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This Week - Where to now?
This Week - Where to now?
Thursday, 14th Jan 2010 10:05

A second half collapse against Sheffield United means Rangers are out of the cup again. Showing relegation form, putting in dire performances and with fans either staying away in droves or abusing the manager and players at games where on earth is our club going in 2010?

The darkest hour...
I didn’t miss it you know, not one bit. At no stage on Tuesday did I get a pang of guilt about missing the match, I didn’t find myself checking to see if there were any late train deals I could get, I didn’t sit down with my lap top at half seven and curse my own stubbornness and wish I was there, and when my commentary cut out for the first ten minutes and last three I didn’t climb the walls or fire off angry e-mails. I cursed the first goal, sighed at the second and laughed at the third. In the end, to my shame, I was actually quite disappointed we pulled a couple of goals back because it gave Paul Hart a chance to talk about the character of the side and having things to build on when clearly the team is heartless, leaderless, rudderless, demoralised and drifting under the guidance of a manager who makes Alan Mullery look competent and a board that has us begging for a return of Richard Thompson.

I haven't missed a QPR league game for two years, but I didn’t go last night, and I’m not going to Watford next month either, or probably Derby at home, or Plymouth at home unless our club has the common sense (yeh, I know, nurse my sides) to rearrange our game with them for the free Saturday we now have because of our incompetence in cup competitions. Basically midweek games are a hassle for me anyway but I’ve always made that effort to get there because I love Rangers, I love going to the games, I love being part of the club and supporting the team and socialising with the other fans. But I want to watch Paul Hart’s Queens Park Rangers side about as much as I want to stick my knob in the toaster and I resent giving my money to the people apparently running my club into the ground. QPR is my whole life, I’ve been there every bloody Saturday since 1992 but at the moment I hate them, I hate what they’ve become, I hate the way they make me feel. They’re an absolute laughing stock and I hate it.

The four main problems as I see them start with the team. This is a very decent squad of players in this division in my opinion - weak in too many areas to challenge for the top two but easily good enough to hope for a play off place. For the money we are paying in wages we should be much better, and after ninety transfers it's ridiculous that we could do with another couple of strikers, and better full backs, and we lack a leader since Gavin Mahon and Martin Rowlands were injured but let’s be honest, if we could apply the spirit and hard work of Blackpool to our team we’d be in the top six no problem at all. We have seen how good this team can be this season - and I’m not buying all this “we didn’t beat anybody that good” nonsense that is trotted out about our September/October form, Barnsley have been second only to Forest in the form table since Robins took over, Preston and Reading were both in the play offs last season, Newcastle are top of the league and said we were the best team we have played, Cardiff are in the play off zone now. No, I’m sorry, our team is a good one and has shown it is well capable in this league.

However the team is currently totally demoralised. It is clear as day when you look at them play. There’s no heart there, no spirit, no fight, no confidence. When 2-0 down at Derby earlier this season they calmly stuck to the game plan and won 4-2, when 2-0 down at Ipswich over Christmas they quite obviously gave up and could have been beaten five or six nil. Whether they are lacking confidence or not, and I appreciate players are not robots and cannot be expected to simply ignore the farce around them and turn it on every week, our players owe us more than they are currently giving. They are paid handsomely and in a number of cases cannot even keep fit at the moment. You don't need to be particularly confident or happy or motivated to keep your bloody weight down when you're playing football every day. I’m not accusing them of not caring, because I looked at their faces after the Ipswich massacre and it was clear that they did, or not trying, because I think they are, but at the moment some of them cannot even pass a ball ten yards. They wanted rid of Magilton, not a single one of them voted to back him after the Watford incident according to the press, and they got what they wanted. It is about time they started doing their bit now.

After the team you look to the manager. And what a bloody manager we have lumbered ourselves with here. I can only hope and pray that the idea of bringing in Hart as a “steadying influence” until the end of the season means they already have a Curbishley type appointment lined up for about three minutes after the Newcastle match. If they don’t already know who they want in the summer then why are we messing about with this no hoper? While we persist with a man who lives off one failed play off campaign with Nottingham Forest seven years ago and notable successes in youth football Darren Ferguson has got another job, Alan Irvine has got another job, and Sean O’Driscoll has come within a hair’s breadth of getting a new job. Ferguson I would have been excited by, Irvine would have been ok, O’Driscoll I would carry back here from Doncaster in bare feet. What if attractive jobs at places like Hull and West Ham become available before the end of the season? More people like O’Driscoll, Coppell and Curbishley are going to get other jobs and we’re going to be left appointing more Hart and Magilton types.

