Well it was never dull - Column
Friday, 13th May 2016 19:15 by Clive Whittingham
LFW looks back at the controversies, highs, lowest lows and now premature release of one of the club's best players in the modern era as Ale Faurlin bids QPR farewell.
They like their telenovelas in Latin America. Every channel, every daytime, chock full of these sweeping series of 120 episodes or more, produced in double quick time for no money at all on production values that would shame a YouTube vlogger. Unlikely storylines, almost always centred around a forbidden love affair, high on melodrama and scandal, hooking the housewives of Brazil, Argentina, Chile and beyond.
Still, I think even the writers of this warm diarrhoea for the eyes might laugh off the Ale Faurlin story as too far fetched for their target audience. The boy from Rosario, who moved to London in an illegal and crooked transfer deal to seek his fortune as a professional footballer, became embroiled in a Football Association hearing that threatened to bring an entire league to a standstill and cost his team promotion, later successfully returns to action after three separate career-threatening knee injuries. All while working afternoons in a friend's coffee shop on the Chiswick High Road. And he plays the guitar.
Get out of here.
The sky is blue
You'd forgive Ale Faurlin for hating Queens Park Rangers. His seven years here have been beset with controversy and the kind of bad luck you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy, and it started the very second he arrived here as an unheralded 22-year-old from Instituto Cordoba in his homeland.
QPR were under some considerable pressure in the summer of 2009. The early optimism around Flavio Briatore's takeover had given way to a tide of unrest, with ticket prices rocketing and managers coming and going at a frightening, increasing rate. The decision to hire Jim Magilton as new boss, after he'd failed in his first job at Ipswich Town, hadn't set pulses racing. The board needed things to start going well to arrest a slide in public opinion, sporting director Gianni Paladini meanwhile was feeling it from not only the supporters, but also, one would imagine, the exceedingly rich and impatient men who he'd sold the club to.
Alejandro Faurlin was perfect. Nobody had ever seen him play, so QPR could hype him up as much as they liked. He had pedigree with the national team – part of the Argentina U17 side beaten at the 2003 World Championships in Finland at the semi-final stage by a Spanish side that went on to do a few bits and pieces at senior level.
The official website said Rangers had spent £3.5m on the player, which was useful propaganda at a time when the club was being accused of lacking ambition and penny pinching.
When he started to play he was obviously very good, which meant Paladini and his shameless hangers on could say that it was Magilton, and his assistant John Gorman, who'd spotted the player on a scouting trip to Argentina, which made them look good and got fans off their backs. Later, when Magilton went the way of all his immediate predecessors, that story changed and actually it was apparently Paladini who'd scouted and spotted him and graciously allowed Magilton to take the credit. You’d be told to remember that it was only because of Gianni that we had Faurlin at all whenever you questioned or criticised him.
It was, however, sadly, untrue. All of it.
QPR hadn't paid £3.5m for the player at all. The club's own legal counsel, Ian Mill, described this as a "puff piece" designed to placate supporters, with no basis at all in truth. Faurlin had actually cost, initially at least, nothing at all.
Nor had he been 'purchased' from Instituto Cordoba where he'd started making his way as a cultured midfielder with deceptive aerial ability. As is common in South America, they'd sold the rights to the player to a third party management firm called TYP Sports Agency for £250,000 in 2007. Nor had he been scouted by anybody, he came through an agent called Peppino Tirri who arranged the deal with TYP and Paladini to bring him to England.
The deal was that Faurlin would play for QPR in the Championship, and if he proved to be any good then the club could buy him from TYP for a fee at a later date. The problem with this is it meant the player was technically owned by a third party, contrary to the FA's rules, as West Ham had just very publicly found out with Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. The other problem was that while Tirri was registered with FIFA, he wasn't registered with the FA as he needed to be. Oh, and the other other problem was that Paladini told nobody any of this – not the league, not the FA, not the club secretary Terry Springett, not the club's lawyer Chris Farnell. Nobody.
Faurlin, as we'll come onto, turned out to be brilliant: left foot like a wand, vision like somebody who could see through time, hair like a Toni & Guy trainee. After a year, QPR did indeed want to buy him from TYP for real. Then things got tricky.
Paladini requested a sum of £615,000 from the club's finance director – the fee agreed for Faurlin with his third party owners – to complete the deal, and a further £200,000 was owed to Tirri as a "finder's fee". He was told to refer this to the league who took a wide-eyed gawp at it and forwarded it on to the FA who then, inexplicably, spent six months looking at it before bringing charges.
QPR were now in trouble. Riding high in the Championship table, looking set for a promotion back to the Premier League after 15 years away, Neil Warnock's brilliant side was sweeping all before it, and a midfield combination of Faurlin and Shaun Derry had plenty to do with that. But they spent the latter part of the campaign under a cloud of seven FA charges relating to third party ownership and illegal payments to agents. Vultures in Norwich, Swansea and Cardiff shirts gathered awaiting a points deduction.
