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QPR finally shot of Caulker, but Millwall lie in wait – Preview
Friday, 29th Dec 2017 13:30 by Clive Whittingham

The departure of Steven Caulker ends a sorry chapter for a player wasting his potential and a club paying for an obsession with shiny things, but is much needed good news ahead of a tough trip to Millwall.

Millwall (6-9-9, LWDWLD, 16th) v QPR (6-9-9, DLLWDD, 18th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Friday December 29, 2017 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – Dire early doors, improving towards kick off >>> The New Den, London, SE16

July 2014, post Wembley euphoria, a Premier League campaign ahead, Steven Caulker was signed for £8m from Cardiff City, picking QPR ahead of Crystal Palace. LFW said at the time…

“Joey Barton, who seems to be quite settled at QPR these days after spending his first two years with the club trying to engineer a departure from it, said it best after May’s remarkable play-off final victory at Wembley: this can no longer be a place where good footballers come to die. Even Rangers will have to go some to kill off Steven Caulker.

“Famous last words, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with this transfer. It’s a remarkable coup for a club of QPR’s size, and totally out of character with what’s gone before.

“At £8m he’s extortionately expensive for a club of QPR’s size, but not for a club receiving this year’s television money. Guessing that Caulker has, as he did with Cardiff, insisted on a release clause similar to what he was bought for should the R’s be relegated, it represents as much of a risk free investment as you can get – the curse of the QPR anterior cruciate knee ligaments not withstanding of course.

“But this is, like Matt Phillips and Charlie Austin before him, a proper signing. Good age, good price, excellent player. Exactly the sort of transfer QPR should be getting involved in. Perhaps, on the signings side at least, lessons have been learnt after all.”

Well, the kindest thing you can say is that’s not aged well.

Yesterday, after at least £15m in transfer fees and wages, just 56 appearances in three and a half years, a litany of incidents only a couple of which made the press, a catalogue of diabolical behaviour and ongoing, losing, battles with problems linked to alcohol and gambling, QPR finally lifted Steven Caulker from their wage bill with a mutual contract termination. He will not have gone for free, but even if Rangers have managed to persuade him to take a lump sum payment now for five months of his money rather than keeping him and paying him for six that could be a saving in excess of £200,000. CEO Lee Hoos probably left just enough in the budget to pay for a marching band to see him off.

In our End of Term Report on Caulker last season we said this….

“It’s very easy to make the mistake of thinking depression is just feeling a bit sorry for yourself because the word is misleading - it’s a chemical thing and an illness like the flu or cancer or liver disease or any number of other things you wouldn’t dream of telling somebody they’d brought on themselves or should just snap out of. Like an illness, it can strike anybody young, old, rich, poor, successful or otherwise. Nor is alcoholism simply liking a drink a bit more than the average person- to believe so is to misunderstand addiction entirely. Football, sport, people are getting better with mental health, but you still only have to look at the Daily Mail coverage of Aaron Lennon’s recent incident, mentioning his wage in the headline in a clear “what’s he got to be miserable about?” show of complete ignorance to see that - particularly when it comes to rich, good looking, athletic, successful footballers on millions of pounds a year – some people still have a problem getting their heads around it.

“But… speaking as somebody with some personal and family experience of all of the above, and after some long conversations this week with people well versed in this sort of thing themselves about how to tackle this bit, sooner or later some personal responsibility has to be taken. You can wallow, you can be the victim, you can point to the addiction or the depression or whatever it is and say ‘well what chance have I got, it’s not my fault, woe is me’. Or you can function. And, without going all Daily Mail and talking about the money, there are people out there who will have the same depression, the same problems with drink or drugs, the same problem with gambling, or whatever it is that Caulker is struggling with, but will be working in an office on £25k a year, or working on the checkouts at Waitrose, or driving a bus for a living, and they’ll have a mortgage or rent and bills coming out of their ears or kids at home to support and it simply won’t be an option for them to just wallow and not work for months at a time.”

And that was the thing that grated most. Not the money, nor the damage it was doing to the newly skinted QPR – the club entered into the contract and had to honour it, the usual comments you see along the lines of “if he had any shred of decency he’d walk away from the contract” absolutely laughable. Why would he? Why should he? But the privileged way footballers are treated in these horrible situations as opposed to everybody else.

