And if you close your eyes… – Signing
Saturday, 1st Jul 2017 16:12 by Clive Whittingham
Barnsley midfielder Josh Scowen has become the first signing of QPR’s 2017 summer, arriving on a free transfer at the end of his Oakwell contract.
Cheshunt-born Josh Scowen came through the ranks at Wycombe Wanderers, making his senior debut at 17 with time spent on loan at Hemel and Eastbourne Borough in the non-league as part of his development.
He clocked up just shy of 100 games for the Chairboys under the guidance of former QPR hero Gareth Ainsworth, helping the club avoid relegation from the Football League in 2014. He then formed part of a team that also included current QPR keeper Matt Ingram and former Ranger Hogan Ephraim, as well as Swansea’s rising star Alfie Mawson, which was beaten in the League Two play-off final by Southend in May 2015.
Scowen moved on before the final, joining then League One Barnsley for £240,000 in the January of that season. He was soon back at Wembley as a key component in Paul Heckingbottom’s young side that went from the cusp of the relegation battle all the way through to the Championship via a play-off final victory against Millwall last summer. Barnsley also won the Football League Trophy that season, beaten Oxford 3-2 in the Wembley final.
In the Championship Scowen made 44 appearances for the Tykes, scoring a last-minute winner against QPR at Oakwell in a 3-2 win back in August and another in a 4-3 win against Cardiff. Now 24, Scowen has almost 200 senior appearances under his belt already and has signed a three-year contract at QPR having allowed his deal in South Yorkshire to run down to a Bosman free transfer. He will wear squad number six at Rangers.
“It’s a great first signing for us and I couldn’t be happier with the work that has been done to identify him for us. He was identified by the scouting network we’ve got in place here and they told me everything I needed to know about him, both in terms of his ability as a player and his character. Despite being young, he has played an awful lot of games already in his career and that’s great because it shows he can knock out 90 minutes, week in, week out. He’s also got a great pass in his locker and I like his attitude as well – he’s tenacious, gritty and has a real will-to-win, which is what we need. What really pleases me about this signing is that he had plenty of options to go elsewhere, but he opted for QPR – and did so for the right reasons. He really wanted to come here and play for us – how good is that? I want to bring players here who care about this club and have the right attitude – Josh fits that mould.” - QPR manager Ian Holloway
“When I met the gaffer and Les they made me feel welcome and like I’m going to be a big part of their plans. Obviously last year wasn’t the best but QPR are a big club in the Championship and I feel like I can help the club push on next season. It’s nice to be back home on London, close to my family, that was a factor in the decision. I’ll do my best to impress in pre-season and hopefully be in the starting line up. I’m a little rat to be honest, I run around and give 100%, maybe make that big tackle that gets the fans going and hopefully try and bring a bit of passing as well.” -Josh Scowen
“My other half's family are from Barnsley and her cousin is a season ticket holder. Text him about Scowen and he said from Christmas onwards he was arguably the best player in the squad and can play pretty much anywhere. Great talent. Big loss.” - PBlock
“Someone is going to miss out regularly if we try to accommodate Cousins, Manning, Luongo, Freeman, Scowen, Goss and Hall in central midfield. Can't help but think we'll cash in on Luongo... Still struggling to drum up any optimism here. Of those SEVEN central midfielders, I can't pick three capable of dominating a Championship game, so as much as it goes against the grain, a big physical presence like Johnson or Jedinak may be needed to sort that bit of the pitch out, but surely we can't sign yet another one? The squad still looks unbalanced to me...” - Davman
“Agree that it's good to have so many options but I still think we're lacking someone to play the holding role in a midfield 2 or 3, we looked so much better with 1 person (usually Hall) sitting and allowing the others to push on. I am happy with the quality of our midfielders but still think it's a little unbalanced... Really interested to know how we plan to play this season, I would love for us to have a defined formation and system that we know about and have in mind when recruiting.” - Simmo
“My concern is both 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 can end up with us playing extremely narrow and direct, when our forwards thrive best off crosses, one of our best players is Wszolek (and out and out winger), and attacking wing play is what the LR crowd like. He needs to find a way that in the 4-3-3, the wide forwards play genuinely wide and one, if not two, of the central three midfielders, can break late into the box to support Smith/Sylla. I still think we're better suited to a 4-4-2, with Freeman and Wszolek wide, the former tucking in, and then Washington dropping deep to support the central midfield when we lose the ball (in the way Chery never did). Him off Smith gives us numbers in the box, Freeman and Wszolek provide the creativity. In the centre I'd have Luongo and Manning/Cousins at home, and replace one with Hall/genuine DM away.” - Hunter
With the annual toughest pre-season of all time in full swing in Portugal, the June 30 contract expiry deadline means QPR are now ready to partake in another of their yearly vices – a spate of summer signings. Football players, each more footbally than the last, shovelled onto the pile with all the others, sure to fix all the problems their predecessors couldn’t. Josh Scowen from Barnsley today, potentially soon to be followed by his team mate Andy Yaidom and Watford’s Tommie Hoban as Rangers look to reshape a defence that was far too leaky, accident prone and reliant on the excellent Alex Smithies to keep things respectable last season.
