In defence of a quiet summer – Column
Thursday, 3rd Aug 2017 14:38 by Ram Chandra
With the season 48 hours away and signings numbering one, the world of QPR social media is a seething mass of hyperbole and doom. Have a toke on what Ram Chandra’s been smoking and chill.
In July, the Sun published an article about how Queens Park Rangers had resorted to the East Asian art of feng shui to generate positive energy around the club. QPR had engaged experts, the article followed, enlisted with the task of “moving stuff around” and “making things face certain ways” to “rearrange the club’s position in the Championship.”
QPR’s recent adoption of feng shui philosophy, which emphasises the banishment of clutter, may also explain why the club has been so reluctant to add players to its already bloated squad. To date, QPR have only signed one senior player this summer: Josh Scowen on a free transfer from Barnsley.
Rangers fans have been vocal in their displeasure with QPR’s summer business, and I share some of this sentiment. However, unlike the Rangers Twitter mob, I am content with our lack of new signings (although we desperately need another centre back). Instead, I believe that Les Ferdinand and Ian Holloway have frankly not done enough yet to trim the size of our squad.
QPR’s squad currently contains 38 players. Even if we take out the 10 academy pups on our roster (whom we’ve been told will feature more prominently this season), that still leaves us a squad of 28 senior players. I’ve presented below our current squad, with each player categorized by their position/positions. Players who are bolded are categorised as academy/U-23 players.
By contrast, Spurs, who will play in at least 50+ matches over four competitions with a squad full of players who also have international duties, have only 22(!) senior players in their first team squad.
Unloading players over the rest of this transfer window is so imperative that QPR should consider using its player signing press kit for when players depart. How many retweets would Ian Taylor get for a picture of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas waving goodbye with the hashtag #JETTakesOff? Or how about a picture of El-Khayati awkwardly sitting at a table, tearing up his contract with Les and Ollie standing over his shoulder? Frankly, if Les Ferdinand is not citing a list of players he needs to get rid of every night before he sleeps like he’s Arya Stark, he’s not doing his job.
In short, while I hate to sound like Amber Rudd discussing “net migration”, the club is actually being prudent in not signing a new crop of players until it first trims its squad significantly. Here’s my defense of our lack of signings.
The case for a leaner squad
You don’t need to be Richard Branson to know that it’s bad business to pay the wages of players who aren’t actually playing. Every quid we spend paying Caulker, JET and El-Khayati to sit at home watching Jeremy Kyle reruns is a quid we can’t spend on other targets. Caulker, JET and El-Khayati are the easy cases, though. They seem to have no future at the club, and I’d be surprised if any of them are still on the books in September. However, even assuming we do get rid of these three players, QPR’s squad is still too large to distribute meaningful minutes to the players already on our roster.
Furthermore, if Ollie was sincere in his intent to intersperse youth into our squad this season, he needs to ensure that these players can realistically break into the first team. Should players like Eze, Hamalainen and Shodipo be kept around, they will need minutes with the first team to continue to develop. Young pros without much senior experience like Mike Petrasso and Sean Goss will also not improve without first team playing time, and may fall victim to impatience and disillusionment in the reserves. Furthermore, in the long-run, if QPR intends to compete with the likes of Fulham and Brentford for local talent, we need to be able to show prospects that there’s a viable path from the academy to the first team. In order to free up minutes for our young players, we need to shed the deadwood.
And lest we forget Leicester, who showed us the fragility and fleeting nature of a dressing room. Ollie can orchestrate as many Mannequin Challenges as he likes, but at the end of the day, players will be unsettled unless they’re getting regular opportunities on the pitch. Bad eggs, rotten apples, lemons- pick your grocery item; bored and discontented players will destroy the dressing room, especially if we’re not getting results.
Finally, a bloated squad may encourage Ollie to revert to his tinkering ways from the end of last season. Ollie stated that one of the reasons he kept chopping and changing the squad from match to match last term was because he wanted to see what he had for the next season. While he never came out and publicly stated it, I suspect his erratic matchday squad choices also reflected his desire to distribute minutes to the many senior players on the squad, which also included LuaLua, Michael Doughty and Ravel Morrison.
As a formerly chubby kid who still lacks dietary self-control, I liken trimming QPR’s squad to me not keeping snacks and candy in my flat. If it’s there, I’ll eat it. Similarly, if a squad full of players is available to Ollie, he’ll probably try to use then all in as many different positions and formations as possible.
Adding more players to the mix is not the solution to QPR’s problems.
