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This week - QPR return for Cook?
This week - QPR return for Cook?
Thursday, 27th Mar 2008 10:48

It's been an expensive week to follow QPR but the rumoured return of Lee Cook could lift the spirits of impoverished Rangers fans.

Lee Cook to return?
For the umpteenth time this season we’ve been treated to a “he’s at the training ground now” story regarding our former left winger Lee Cook this week.

Cook left QPR last summer for a fee in the region of £2m, and a massive pay rise, to play in the Premier League with Fulham - famously waiving his signing on fee so QPR could pocket an extra quarter of a million pounds into the bargain. Sadly he picked up a knee injury at the back end of last season when the Championship full backs gave up trying to mark him and simply kicked him out of matches knowing that his incapacity reduced QPR’s performance level by approximately 98%. That injury saw him miss the final few games of last season and forced an operation over the summer and things have never really improved since then.

Lee still waits for his Fulham debut, and has more recently made one start and four sub appearances while on loan at Charlton Athletic. Sky Sports reports that both he and Scott Sinclair will have their loans ended by Charlton today and indeed old powder puff himself has already joined Crystal Palace for the rest of the season. With just one start all year under Cook’s belt, it’s been a write off for him.

Still if the rumour mill is to be believed that hasn’t put QPR off trying to lure him back to W12 now we’ve got some money behind us. He’s apparently one of our top summer transfer targets, almost joined on loan in January and is tipped by many to be back in Hoops by the end of today when the loan window closes. We won’t have to wait long to find out if there’s any substance in them I suppose.

Should we be looking at Cookie though? On loan or a permanent? I mean sure we all remember just how fantastic he was last season, winning our player of the year award by a country mile. The match against Palace at home where we won 4-2 was as a truly outstanding performance where he was simply unplayable. If we could have that Cook back then I can’t see anybody in their right mind turning him down.

However it’s a year now since Cook was fit and flying on our left wing. He didn’t do any pre-season, he didn’t train at all until December, Roy Hodgson hasn’t found room for him in a poor Fulham team and now he’s caught up in Alan Pardew’s crazy panic at Charlton the upshot of which is he’s not playing and they’re staying in this division for next season. Are we expecting him to just walk back into Loftus Road and pick up where he left off?I can’t see it being that simple - and I was Cook’s biggest fan when he was here as regular readers will no doubt remember.

The rumour of a loan deal today appeals to me more than simply signing him permanently in the summer. Over the next six games, when we have nothing to play for, we’ll be able to see just how well he’s come back from a difficult year. I’ve seen people talking about his injuries as if nobody has ever come back from a knee problem and played at any kind of level - they have, Cook himself was out for six months in his Watford days with a nasty injury and came back better than ever. There’s no reason he can’t recapture his previous form and the thought of that, in our current team and style of play, is mouth watering.

However we’d be taking a risk, more so than if we went after Peter Halmosi at Plymouth who, when pushed, would be most QPR fans’ pick of the opposition players we’ve faced this season. If it came down to a straight choice now I’d have to say I’d go for the Hungarian rather than our former favourite.

If we can get him on loan for the rest of the season and he excels again then that’s fantastic, if he doesn’t then we go for Halmosi or somebody else. Simple. Or not. Still it’s nice to have the money available to talk about having a choice between Cook, Halmosi or somebody else.

How much is too much?
It’s bank statement time of the month at LFW Towers and it doesn’t make pretty reading. For somebody with no life I have a serious problem with spending money. I’ll leave the debate on why so much of my cash goes out in tax before I’ve even got it to support the likes of the Matthews family and their house full of goods nicer than mine for another time and stick to the stuff I spend of my own free will.

Looking down the long list of nonsense I spend my money on two things stand out more than any other - petrol and Queens Park Rangers. It costs me several hundred pounds a month to keep my car moving and get to work to earn money which then seems to almost exclusively go back in the petrol tank that takes me there. It’s seriously frustrating. That’s not really a choice I make, I have to drive to work everyday because I need a job and there is no train service between my home and my job. Another £50 this morning.

The big one that stands out on the statement is the £117 that went into the QPR box office earlier this month. For the record that sum bought me two adults and a young adult for the Scunthorpe match, one adult for the Wolves match, and one for the Blackpool home game. QPR is something I choose to do of course, and if I run out of money (as I did last month) then it’s QPR v Burnley that gets chopped from the statement, not petrol or Tesco shops or anything else. With my car now costing £50 to fill up from empty (six years ago my previous car cost me £23 from the red line for comparison) tax taking away a huge chunk of what I earn, the weekly shop now £20 more than it was and rent setting me back a third of my monthly earnings the squeeze on my QPR attendance has, for the first time, seen me miss games this year - Cardiff away and Burnley at home.

I’ve always found a way to make to it to Loftus Road regardless of circumstance, but the realisation on the morning of our home match with the Clarets that I actually physically had no money at all and was still six days away from pay day was a frightening one - as was driving to work on the fifth day with two red petrol lights shining brightly on the dashboard and the petrol pump clearly audible trying to process thin air behind the back seats.