You can’t look at how 2016/17 went overall, and particularly how it finished with seven defeats in eight matches, and conclude that the squad doesn’t need strengthening. You’d be hard pushed to look at the squad list carted off to sunnier climes on Jamie Mackie’s banter bus for a week of hill running and make a case for it not facing a relegation struggle in 2017/18. QPR look short. Short up front, short of goals, short in defence, short just about everywhere other than goalkeeper in fact – maybe they’ll let us pick Smithies, Ingram and Joe Lumley together at the same time?
And yet it’s difficult to get excited about the idea of yet another squad overhaul. Rangers shifted half a dozen players in and out just six months ago and declared the winter transfer window an unmitigated success – but of the newcomers, only Luke Freeman has succeeded so far, Kazenga LuaLua and Ravel Morrison have been sent back having made no impact at all, Sean Goss has hardly played and Matt Smith’s end of season performances was a microcosm of the whole team’s collapse. Now apparently, just half a year later, we need to do the same again, and Ian Holloway says he anticipates it will take two more transfer windows besides this one to “sort out” whatever it is he perceives as being wrong at Rangers. You’ll excuse me a groan – signings are needed, signings are exciting, but at the same time signings rarely work for QPR.
The club’s director of football Les Ferdinand has spoken of his desire to end this situation where twice every year QPR need to trade players in greater number than any other club in the division. Only one in four signings works out the way you would hope at any club, according to Ferdinand, and all the associated upheaval and uncertainty it brings isn’t conducive to successful squad building. With Rangers increasingly looking abroad in recent years, there’s also the added problem of long lag times while foreign lads acclimatise themselves to a new country, city, language, culture and, most of all, pig of a division.
Two and a half years into Ferdinand’s reign, however, the club’s blood lust shows no sign of abating. Rangers have, yet again, named a squad for a pre-season tour with a substantial wedge of the pay roll not included. There are a variety of reasons and circumstances why Michael Doughty (since sold to Peterborough), Ben Gladwin (likewise to Blackburn), Jay Emmanuel Thomas, Steven Caulker, Ariel Borysiuk, Nasser El Khayati and Mide Shodipo were not in Portugal this week but at a club that professes to be getting its house in order and tightening its belt after years of ruinous excess this cannot continue.
We cannot, every summer, go into the pre-season with six or seven good earners completely unwanted and ostracised by whoever the manager is. Gladwin, Emmanuel Thomas, Borysiuk and El Khayati were all signed under the current regime - managers other than Holloway of course but the director of football system is supposed to ensure continuity and joined up thinking from one manager to the next. Doughty had his contract extended and Shodipo has also signed an improved deal only to be something of a forgotten man less than a year after his 15 minutes as the club’s latest flavour of the month. Borysiuk was signed less than a year ago and looked promising in fleeting glimpses – bombed out. People talk about disposable fashion, QPR still believe in disposable footballers – this one doesn’t quite fit, doesn’t quite look as good as we hoped, don’t worry we’ll just buy another one.