A very Rangers paradox
In true QPR fashion, only Rangers can have one of the biggest squads in the Football League, and yet still lack the depth to play its best formation. QPR’s best setup last year under Ollie was a 3-5-2 wingback formation, in which QPR deployed two central midfielders (often a Luongo and Freeman pairing) and one attacking player flanked on the wing (often Wszolek). In possession, Hall would slide into midfield, converting the 3-5-2 into a fluid 4-3-1-2 or 4-3-3. However, given the current state of our squad, I don’t see how we can play this formation over a long campaign.
QPR’s depth unfortunately seems to be in all the wrong places. For instance, we have six(!) players on our squad who can competently play left back/left wingback (Bidwell, Robinson, Manning, Perch Hamalainen and Lynch) and at least four/five who can play right back (Furlong, Perch, Onohua, Kakay and Petrasso (who played well as a right back for Canada in the Gold Cup this summer)). Unless Ollie opts for square pegs in round holes, we realistically can only play two or three central midfielders at a time- yet we currently have six central midfielders in the squad (Luongo, Scowen, Manning, Cousins, Goss and Borysiuk). Freeman, Hall and Perch can also put in shifts in central midfield.
By contrast, a 3-5-2 formation requires three center backs, yet we currently only have four available senior pros who can competently play the position (Onohua, Hall, Lynch and maybe Perch or a resurrected Caulker). Our most technical and reliable center back Grant Hall, who also happens to be the fulcrum of the fluid 3-5-2 formation with his ability to slot into midfield, has already missed most of the preseason with tendonitis, the type of niggly condition that's likely to bother him all season like a dodgy hamstring. And I’m sorry, but Sean Goss, who looks like he might get knocked over on a windy night in Sheffield, is not the answer at center back in a division that features the likes of Britt Assombolongha and Chris Wood.
Our proven strikers, who are limited in terms of both quantity and quality, have yet to establish they can play effectively as a solo striker. I like Matt Smith, but watching him try to move laterally past defenders is like watching the Titanic try to sail through a sea of icebergs. Smith is a classic battering ram number nine who needs another striker to play off him. Washington, who has teased us with rare flashes of goal scoring prowess, has not impressed either as a stand-alone striker or a left winger. Instead, Washington needs to play alongside a target man, preferably from a slightly wider left position where he can cut onto his very favored right foot.
As for the rest of the strikers: Mackie is like the old car we’re too nostalgic to get rid of- we’re trying to squeeze out as much mileage as we can before he breaks down; Sylla may be the best goal scorer of the bunch, but is unreliable and easily unsettled; and as for JET: let’s just say he’s probably going to throw more birthday parties for himself this year than he gets appearances in a Rangers shirt.
Given the lack of depth at center back and the inability of our strikers to play up front on their own, I think our best formation is a good ol’ fashioned 4-4-2 with two central midfielders (Luongo and Scowen/Manning for me), Wzolek on the right flank and Freeman on the left, operating in more of a free role. In this set up, Washington and Smith should lead the line, with Washington providing defensive cover for the left back when Freeman drifts into the middle of the park.
Rome wasn’t built in a day
So where does this all leave us for the campaign to come?
While I don’t mean to sound like Ian Holloway writing off Huddersfield before the season even starts, we QPR fans need to recognise that our team is frankly not very good at the moment, particularly when compared to the likes of Fulham, Villa and Boro.
In our best case scenario for the season, we unload most of the deadwood, players low on confidence like Jake Bidwell and Nedum Onohua rediscover their form, young pros like Shodipo, Manning and Furlong continue to progress, a few legitimate squad players emerge from the academy system, and one or both of Idrissa Sylla and Conor Washington becomes a reliable goal scorer. If all this happens, we may finish tenth. Then, next summer, the owners can spend a few quid on bolt-on acquisitions and Premier-League caliber loanees to prime us for a playoff push in 2018-2019.
Of course, this longer-term vision is not an easy one for the club to sell to the supporters, particularly as it also tries to convince them to fork out hundreds of pounds this season on tickets, memberships and merchandise. However, this is precisely the type of discipline the club needs at the moment.
Under the current era of Rangers’ austerity (which others might call sustainability), QPR is not in a position to dish out £6-8 million on individual signings. In this inflated market, that kind of dough might get you an Ashley Fletcher or a Lewis Grabban, if you’re lucky. Signing four or five £500k to £2M-valued players when our squad is already so bloated is not going to make QPR a bona fide playoff contender, and may even make us worse.
Instead, QPR must make do, more or less, with what it has. Though please sign a centre back.
I’ve presented below what I’d do with the players currently on our squad:
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