The summer break will allow me to replenish the stocks (although with my car in for the dreaded 30,000 mile service on Friday any work that needs doing could create another crunch) but not before we go through a seriously expensive week or two of Rangers matches first.

I was starting to believe football tickets had bottomed out - I paid £21 to go to Sheff Wed recently, £20 at Barnsley, Hull in a couple of weeks is about the same. I know when asked that everybody would say that football should cost two and six or whatever it used to be but in modern rip off Britain I’d say £20 or thereabouts is a fair price for Championship football which is, by and large, absolutely awful most of the time. £100 for five matches, that’s pretty fair I think, considering I can spend that at Tesco on Monday and need to go again by the following Tuesday.

Then along came this week’s double whammy. QPR fans at Wolves last weekend were charged £27 for a seat in the lower tier of a stand that offered no protection from the snow coming in from the front, or from the spit and bile raining down from those in the tier above. In the end the magnificent game was worth every penny but it still smarted to hand over nearly £30 for a bloody football match between two teams with almost nothing to play for. Then we come to a trip only seven days later to Ipswich Town, where an adult turning up on the day could pay £34 for a ticket. The price adults paid at Barnsley, Sheff Wed and Hull is surpassed by what Ipswich charge old aged pensioners to get in. The only way to get a reasonably priced ticket in the away end at Ipswich is to buy one in the family section, but to get in there you have to take two kids with you and I’d say the majority of supporters travelling to an away game are doing so without kids, or anybody that looks young enough to pass as a kid.

My younger brother is still at college and goes to most Saturday games with me - he took one look at the prices charged by Wolves and said he couldn’t do it.

Lets look at what it could cost an adult to go and watch QPR at Portman Road this Saturday based on him getting out of bed on Saturday morning, looking at the nice weather and deciding on a whim that he fancies the match. I mean people still do that you know. I know the railway companies like you to book six months before you travel and once you get within six weeks of your departure day you can expect to pay ridiculous money but sometimes, occasionally, somebody will wake up and decide that, with nothing better to do, they quite fancy going to the football. Once upon a time you walked up, handed your money over at the gate and stood on a terrace - now it’s slightly more tricky.

So our standard QPR fan gets up, gets dressed, eats toast and leaves the house to the tube station where he buys a return ticket to Liverpool Street which is actually a day travel card for a fiver. Lets say he has a coffee and a muffin at Liverpool Street, another fiver, before walking up to the ticket machine and asking for one adult return to Ipswich. Paying on the day that will cost £31.50 so already we’re over £40 and our man hasn’t even left London yet. Three pints and a steak and ale pie in one of the pubs near the ground will add another £20 and a programme £3 on top of that. Once at the turnstile he’ll find Ipswich charge as much as £34 for a walk up ticket in their away end, which like ours leaves a lot to be desired. So with the game yet to kick off our man has spent £98.50, really without breaking a sweat. A coffee at half time, one of the train and a bag of chips on the way home pushes him well past the £100 mark. For Ipswich v QPR. It’s not exactly an appetising prospect is it?

When you consider that he may have done the same thing at Wolves the previous week, where the walk up train fare is £41 and match ticket £27 - suddenly our man has spent the thick end of £250 in two Saturdays to watch QPR.

Now the reply I’ve had from Ipswich fans after raising their scandalous ticket prices in the travel guide earlier this week was “well don’t come then”. How shot sighted can you get? It’s only the bloody morons like me, turning up every week and forking over hundreds of pounds a time that keeps football clubs at this level going. If everybody who thought £24 is an outrageous amount to charge for a pensioners ticket at Ipswich Town simply didn’t turn up on Saturday then it’d be a pretty low crowd and Ipswich would be left well out of pocket.

With petrol going up, Tesco shops going up, breathing in and out being taxed everybody is feeling the pinch just at the moment. When push comes to shove and you take a red pen to your bank statement and cross out the stuff you don’t need to spend next month it’ll be Ipswich v QPR with a line through it, not bread and milk from the supermarket. The sooner clubs like Wolves and Ipswich realise they’re not in the Premier League any more and can’t expect people to pay top division prices to watch them play Scunthorpe the better because while it’s QPR fans that suffer in the short term this week, it will be the clubs that have issues in the long run as fans simply baulk at the cost of it all and stop going.

Mancienne - what does the future hold?
It’s been a difficult week in the Midlands for Michael Mancienne. He was part of a QPR defence that shipped three goals at Wolves and was then given a torrid time by Pawlowski in the England Under 21s game against Poland on the same ground.

Michael can, with some justification, point a finger at the referee for his part in Wolves’ second equaliser at the weekend but had he not got his feet tied up and donkey kicked the ball over his head and into danger in the first place then Matt Jarvis would have just been falling over all by himself miles away from play - well, more so.