Partly this is a product of changing managers too often, and almost always mid-season – another fascination QPR would do well to rid themselves of. There are always going to be faces who don’t fit, the new manager is always going to want some of his own players in, changing the manager every nine to 18 months means you’re always going to be looking to shift six out and bring another six in. Whether Ian Holloway, with his wildly fluctuating team selections and decision making, is the man to bring that much needed stability is in serious question but another mid-season change in 2017/18 is the second last thing QPR need after relegation to League One.
This is all relevant to Josh Scowen because if we keep doing the same things then it’s unlikely he’ll be a success here. Recent history tells us he’s more likely to be one of those Massimo Luongo types who QPR supporters say (very harshly) “good” when he’s linked with a move to Nottingham Forest in 18 months, or worse still one of the half dozen names left at home from Nigel Pearson’s/Aidy Boothroyd/Tim Sherwood’s “toughest pre-season of all time” tour of Corsica in the summer of 2019.
On the face of it, he’s a good addition, and that old LFW favourite “exactly the sort of signing we should be making”. But then we said that about Steven Caulker, Jake Bidwell, Jordon Mutch, Conor Washington, Eduardo Vargas, Mauricio Isla, Luongo, Tjaronn Chery, Seb Polter and so on and on and on it goes. On and on and on.
I’m sorry if I’m coming across overly negative, because I liked Scowen at Wycombe, I liked him at Barnsley and I like the signing. He's a good player and a free transfer as well, a price we can all get on board with - although him turning down Premier League newbies Huddersfield suggests we’re still paying well even allowing for his desire to return south to be near his family. Please don’t take my wider concerns about the direction of travel as a slight on this specific player because it’s not. Tough tackling, hardworking, Scowen has been a 40-game a season man to this point which is valuable when the main problem with the two players QPR would like to have used in his position last year – Jordan Cousins and Grant Hall – was they sat out so many games. Whether this means Hall is moving back to centre half (a shame in my opinion if so, I think he’s great in that more advanced role) or whether Scowen has been brought in to compete with/replace Ryan Manning or Luongo in the team (perhaps there is something in that Luongo to Forest rumour, I personally hope not) time will tell.
He’s been part of a very successful 18 months at Barnsley that has seen the club rise from the League One relegation zone to the middle of the Championship, playing an attractive brand of attacking football using a team that, in an enterprising performance at Loftus Road last season, didn’t have a player older than 26 among its number. Sadly, the Tykes have been rather pillaged because of this. Of starting 11 that beat Rangers 3-2 at Oakwell last August – when Scowen scored the winner on the buzzer - only Adam Hammill, Tom Bradshaw and the goalkeeper Adam Davies remain at the club. Scowen is joined through the exit door today by defender Marc Roberts who’s been handed a typically eye-watering five-year contract at Barry Redchapp’s Birmingham Money Mountain.
But we’ve heard all this before. “Right sort, good age, coming for the right reasons” is an old pair of shoes reheeled once too often. Gary Penrice the latest white knight on a noble steed. Success at Barnsley, where expectations and resources are meagre by comparison with QPR and the team is well settled, with a clearly defined system and style of play, does not necessarily mean Scowen will succeed at QPR, where the team has none of that. Conor Hourihane was the division’s outstanding talent playing alongside Scowen in the same Barnsley side, then looked completely lost at Aston Villa in the second half of last season. It is encouraging that Scowen has excelled and impressed at both Wycombe and Barnsley though – two teams that punch above their weight and are therefore tough to play central midfield for.
You can’t help thinking back 12 months to the Jake Bidwell signing, and QPR must work out why this keeps happening to stop it happening again. It didn’t escape our attention that Barnsley have moved quickly to secure Cameron McGeehan, a graduate of a very successful youth set up at Luton, to bolster their decimated midfield. As Rsonist says on the message board, there’s this season’s Jake Bidwell-Rico Henry-Typical QPR narrative firmly in place for the new campaign.
Scowen looked a really tidy player at Oakwell and hopefully he will for us as well. It’ll take strength of character on his part so I did like him describing himself as “a little rat” when asked about his style of play today – tough, nuggety little character, humble and self-aware, determined to succeed… maybe he will go far with us.
But amidst the ongoing raft of changes does it almost feel like nothing’s changed at all? Does it almost feel like you’ve been here before?
The Twitter @loftforwords, @JScowen6
Pictures – Action Images
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