In the meantime Hart has set the team up in such a way that he has eliminated just about every one of our attacking threats. By moving to a 442 formation, starting Agyemang up front, bringing an end to the playing out from the back mantra that worked so well for Magilton and the players and preaching a ‘back to basics’ approach he has successfully nullified every single threat we can pose a team. As one wit pointed out the last person who preached a 'back to basics' approach was John Major prior to the 1997 election and look what happened there. He wants Quashie in the midfield and Kitson up front which will make a difference but we have a squad here that is good enough already to be doing much better than this - I thought the job of a manager was to find a system that best suits the players at your disposal, not impose a system that doesn't work on them and then stand in press conferences saying we need new players in every position.

Faurlin spends too much time watching the ball flying around over his head, Routledge sees far less of the ball wide on the right, Buzsaky is marooned wide on the left and is playing badly anyay, Taarabt can’t get in the team at all and all for a back to bloody basics approach that is relying on a target man who cannot head the ball because he ducks when he jumps. Meanwhile the only genuine target man we do possess is currently on loan, again, at a team very close to us in the league while we pay a good chunk of his wages. You really could not make it up. Heidar Helguson won more ball in the air against Chris Morgan in a five minute substitute role at Bramall Lane last week than Agyemang did in 85 minutes before him and, by most accounts, another hour and a half last night. What a farce it is that we are now paying him to play for somebody else while we try and bring in a couple of absolute cloggers on loan from Hull City.

Hart cannot even make a substitution right. Even when he brings the right player on he takes the wrong one off. And the really annoying thing is even the quickest of glances at Hart’s CV and references could have told us all of this would happen. Portsmouth, Barnsley, Forest in the end, Rushden and chuffin Diamonds - poor results, failure, sacked. He will, like any other manager, say judge me on my own players and if stories of interest in Kitson are true then that would certainly be an improvement on Agyemang. But in any other walk of life a man with such a lousy record would have been laughed out of the boardroom before the interview had even begun. It is an absolute joke that he is here at all.

Which brings me neatly onto problem three - our Sporting Director Gianni Paladini. There has been much talk about him and fingers pointing in his direction across the message boards and radio phone ins just recently. Personally I think that the QPR fans by and large love a scapegoat, we’re all guilty of it, we like to think that a multitude of problems could be solved by the removal of one individual. Anybody that thinks Paladini and/or Hart leaving tomorrow would cure all our woes and ills is kidding themselves. They are merely part of a bigger problem at QPR.

How big a part in that Paladini is playing is unclear because nobody knows for sure what exactly he does. I mean Paul Hart insists he’s the man in charge, as did Iain Dowie and Jim Magilton, but if that is the case why have we been consistently linked with Caleb Folan at Hull City? I mean is it possible that Dowie, Sousa, Magilton and now Hart all want to sign a striker whose career goals average out at three per calendar year? And who is recommending these managers to the board? Are we really to believe that Flavio Briatore even knew who Jim Magilton, Paul Hart and Iain Dowie were before they came to QPR?

If Paladini is in charge, or more in charge than anybody else, of signing the players and recommending the managers then I’m afraid the witching hour must be drawing near for him. Too many poor signings, too many long contracts, too many big wages, too many rank managers, too many bad results. And that’s without even getting into his alleged slagging of Paulo Sousa to fans before the match at Derby last season, and propensity to talk rather more than he should to certain supporters about signings and other bits and pieces - Sousa was of course sacked himself here for much, much less.

And so we come finally to Flavio Briatore who, ultimately, must carry the can for this farce. The signings have been poor, certainly, however Paladini and the managers are working to the ‘no high transfer fees’ remit that Flavio set out when he arrived here. Consequently you are only ever going to get cast offs and players other clubs don’t want - usually there is a good reason for that. It is also Flavio that fired Iain Dowie after eight wins from his first 15 games, terminated Sousa’s contract and has since allowed the appointment of Magilton and Hart - all of which have weakened the club, harmed the team, and made us more unattractive to potentially very good managers. For all the stick the players, Paul Hart and Gianni Paladini undoubtedly deserve for allowing such a promising team and season to slide so alarmingly it is Flavio that oversees it, signs the cheques and the contracts.