If Steven Caulker was an estate agent, or a telesales operator, or a Sky engineer, with a family at home, and a mortgage, he’d have had to find a way to push through, to get treated, to get as well as he could. If he’d continued to behave as he has done, continued to make himself unfit to work, he’d have been sacked. All of us, everyone of you reading this, would have lost your job at your company if you’d behaved as he has after repeated efforts by the employer to help you. And yet footballers are seemingly unsackable. I get the point about clubs not wanting to sack a sellable asset, but Caulker stopped being that long ago. There have been several incidents this season, despite all the ‘changed man’ articles of the previous two summers, despite the support of Ian Holloway, that QPR have managed to keep under wraps. Some of them have been illness/issues related again, but others – such as his Jose Bosingwa routine with Ian Holloway prior to the Fulham match when he found out he was only on the bench – have not.

Behaving like that indefinitely and just blaming it all on your issues is an insult to the everyday people who have to battle through the same things and exist through the grind of a normal life. Normal people in normal walks of life would not be allowed to continue earning the money he has unchecked. They would not have had a manager as sympathetic as Holloway has been. They certainly wouldn’t have been treated to two puff pieces in the Guardian, one about a ‘finding myself’ trip to Sierra Leone, and the other about how it was all behind him and he was a changed man – obvious eyelash fluttering at other football clubs. Nor would other companies be queuing up to make the same mistake QPR did, but in the strange world of football Rangers’ announcement of his departure yesterday was met with replies from Cardiff, Sheff Wed and particularly Celtic fans urging their clubs to sign him up immediately – Glasgow the UK capital of sobriety of course. In football, once your name is made, you can pretty much trade off it forever regardless of behaviour or performance. That blast of the real world Caulker probably needs to get straight will be denied him once more by an industry obsessed with plying young men with adoration and millions of pounds but giving them nothing to do with their time.

For QPR, it represents the last of the Premier League mega mercenaries, but by no means the end of their financial problems. The squad remains grossly overstocked with players earning senior money but rarely playing – you could cut Yeni Ngbakoto, Ariel Borysiuk, Sean Goss, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Michael Petrasso and Joel Lynch from the squad right now, save a small fortune and make absolutely no difference to the performance of the first team. Championship clubs in our position do not carry seven senior salaried players to cover the centre back positions, for instance. It’s a product of changing managers too often, of changing philosophy too often, of poor recruitment, of always believing every problem can be solved with a new signing. They’ll try and get money this January for one or two of those, maybe a loan for one or two others, and Caulker may not be the last one given a handsome early goodbye handshake. QPR need to comply with FFP, create room on their budget to trade their way out of the problems the squad has with cannier additions like Freeman and Scowen, and clear the way for some genuinely promising young players like Samuel, Chair, Eze, Furlong and others to actually play some bloody football.

And they need to do all of this while finding the nine more wins they need to stay in the Championship. They’ll do well to manage one at Millwall tonight, against a team gunning for their former manager Ian Holloway, and one that was running all over the top of QPR, dominating them physically and beating them comfortably, prior to a harsh red card in the first meeting this season which set up a comeback to 2-2 from the R’s. Caulker’s departure may well be where the good news begins and ends at Loftus Road as 2017 comes to a close.

Links >>> Danny Shittu memories – History >>> Stroud returns – Referee

Friday

Team News: Josh Scowen’s red card at Ipswich for two bookings earns him a night on the naughty step but he’ll be back for Cardiff on Monday. Jamie Mackie is back from his suspension. James Perch continues his recovery from a dislocated knee while Joel Lynch never plays at this time of year.

Millwall have doubts over Conor McLaughlin (over eating) and Tom Elliott (over drinking) following their Christmas indulgences. Late checks to be taken on both.

Elsewhere: This final round of Mercantile Credit Trophy fixtures in 2017 comes just 48 hours before the first of 2018 and starts tonight with the Eighth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour looking to climb back into the top two with a home win against Preston Knob End. That’s before the game if the weekend at this level tomorrow night when Bristol City host Sporting Wolverhampton.