The hearing, when it came, was a farce. Delayed until the very final week of the season, after QPR had already mathematically won the league and with the play-offs just days away, it was preceded by a leak to The Sun from FA sources saying the club faced a 15 point deduction. The first day was spent mostly hearing submissions from Rangers' highly experienced legal team that various members of the panel be dismissed from the hearing because of this press coverage.
Time quickly became Rangers' friend. Friday came and went with no result. The final game of the season, the presentation of the league winner's trophy, was due the day after. Mill, and Nick De Marco QC, had pulled a masterstroke – delaying the hearing, burying the FA in paper, making it impossible to deduct points without throwing the entire division, and the play-offs, into a state of deadlocked chaos and legal challenges.
Just as well, because as defences go, QPR's was fairly dreadful. Paladini said that in actual fact a legally binding letter had been drafted at the time of the transfer, whereby TYP suspended all their third party rights and influence over the player for the duration of his Loftus Road contract. This letter, which Mill (who was on QPR's side remember) described as "inept", had been kept in Paladini's desk drawer, with nobody else at the club aware of its existence, only to surface very conveniently in time for the hearing. The secretary who was said to have written it two years prior, also rather conveniently, could not be traced – a source of frustration for the panel who said her evidence would have been thoroughly tested.
Ridiculously, even the bloody letter said in black and white that TYP was only suspending its influence over the player until 2010 – one year into Faurlin's three year contract – not 2012. Paladini said this was a typo. Mill said the club's sporting director was "not a finer details person".
And then there was Tirri, who only received his £200,000 payment when Faurlin's contract was renewed and TYP were paid in 2010. He'd received no numeration at all when Faurlin first arrived at the club – the bit of the deal he did all the work on – when he was unlicensed. The payment was made after the contract renewal, which he had nothing to do with, conveniently, though, when he was registered. Again, Terry Springett the club secretary had not been told of Tirri's involvement, nor had his name appeared on any of the original documentation. He was named in the contract extension though, despite not being involved in it.
The FA found QPR had gained a sporting advantage – usually the standard to meet for a points deduction. The club had signed a player in a manner and for a price that was not legally available to any of the clubs they were competing against. Norwich, Swansea, Cardiff, Reading… anybody would perhaps have thought that £615,000 plus a £200,000 agent fee for an unheralded player from the Argentinean league was a risk too far and not taken it. QPR had manufactured an illegal 'try before you buy' situation, and landed themselves a real catch, in a way no other club could.
However, with the final round of games kicking off in a matter of minutes, the commission settled on just a fine.
Faurlin in love
One can only imagine how the player himself coped with all of this. QPR had been away from the Premier League for 15 years, had been to the third tier and back, had been in administration, had been on the cusp of going out of business several times. Here they were, with a brilliant team and excellent manager, finally about to return to the big time only to have it all thrown up in the air because of Ale Faurlin. Well, not because of him, but…
Imagine that weight on your shoulders. Imagine going into training everyday and looking into the eyes of your team mates, knowing their anxiety and uncertainty was all being caused by your transfer. Imagine waking up to the headlines – every post match interview, every newspaper report about QPR, every Sky game, all anybody was talking about was Ale Faurlin, and not for good reasons. One QPR fan took things into his own hands, physically knocking a Sky camera out of the way and calling the reporters "vultures" as they attempted to follow the Argentinean into the ground. Imagine dealing with all that, at the same time as the usual pressure that comes with playing in a promotion campaign. How would you sleep? How would you perform on the pitch?
But Ale Faurlin had already shown himself to be a man of tremendous character and strong will before this. Any initial fears that some flouncy South American with a dodgy mullet wouldn't fancy the oft-discussed cold Tuesday night in Barnsley – which rather misunderstood the Argentineans in general – had been quickly dealt with. Indeed, during one horrible evening at Nottingham Forest he rode a tackle in the penalty area and tried to get a shot away when any sort of fall would have brought a spot kick – "we've bought the only South American in the world who doesn't dive in the penalty area," remarked one of the faithful.
Faurlin could be suspect defensively with his positioning, but he liked a tackle as much as anybody, and his ability to win balls in the air made him a real asset in the Championship. Throw in a passing game better than anybody else in the division by a country mile and you barely even noticed the guy had the acceleration of a house brick.
He'd been outstanding in a poor QPR team in 2008/09, maintaining a high level of performance while the club fell apart around him and swiftly worked its way through four managers. Now he was a key pivot in the best team in the division, combining perfectly with Derry at the base of the midfield to feed service through to Adel Taarabt, Jamie Mackie and Wayne Routledge ahead of him. All three were made to look even better than they actually were by having Faurlin behind them. The understanding with Taarabt, in particular, was telepathic. An assist for a late Routledge winner at Reading, on a difficult pitch with Rangers down to ten men, was pure class. A rare goal – he never did score enough unfortunately – against Sheffield United at Loftus Road almost ripped the net off the back of the posts and moved Rangers a step closer.
If all this was weighing on Ale's mind, it didn't bloody show.
None of it was his fault, and few deserved to lift the Championship trophy more. Faurlin got the biggest cheer of all when he emerged to do just that, draped in the flag of his homeland, on that glorious sunny day in Shepherd's Bush.