It’s all a far cry from Michael’s form of last season where he was consistently our best player in every match. I remember travelling to one of our 78 games with Luton Town last season on the train and overhearing a Chelsea scout on his mobile phone telling a friend where he was going and that “the only player worth bothering about” was Michael - this at a time when QPR and Luton both had the likes of Lee Cook, Jimmy Smith, Rowan Vine and Markus Heikkinen impressing scouts from the top division. Not to a Chelsea standard of course but they were certainly all playing as well as Michael at that stage. To say he was the only person worth bothering with out of the 22 on show that day surprised me, because this was fairly near the start of his loan spell and while he’d looked steady he hadn’t done a great deal to stand out from the crowd.

Within a few games he’d been moved to centre half, his favoured position, and this really was the start of a superb run of form for him. At centre half he was able to bring the ball out into the midfield and show off his main strengths - natural positional sense and anticipation. He is a fantastic centre half at this level, certainly with the potential to go into the Premier League in time, although again whether he’s quite up to Chelsea standard remains to be seen. After a string of impressive performances was cut short by a nasty head injury that curtailed his season a month early everybody was very keen to see him return last summer and capturing him on a season long loan deal was heralded as a real triumph.

I’d say his latest loan, which still has six games to run, has been a success once again. Certainly he’s been very consistent and done a very good job for us when he’s played. Last week against Scunthorpe was probably his best game for some time, although with the Iron focusing their play entirely around Geoff Horsfield and Matt Sparrow down the middle perhaps Michael looked good because, like Delaney on the other side, there was limited or no opposition for him to deal with.

Watching him make that mistake at Wolves though, and then get taught a bit of a lesson on Tuesday night when he was very fortunate not to concede another penalty, got me thinking a little bit more about Mancienne though. He’s now been with QPR for the thick end of 18 months clocking up 40 starts and five sub appearances as he goes past his 20th birthday. Michael has just a year of England Under 21 action left in him and has only just made his first start. Is he really any better than the Michael Mancienne we signed in the middle of last season? Has he progressed? Has he filled out physically? Has he eradicated the few mistakes he was making back at the start? I’d say the answer in every case is no. He was a promising young defender, often looking a cut above the Championship, when he arrived and he still is now. I couldn’t see him getting a game for Chelsea when he arrived and I still can’t now.

I can’t help but feel that he may end up living to regret this loan move to QPR. We have, for one reason or another, used him almost exclusively as a right full back. He’s now being picked by his country as a right back. In my opinion he’ll not play in the Premiership at right back as long as he’s got a hole in his arse. Defensively he’s excellent, as you’d expect from a centre half, but going forward his attacking and particularly his crossing leaves a lot to be desired. This can be worked on but this is where I feel he may regret coming to QPR. Did he come to us to learn to play right back or to get 50 games under his belt at centre half? I’d suggest the latter and while having a classy player at full back has helped us through some tricky spells this season and last I’m not sure how many favours it’s done him. Chelsea have been watching him while he’s been here so when he gets back there will he be seen as a right back or centre half?

With Sam Hutchinson making progress through the ranks at the Bridge I can’t help but think that Michael may end up stuck between a rock and a hard place - too inexperienced and light weight for centre half, not good enough to play at right back. If that leaves him surplus to requirements should we step up our efforts to sign him permanently?

Here I become torn. If he can’t play centre half ahead of Connolly or Hall now is he going to next season? Probably not. And I’d expect a further addition or two to our defence over the summer anyway. Are there better options out there for us than him at right back? If Chelsea are talking about charging us a couple of million or more than almost certainly there are - Jonathan Spector is available for nothing from West Ham this summer for example, a full international with Premiership experience.

I really rate Michael, I think he could make it as a Premiership defender, but I’ll be surprised if he does it playing right back and if we are going to sign him it should be as a centre half and not a right back. I’d love us to sign him, but I don’t think I’d pay more than a million for him, despite his obvious potential. I’d like to see him back here next season, but it won’t be the be all and end all it was last summer. A year ago it would have been unthinkable to say anything other than yes to the question of whether or not to sign him, but his spell at right back and tales of Chelsea’s high demands have cooled the interest from club and supporters alike.

I can’t help but think that his time with us, where’s been reclassified from excellent centre half to standard right back, may have done him more harm than good in the long run.

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One user has commented on this article, click here to add your thoughts

I'm a lifelong Ipswich supporter but take an interest in QPR as one of my "other teams" and enjoy reading your excellent site. As I live quite a long way from Ipswich and have a family and limited funds, I mostly go to Ipswich away games and rarely make it to Portman Road, although I was at the Ips v QPR game last season. Sorry to read that you've had emails from Ipswich fans along the lines of "don't come if you don't like the prices". I completely agree that the prices are too high and that £20 for an adult would be a reasonable, sensible price for a Championship game. If anything I'd say there is a case for away fans' tickets being priced lower than home tickets as away fans typically have much higher travel costs, while their presence contributes a lot to the atmosphere at the game. I realise I'm in cloud cuckoo land even daring to think of that idea. I won't be at the game on Saturday but I hope it's a good one and that you at least get some decent entertainment in return for the time and expense of attending - Chris



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