Look at the success Nottingham Forest are enjoying this season simply by finding a manager that has achieved success in this league before, and letting him spend reasonably sized transfer fees on proven players for this level. While we’re scraping Gary Borrowdale off the bottom of Coventry City’s barrel and giving him a three year deal, Forest are spending a couple of million quid on Chris Gunter. And who got the better end of that deal? That Forest are a roaring success with Lee Camp and Dexter Blackstock, two players ousted from this club because Briatore didn’t like them, in their team makes it all the more galling.

For such a wonderfully successful businessman his stubbornness and failure to acknowledge proven methods of achieving success in this league is staggering. The stupid thing is Forest will spend roughly the same as we have because they’ll get to the Premiership in half the time it takes us. All very well not paying transfer fees but Patrick Agyemang on a four and a half year deal and five figures a week soon adds up.

There are numerous other small players as well working us into this horrible situation. Supporters who sit at home games constantly abusing the players and perpetuating a negative atmosphere, although in fairness I will always stand up for the right of a supporter who is paying gross amounts of money to attend dreadful football matches to have their say. All this hand wringing over how terribly poor Gary Megson was treated at Bolton ignores the fact that most of the people wringing their hands don’t pay £30 a week to watch Gary Megson’s bloody horrible team. Ali Russell and his ticketing policy, that created such negative feeling among the fan base, has massively damaged the atmosphere at Loftus Road and has reduced the club’s marketing department to sending out begging e-mails to websites like this asking us to tell supporters about ten pound ticket deals for home games with Plymouth just to try and get people through the doors.

A circus then basically. Our club ladies and gentlemen.

...comes before the light.
At the turn of the year I wrote what was intended to be a humorous piece about what I’d do on my first day as manager of QPR. It was meant to be nothing more than a light hearted poke at our club just as the final LFW article in 2009 but was ultimately taken rather too seriously by some who pointed out that inserting Patrick Agyemang’s personalised registration plate into his arse would be a man management disaster among other things. It’s hard to convey sarcasm in writing, and obviously I failed.

I shall try now to be a little bit more serious and outline a couple of paths I would like to see the club consider from 9am tomorrow morning. As far as I am concerned this season is over. We’re not far from the play offs currently but we’d have to put together three or four quick fire wins to get back into contention and with Blackpool and Forest away our next two games, highly likely to be two defeats, that will soon become six or seven wins just to get back amongst it and the malaise and confidence crisis with our current team is not something that will be turned around overnight, or, in my opinion, turned around at all by this manager.

Personally I would rather Mick Harford and either Gareth Ainsworth or Marc Bircham were in charge for the rest of the season. As it looks like we’re stuck with Hart though and he is going to want yet another load of transfer window signings to layer on top of our squad. Already the players we have amount to purchases under seven different managers and Hart could be about to make that eight - frankly the players we’re apparently considering, apart from maybe Nigel Quashie if he can get fit and Dave Kitson if he can find his Reading rather than Stoke or Middlesbrough form, won’t make much difference. I’d like to see our own promising young players like Connolly, Balanta, Ephraim and German given more game time and loan players who definitely won’t be here next season less. Hart should not be allowed to make permanent additions. He is surely going to be gone in the summer anyway so it will merely be creating another layer of dead wood for the next man to replace. Loans only, and as I said earlier Hart really should be trying to return these players to the style and system that works for them, not dragging them further away from it, imposing a whole new direct style of football and then shurgging and demanding new players when it doesn't work.

The next managerial appointment is crucial. Flavio Briatore said when he arrived that the last thing he wants to do is give his money to a football manager to spend but I am afraid, by and large, that is how success is achieved in the English game. I would personally like to see an experienced Steve Coppell or Alan Curbishley type figure (not Hart, Bryan Robson, Peter Reid or Gary bleedin Megson thank you very much) brought in and given total control over how the team and club operates. The manager for me should be the most important man at the club - at the moment at QPR the manager seems to be about fourth in line behind an ego-maniac chairman, flappy mouthed sporting director and an overpaid, under worked balshy playing squad. When Gerry Francis returned a second time he did so as Director of Football, to try and shake up the entire operation. Ideally I would like to see Hart, Paladini, Harford and the coaches completely swept aside and Coppell or Curbishley brought in and handed a blank canvass - here's your transfer budget, here's your wage budget, here are the players we have already, this is where we want to be in six months, 12 months, 18 months and so on. Do it however you like.

