The long road from Austin to Washington – Signing
Wednesday, 20th Jan 2016 20:30 by Clive Whittingham
QPR have moved quickly, apparently beating several other Championship clubs in the process, to snap up Peterborough's in-form striker Conor Washington for £2.5m.
Conor Washington, 23, has joined Queens Park Rangers for £2.5m, almost two years to the day since he signed for Peterborough United from Newport County.
He was a late bloomer in the game, working as a postman (puns at the ready) while playing non-league for St Ives Town. He scored 24 goals in 30 appearances in 2011/12 as St Ives finished third in the United Counties League Premier Division – the ninth tier of English football.
By the time Conference promotion chasers Newport, then managed by Justin Edinburgh, picked him up in October 2012 for a nominal fee he'd bagged 52 in 50 outings for the club.
Initially – and this will become a running theme – he was a slow burner. He scored just once in 16 outings over the second half of the season as County progressed past Grimsby and Wrexham to win the Conference play-offs.
Now a Football League player, he quickly scored two in his first three games of the 2013/14 season against Northampton in the league and Brighton in the League Cup and by mid-November had added five more.
That, and his all round game, was enough to persuade League One Peterborough to part with a fee reportedly in the region of £500,000 for his services. The Posh are renowned for their scouting of non-league and lower divisions for rough diamonds to be polished up, and it was hoped that Washington would be the latest of them.
Again, though, he took time to settle in. Just one goal in his first 15 games at London Road before a sudden burst of three in the final two matches and one in a play-off defeat to Leyton Orient which suggested his best was still to come. He scored 13 times last season, again coming on strong with four in the final four games, but it was the arrival of Graham Westley as Posh boss this season that really sparked him off as a prolific goalscorer.
He has 15 goals to his name already this season, including his first professional hat trick in a 4-0 win at Scunthorpe, and arrives on a run of 14 goals in his last 19 appearances.
He has singed a three and a half year deal at Loftus Road and will take the number nine shirt vacated by Charlie Austin at the weekend.
“As a striker, having someone like Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink here as manager was a massive pull for me. He's been there, seen it and done it at the very highest level and that can only benefit me as a player. I feel I've improved as a player over the last 18 months. My mentality has changed and I'm a better player for it. But I also feel there's a lot more to come from me and I believe I can properly go on to fulfil my potential at QPR. I know I've still got a long way to go in my development but I'm relishing the chance to prove my worth. I've proved I can do it at every level I've played at so far, so I don't see any reason why I can't do it here with QPR." - Conor Washington
“Conor is a player I’ve admired for a while now, so I’m delighted he’s agreed to join us. I’ve seen first-hand what he’s capable of and his all round game has always impressed me. Of course he’s still got a lot to learn – he’s by no means the finished article – but I am convinced he has what it takes to succeed at a higher level with us. He’s raw, he’s hungry, he’s determined. He’s quick and he’s versatile, which is important. He can play on his own up there; in a two; or on the shoulder of another striker. He’s got great pace to get in behind and that’s something we need when you look at our current attacking options. Importantly, he’s got the right mentality to be a QPR player. He is relishing the opportunity to play for this club and he wants to wear the shirt with pride.” - Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink
QPR's director of football Les Ferdinand has copped for some stick this season, almost all of it unjustified.
First and foremost, almost all of the changes he was brought in to enact, with the scouting, the youth development, the way we sign players and the type of players we sign, the structure and cost of the squad and so on, are things that take many years to complete and many months for the effects to be felt. Ferdinand is yet to clock up a year in the job.
The accusation that he only hires people from Tottenham, or people the same colour as him, can be shown to be utter, vile, bollocks simply by looking down the list of people he's hired. That well known black, ex-Spurs employee Gary Karsa (white, from Aston Villa) for example.
And even if there was any 'jobs for the boys/Ferdinand's mates' activity going on here it would hardly be unique to Ferdinand, or QPR, in the world of football would it? Managers and directors of football take the same people around with them, it's how it works. When you sack a manager, all his coaching staff tends to go with him. Harry Redknapp brings Joe Jordan along to coach and Kevin Bondy Bond along to drive him around and perform piano recitals. Mark Hughes had his 'Taffia' with him at Blackburn, Man City, Fulham, QPR and now at Stoke. Gerry Francis follows Tony Pulis around, and when he was a manager in his own right he was renowned for returning to players he'd worked with before – there was a mini-Bristol Rovers invasion in W12 during his first spell when the likes of Ian Holloway, Steve Yates, Devon White and Gary Penrice all arrived.