No beats were skipped in the Premier League either. In fact, Faurlin got better still in a league where more time is afforded on the ball, and possession flows through the midfield rather than over the top of it. He'd been playing well anyway, but really announced his arrival in the top flight with a goal, and fabulous performance, in a 3-0 win at Molineux against Wolves in September.
"Faurlin in particular will be the one that the highflyers in the division will be talking about and trying to sign in the next to transfer windows in my opinion. Mind you, if Rangers keep playing like this then they will be one of the highflyers themselves," said our match report before giving the Man of the Match to Armand fucking Traore. God I hate myself sometimes.
Neil Warnock was harshly sacked that January. A poor decision in hindsight, but one at the time felt like it was coming with the dressing room increasingly out of control. In his latest book the veteran manager talked about the effect of bringing big earners and egos into a tight knit group, and the lack of respect for discipline shown by Shaun Wright-Phillips and others, as key factors.
But there was one regret he harboured more than most. In a home match against West Brom, where Rangers were forced to settle for a draw after having a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside, the Baggies' equaliser had come via a counter attack in which Faurlin could have cynically brought down Chris Brunt, taken a booking and prevented it from happening. Warnock castigated him on the pitch at the final whistle, and in the tunnel, and then again in the dressing room in front of his team mates at which point he snapped and went for the manager. Warnock apologised. That was the standing everybody held Faurlin in - Warnock apologised.
Sadly, worse was to come for Faurlin. In Warnock's last match, in the FA Cup at MK Dons, he went up for one his trademark 40/60 headers in midfield, won the ball, and came down on a straight leg. His anterior cruciate ligament imploded.
Mark Hughes said he couldn't wait to have Faurlin involved, and if anything played him too much too soon at the start of the following season. Harry Redknapp less so, preferring instead to sign Jermaine Jenas, and Faurlin was out on loan at Palermo when relegation was confirmed.
Back in the team at Championship level, he seemed to be finally finding some form and returning to something like his old self when he suffered exactly the same injury in his other knee in a home game with Derby. Faurlin beat the turf with a fist clenched in pain and frustration as the medical staff strapped him to the stretcher and carried him off to another nine months of rehab. He was at Wembley to see QPR win the play-off final, but only as a spectator.
Redknapp's attitude to Faurlin didn't grow much fonder through absence. He rather bluntly and callously wrote off his chances of coming back from the injury a second time in a press conference, upsetting the player and his family. He then slung him into a scratchy starting 11 for a League Cup match at Burton – oh how we laugh when Harry now uses his various newspaper columns to criticise other managers for fielding weakened team in cup competitions - where, tragically, the repair job done on one of his ACL's failed and the ligament ruptured again. Faurlin was fit to play most of the second half of last season, but Redknapp hadn't seen fit to include him in the 25 man squad. Shaun Wright-Phillips got in though. As did Sandro, who was also never fit to take part.
Much like Clint Hill, Faurlin carried himself and represented the club perfectly at a time when few others sucking money from it looked like they gave much of a toss. He was a regular on the Open All R's Podcast, turning up with his guitar, and his young son, and a variety of dodgy moustaches, and asking where the lads were going for a pint afterwards. He ran shuttle sprints and watched his lad play football in Ravenscourt Park. He waited tables in a coffee house in Chiswick. He got the bus to Loftus Road on matchday. He was, and is, a fantastic person.
Coming back from one ACL is difficult, two is almost impossible and three is unheard of. Swansea's excellent Dutch midfielder Ferrie Bodde had ended his career after a similar run. Chris Cohen at Nottingham Forest is attempting it now, and he and Faurlin warmly embraced after a meeting between the sides at the City Ground in January this year.
Faurlin did make it back. With steadfast determination most men would struggle to find, and on knees held together with elastic bands and chewing gum, Faurlin remained fit for the whole of the 2015/16 season. He fought his way into the team, having initially been earmarked as a bit part player, and he has, once again, been the best midfielder at the club. A goal proved beyond him – one free kick at Forest came down off the underside of the bar and stayed out – but he made 30 appearances in all.
There are lock up garages with a smaller turning circle, and more speed across the ground, but QPR are still, as they have been since he arrived, a far better team with Ale Faurlin in midfield than without him. It's that, rather than any sentiment, that saddens and worries me the most about his release this week. QPR have been good to the player, they've kept him on and renewed his contract through his injury hell, there's no duty to keep renewing his deal for the rest of time. Rangers have done their bit. But the club knew it was Faurlin who made the team tick this time last year, and an attempt at replacing him with Daniel Tozser – who'd won promotion with Watford the year before – failed. Nothing has changed since, except Faurlin has proved he can play at least 30 games in a season. He's still the best passer of a ball, the best set piece taker, at the club, and he'll take some replacing on the pitch, never mind in the dressing room where he was the club's longest serving and most popular player.
This feels like a mistake.
Few deserve good luck more than Ale Faurlin after everything he's been through, and we wish him all he can possibly get wherever he ends up.
The Twitter @loftforwords
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