Failing that let’s put our faith in a fresh, up and coming boss. Darren Ferguson has already gone but Sean O’Driscoll hasn’t got the Burnley job and remains a viable option. It will be very hard to persuade a decent manager to come here after the way we have treated our bosses in recent times but we have to make a good offer - going only for managers desperate enough to come and work here is making things worse by the game. Let them sign the players they want, let them spend some reasonable transfer fees, let them have the coaches and staff they want and let them have enough time to mould it all together. Don’t forget Nottingham Forest started this season very, very slowly indeed - our board probably would have sacked Billy Davies in September.

Failing that, and assuming Flavio still doesn’t like the idea of some ex-footballer splashing his cash around, bring in a manager who likes and succeeds with a Sporting Director System. De Canio and Paladini actually seemed to work quite well together, and the club looked at Guidolin and Novellino around the same time as well. Either appoint a proper English style manager who does everything, or find a foreigner who likes the Sporting Director system – but don’t take one and try and force it into the other.

Whoever is appointed the message must be the same whoever is appointed - money for transfer fees, time to do the job. Spare no expense in getting the very best man we can. Magilton and Hart both smack of cheap, easy options to me. Desperate men who couldn’t get a job anywhere else. Neither has achieved notable success as a manager. There should be no more of this appointing no-hopers because they’re cheap and we’ve seen their face on the news a bit recently. And no more sacking managers after a couple of bad results - yes I know I’m being contrary by saying I’d get rid of Hart already but as far as I’m concerned we’d be better off with Antonio German and Angelo Balanta managing the team than him. Give the new man a three year deal with specific targets to reach every six months and a review every 12. Had we done that Dowie would never have been sacked and that would have been no bad thing.

We also need to stop this hap hazard, Barry Fry style transfer policy that has seen us do 90 deals since the takeover. We loan players in and out with crazy frequency - how can it make sense to bring a crap striker in on loan from Hull’s reserves while a striker we own plays on loan at Watford while we pay him? We still go for players after one decent performance against us (Tommy Williams) or just because they’re available even if we don’t need them (Steven Reid). We still don’t adequately scout players to see if they will actually fit into our team or we actually need them - how many times have we actually watched Gary Hooper at Scunthorpe for instance? How many times did we go and watch Williams and Reid before bringing them in? We - and by we I mean the manager, sporting director and supporters - are constantly looking for and demanding the next signing, the next loan, when in fact we have a perfectly good squad here. Why should we loan in Daniel Cousin when we have Heidar Helguson out on loan? Why look at Danny Shittu when we have Matt Connolly not getting a game? Why pay Hogan Ephraim, Angelo Balanta and others good money only to bring in other people’s kids on loan ahead of them? This has to stop. There needs to be more continuity - season long loans like Jay Simpson and Adel Taarabt can be a good thing, and our proximity to Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham gives us an advantage to exploit, but I would struggle to name a short term (three months or less) loan we have made in the last 18 months who has done better than a player we already had at the club would have done if used instead.

There needs to be a coming together between fans, players and club as well. At the moment it’s hard to remember we all want the same thing. In the spoof piece I wrote about holding a dinner for supporters and players at Loftus Road, letting both players and fans stand up afterwards and speak about the state of the club. Damien Delaney won many friends here for his candid and honest answers at the loyalty evening last May. Have a fans forum and let people go there and be honest. Let the players sit there and give a bit to the fans if that’s how they feel, and let the fans give a bit back. Let’s try and clear the air here. It would help if Flavio Briatore acknowledged that his initial idea of not caring what “people who turn up once a week and pay £20” think absolutely stinks and apologises for that. That club needs us a lot more than we need it. At the moment we’re beating ourselves at home - I wouldn’t want to play for QPR at the moment and I love the club, so I can only imagine that feeling is worse for the players.

The end of next season marks the end of the stipulated ‘four year plan’ the owners had when they arrived. Appoint the right manager and let him do his job and we already have a squad capable of making the six which could, with maybe a couple of additions in the full back and forward areas, push for the top two. Get it wrong again, and for me our managerial appointments are getting steadily worse rather than better, and for Flavio Briatore this whole “project” is going to turn out to be a very expensive way of making himself look like a complete idiot.

Photo: Action Images

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