fifteenth in the league all season isn’t particularly thrilling, or easy on the eye, and a lot of fans are disillusioned and/or have stopped going. This cannot be us forever, we have to aspire to what clubs like Burnley and Huddersfield Town have done on sensible budgets, but for now it’s a process that we needed to go through and one we seem to be managing fairly well.
What’s going right for you right now?
The season started quite well but we then, for the third time since Ian Holloway has returned as manager, went on a six-game losing run that had us falling down the league and everybody panicking. We recovered from that by grinding out some necessary but pretty dull wins against crap Barnsley, Bolton, Burton, and Birmingham teams in the winter but, in general, people were pretty fed up.
March looked tough on paper but with a switch away from a much-maligned wing back system to a back four, recalls for youngsters Ryan Manning and Darnell Furlong, the emergence of another couple of talented kids Ebere Eze and Paul Smyth, we’ve played really well for the last four games and taken eight points – including a proper demolition job on Big Racist John and his mates at Villa Park which was bloody lovely.
We did this in March last year as well though and then lost seven of the last eight games which really brought a lot of people to the end of their tether with Holloway. Another spell like that, where he was wildly rotating the team and losing games for fun, would undo a lot of the hard yards and good work we’ve done this season. We’ve got winnable games between now and the end of the season and we really need to push on and take some momentum into the summer.
And what could be going better?
Until the last game the away form had been absolutely abysmal. We’d won two away games all year (at Birmingham City and Burton Albion) and only three in nearly a year and a half (two of them at Birmingham) and the team wasn’t really playing with any belief it could win away, or any plan of how it was going to happen. Bristol City had a man sent off after half an hour against us with the score 0-0 and we lost quite comfortably 2-0.
Away games were falling into a pattern where we’d very quickly go 2-0 down, then rally in the last 20 minutes and maybe pull a goal back and then give it all the “we know what to do now, we have to carry that on into the next game” PR guff afterwards only for the same thing to happen again. And then suddenly we played Aston Villa off the park just after they’d thrashed Wolves, and we went to Fulham who are flying and battered them second half as well. So maybe we have figured it out.
Who are the young stars that we should be following over the next few years?
A few years ago this would have been a standing joke question at QPR. The club and its managers had absolutely zero interest in the young players at the club and the U23 side basically existed for no reason at all. The nadir of this was a game at Blackburn under Redcrapp when automatic promotion was out of reach but we were definitely in the play-offs – a dead rubber basically.
We had a kid called Max Ehmer who’d been at the club for years, played centre back, numerous lower division loans, and has gone on to make a decent career for himself at Gillingham. Rather than pick him, give him one game in a meaningless midweek fixture in front of about 8,000 people, ‘Arry took 54-year-old Luke Young up north, who hadn’t played a professional game for nearly two years and was basically retired (just picking the last of his exorbitant wages up beforehand obviously) and picked him out of position at centre back from the start. It was disgusting. I backed Blackburn to win and Gestede to score first and coined it in – Gestede took all of eight minutes.
Les Ferdinand is oft criticised as our director of football, and nobody seems to have a lot of time for Chris Ramsey the former Spurs coach who runs our academy either, but since the pair of them have come in we have seen massive improvements. Seven of our U23s have played minutes this season and four of those – Paul Smyth, Darnell Furlong, Ryan Manning and Ebere Eze – would probably now be considered first team regulars.
Smyth is a tiny lad, quick, nasty, looks a real find – scored on his full Northern Ireland debut at the weekend. Eze is a sort of laid-back, languid number ten who coasts and glides around the pitch but he’s got a good touch and an eye for goal – he impressed at Wycombe on loan in the first half of the season including running his own goal of the month competition in a game at Cambridge. Furlong (son of) is a strong and athletic full back and Manning had a bad start to the season but has come back in as a tenacious midfielder.
Like I say, Ferdinand and Ramsey remain unpopular in some quarters despite this for reasons those people would be able to explain better than I can (because I think it’s b*llocks). The new stock line from that portion of our support is that these players weren’t youth team graduates because Smyth came from Linfield, Manning from Galway, Eze from Millwall, Joe Lumley and Rem Oteh from Spurs and so on.
Firstly, why this matters is a mystery, and secondly as a category two academy operating under these disgusting EPPP regulations, any half decent teenager we create ourselves can just be taken for nothing by the category one clubs so this is exactly how we should be going about it – picking up the 16/17/18 year olds who fall out of that system. And we are doing that.
How do you see the game going, and what will the score be?
Post-Fulham I really thought we’d come and win. Even when Reading were winning last season I found Jaap Stam’s style of play to be intensely boring and easily countered – as we did very successfully in this fixture last season.
I dearly wish he’d been allowed to keep boring the tits off everybody for another fortnight but, alas and fully justifiably, you’ve sacked the miserable, anti-football p***k before we’ve had the chance to get to you. I like Paul Clement and fear that new manager syndrome, plus the relief of not having to play for Stam anymore, may be a huge boost and now make this a difficult game for us. I would have gone 0-1 a week ago but now I fear 1-0 – let’s call it a 1-1 and beat Norwich City on Monday for a good Easter.