Should QPR register a surprise win at The Den t would put clear daylight between them and the bottom three before they all play tomorrow. Of the teams currently below Rangers you wouldn’t expect many points for Birmingham at home to the Champions of Europe, Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion at home to Borussia Norwich and Relegated Bolton away to Sheffield Red Stripes but Barnsley should win at home to Reading. The Allam Tigers are at home to Tarquin and Rupert while Sunderland go to the wildly inconsistent Nottingham Trees.

That just leaves Middlesbrough, who appointed Tony Pulis to replace Gary Monk last week, at home to Big Racist John and the Boys while award winning car dealership Brent Ford will aim to continue their ascent up the table by beating managerless Sheffield Owls whose slip to fourteenth has been enough to earn their former boss a shot at the Premier League with Swansea.

Referee: Any London derby at Millwall is a potentially volatile situation, but throw the first return of Ian Holloway to The Den into the mix and Friday has a lot of the wrong sort of simmering potential. For this the Football League have chosen a referee that they themselves suspended last season for not knowing the rules, a referee who sent off three QPR players and awarded four penalties against us in seven appointments over the previous two seasons. An absolute raging chode of a man. You’ve got to bloody wonder haven’t you? Details here.

Form

Millwall: Neil Harris’ side have achieved some notable scalps at The Den of late, with wins against high flying Sheff Utd (3-1) and big-spending Middlesbrough (2-1) to go with a draw against league leaders Wolves (2-2) last time out. Those two wins are their only successes in the last 11 and they’ve won just three of the last 14 prior to this. Overall at home they’ve won six, drawn three and lost three this season. Steve Morison, who almost lobbed Alex Smithies from 45 yards in the first meeting this season, has taken 52 shots without scoring since promotion, the most in the league – I think we all know what happens next.

QPR: Rangers have only won once away this season with five draws and six defeats in the other games. They did, however, keep a clean sheet at Ipswich on Boxing Day, just their fourth shut out of the season and seventh since Ian Holloway returned as manager 55 league games ago. The trecent win at Birmingham snapped a six match winless run and put eight points between Rangers and the drop zone. They’re unbeaten in three coming into this but the last two have been drawn and Holloway’s men have just one win in nine and three in 18 games prior to kick off tonight. They have lost only one of their last 13 matches with Millwall but have never won at The New Den and haven’t beaten ‘Wall away since 1990 when Simon Barker and Roy Wegerle scored in a 2-0 win. They have only met four times competitively away from home since then however.

Prediction: The winner of this year’s Prediction League will be furnished with goodies from The Art of Football, but if you don’t fancy your chances then you can browse their QPR Collection here and purchase something instead. Our reigning champion Southend_Rsss tells us…

“The games keep coming as thick and fast as Steven Caulker’s next pint (thankfully no longer QPR picking up the tab). Here we go again on Friday night, with a nice little trip to that well known prison-like surroundings and ground, The New Den. Lovely. Back at Loftus Road this fixture was fairly entertaining. Typical QPR nonsense in the first half, followed by pitching up camp in the Millwall half for the second, wave after wave of attacks and nearly getting the injury time winner, Smith coming very, very close. I can see the same sort of game and result for the return leg. A good away clean sheet up at Ipswich, but we will concede and this game could go either way. As normal in derbies, whoever wants it more will win. But QPR and derbies haven’t gone well recently.”

Craig’s Prediction: Millwall 2-2 QPR. Scorer – Matt Smith

LFW’s Prediction: Millwall 2-0 QPR. No scorer.

The Twitter @loftforwords

Pictures – Action Images

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Dorse added 17:21 - Dec 29
Can't believe I wasn't invited to JET's 2017 birthday party at the function room in the Travelodge, just off the A303. They had balloons and everything. I reckon I'll just keep the book token I bought him now.
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Ashdown_Ranger added 18:42 - Dec 29
I was surprised not to see you there Dorse - we all sang "Swazzy Birthday To You", it was great fun.

Just as well you're keeping your book token - JET was having difficulty with colouring in some of the other birthday books he'd been given, so goodness knows what he'd have made of one with words in...
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Myke added 00:47 - Dec 30
À very strong piece Clive, well done. 1-0 defeat no surprise considering our improved defence and inability to score. Considering we need to replicate our first half of the season to survive, one point from the first two games versus four is a bit worrying. So typical QPR that Morrison would score his first goal of the season.
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