There have certainly been mistakes, and the current situation around Steve Gallen certainly smacks of one of those. Whether Ferdinand was simply peddling the message from above when he changed his tune in October and suddenly said this season was all about promotion, or he genuinely believed that, it didn't help the manager at the time or the players. His decision, fairly late in the summer, to go out and add experienced pros like Gabrielle Angella, Paul Konchesky and James Perch to the back four hasn't worked. His "pathways to the first team" line about the youth players hasn't materialised and has been brought up against him as the likes of Darnell Furlong, Michael Doughty, Reece Grego-Cox and others have drifted further away from the team. Whether they're not being given a chance unfairly, or they're simply not quite up to the standard, it was still Ferdinand writing a cheque he couldn't cash.
It may turn out that Ferdinand fails in this role - though it's certainly years too early to be assessing that yet and to do so completely ignores the obvious fact that all the problems the club currently has were in place long before he came anywhere near to returning.
But some of the players QPR have signed on his watch should be bringing him more praise than he's getting. Alex Smithies, Massimo Luongo, Ben Gladwin, Grant Hall, Tjarron Chery, Seb Polter and now Conor Washington are all exactly the sort of players this club should be signing. Rangers may have overpaid for some of them, may have been overly generous with some of the contracts, and would find it a lot cheaper if they went out and found them themselves initially rather than letting Swindon and Peterborough nip in as a middle man.
But it's certainly moving in the right direction.
The key is what happens after the players sign. Grant Hall is obviously the poster boy for how this should work – bought for next to nothing, on a slim contract, with almost zero hype and publicity, eased into the team then subsequently rewarded for superb performances with a prompt contract extension if it goes well.
But some of these signings will fail. Even Peterborough, from whom Rangers have signed Washington, buy their fair share of duds among the many success stories such as George Boyd and Craig Mackail-Smith they've hoisted up from lower and non-league and turned into successful league players and big profits. Southampton, another club operating this model higher up the chain, still sign a Dani Osvaldo every now and again. You're not going to get every one right.
Some of these players will take time to settle. Washington himself was a slow starter when he moved to Newport, and again at Peterborough where he's only really hit his stride in the last few months under manager Graham Westley. Seb Polter looks a different striker now to the lump who lumbered around on his rare appearances in August. It may be that players will benefit from being loaned out – I personally think Ben Gladwin should have played far more for us this season, particularly given our midfield toils, but the club feels he would benefit more from half a season more in League One and now half a season in the Championship with Bristol City. That shouldn't, necessarily, be a stick to beat the club with.
QPR have, for a long time now, used the transfer market to try and provide themselves with quick fixes and instant gratification. Go out, spend loads of money on a big name, whack him straight into the team and everything is ok again. It hasn't worked for them, mainly because a club our size trying to do that attracts the wrong sort of person. In fact, the failure rate of those big-name signings is far higher than the ones Ferdinand added last summer – Smithies, Luongo, Polter and Hall all now look set for a prolonged run in the team.
What it's important not to do, especially with a striker like Washington who has climbed quite so high quite so quickly, is expect those instant results from this new sort of signing. Washington may have taken Charlie Austin's number, but to view him as any kind of replacement just yet is setting the boy up for a fall. The club have a role to play in this themselves – keen to seize good news amidst the sea of negativity that often washes over Loftus Road on a weekly basis, they can be guilty of overhyping things. Again, Grant Hall is a decent model to follow.
I don't really understand, given the club's safe midtable position, why they'd want to spend a hefty loan fee bringing in Patrick Bamford for the rest of the season, which seems likely if the Piano Man can't find another Premier League loan after a failed spell at Crystal Palace. But then again, I kind of do, because if Washington doesn't score frequently straight away, and the crowd get on at him, or his confidence takes a knock, or he picks up a niggling injury, it could effect him for a long time to come. Having Bamford, or a player like that here, allows Washington to settle in and learn his trade at a new club and higher level, rather than being slung in and have that weight of expectation on him that he's the goal getter now heaped on him from the get go. Little run of games here, spell on the bench there, all eyes on Bamford the big name while he finds his feet. As long as such temporary fixes don't completely impede the path to the first team.
These players are exactly the sort of players we should be signing. Selling a striker to a higher league for £4m and buying one from the division below for half that, and repeating the process over and over again is the only route to sustainable success for a club of our size. It brings in affordable players keen to play well and improve, which benefits the team – Southampton have shown, you can be a stepping stone and compete at the highest level.
Les Ferdinand is the only person who has, outwardly at least, made any kind of attempt to get us back to that model during the Tony Fernandes era.
But the key to nurturing and growing the talent is patience, and low expectations rather than hype and added pressure. Welcome Conor, take your time lad.
The Twitter @loftforwords
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