QPR return, early hostility, culture of excess – Ferdinand interview
Monday, 23rd May 2016 11:00 by Clive Whittingham
QPR’s director of football Les Ferdinand sat down with LFW last week and in this first part of the resulting interview he discusses his return to the club and the state of what he found.
A fantastic footballer who went on to coach at Spurs, linked with the Bournemouth manager job at one point I recall, so why go into this administration role?
LF: I was actually offered the Bournemouth manager job. Some people see this as an admin role, I see it as still very heavily involved in the football side. It was a position I'd seen other people go into from an academic background, but not from a footballing background. Even when I was working with Tim Sherwood and Chris Ramsey at Tottenham it was the role I wanted to do. I could see where the connection between the hierarchy at a club and the manager needed to be better.
Most people see the director of football as the guy who goes in and picks the players for the football club, and I don't think it works like that. The manager needs a right back – I don't know why I always use a right back for this example – so first of all I speak to the owners and establish the budget. Then I talk to the manager about the type of right back he wants – attacking, defensive, good in the air, quick – then I talk to the scouts and we bring forward five or six players that fit all of that for the manager to consider. Sometimes he'll say I don't like any of them I want this guy, and I say you can't have him because he's outside the budget.
Because I've played I have an understanding with the manager, more of an understanding than somebody who hasn't. I base myself at the training ground, not here at the stadium, because that's where the football is. I see the manager, see the lads, see what they're doing, get a perspective of it. It's the job I wanted to do.
And is it everything you dreamed of?
LF: It's interesting because you're dealing with every issue to do with football at the club. I've been very fortunate that Lee Hoos has come in because he's got great experience in his role, he's a massive help. There are other aspects of the role – sport science for example – that I perhaps didn’t expect would be part of it that I have to deal with. People are knocking on the door all the time with different problems I need to solve. I find it interesting and I am enjoying it.
How did you get the role at QPR?
LF: I'd known Tony Fernandes for a while and he'd spoken about bringing me back to the club. When Harry Redknapp first came to QPR he had a chat with me and asked me to come back with him, but it never materialised. I saw Tony a few months later, we were talking football and he asked me to come back, but by that time I'd moved up the ladder at Tottenham and was working with the first team with Tim. Come the end of the season we got released and I was free and easy doing nothing. I went on holiday to Malaysia and bumped into Tony again. That's when it came to fruition.
I said I was happy to come back, as long as the manager was ok with me coming in. I told Tony the role I wanted to do, and it was a role they hadn't had at the football club before and felt it would do them the world of good. I saw Harry subsequently at a League Managers' Association golf day at Loch Lomand and he said he'd love to have me back at the club so we went ahead with it.
That’s interesting because there seemed to be some hostility from Harry to begin with. He said your job title was stupid…
LF: The old school managers like to stamp their authority on things. I asked him why he'd said it was stupid and he said he'd been bombarded with questions about it and nobody had heard the title before - had the title been director of football everybody would have known where they stood. He said he meant nothing by it, I think he was just flexing his muscles and making it clear he was still in charge.
I haven't come in here to try and threaten a manager. When you come in midway through a manager's tenure there is a temptation for them to wonder about their own position, that's not what I wanted at all. I did say I would only come in if Harry was ok with it, because we needed to be seen to be working together. You can't have divisions at football clubs because as soon as you do you start going in the wrong direction.
That first January seemed pretty horrible. We only made one signing, Mauro Zarate, and even he looked like he might be going back a fortnight later…
LF: We were financially restricted on what we could do in that window. The owners gave us a bit of money, Harry felt we needed a striker so that was the priority. There were conversations with various strikers at the time, but they were asking for ridiculous amounts of money because we had the reputation of being a club that would pay that. We said we couldn't pay that any more and they said it wasn't for them. Some of them were happy to stay where they were not playing any football rather than come to QPR on less money and play.
Harry signed Mauro Zarate, then it looked like he was going back and Matt Jarvis was coming instead, but there were regulations which meant that couldn't happen. I think he realised after a couple of weeks that Zarate wasn't going to be the answer to our problems. Then he came in the day after the transfer window and said his knee was giving him problems. I think he was disillusioned with what was going on at that time and it forced his hand.
Was there a specific example of the excess at QPR that you couldn’t believe having come in here and seen the situation for yourself?
LF: The greatest example, without any disrespect to anybody, was having somebody like Jose Bosingwa coming here. He won the Champions League one season and the next season he's at QPR. Is he coming here to further his career? You know why he's coming through the door. Signing Rob Green one week and Julio Cesar the next… come on.
Unfortunately for me I'm sitting with agents now and they tell me QPR are a club that wanted to spend money. The club felt ready-made was better than bringing in players who wanted to develop and improve. The supporters got behind that, they enjoyed seeing the names coming in. It would have been nice if these people had had the desire to play football, but they didn't. We’re suffering the consequences of those decisions now. We haven't got that money to spend any more.
There has to be a realisation that this club cannot go down that road. Players have left this club having earned very good money and we haven't seen any benefit from it - if anything we've gone backwards. We're having to try and put plans in place to move us forwards again. I think a lot of people don't understand that.
We were all excited to see QPR signing players like that, although losing 5-0 on the opening day was a bit of a wake-up call. Are you finding supporters are still in that mindset? We have the same rich owners after all, let’s keep spending, keep signing players…
LF: Financial Fair Play has a lot to do with it. People forget the situation we're in with that. But in addition, unless you have a bottomless pit of money, there is common sense in what the owners are doing now. If you throw bad money after bad money you lose a lot of money, and that's what the club has done.
We're trying to be more realistic about what QPR is, where we want to go and what we want to be. Of course we'd love to have marquee signings, I think you need marquee signings, but you need marquee signings that want to come here and play. Joey Barton summed it up perfectly when he left – he said he came here for the wrong reasons. That tells you everything you need to know. He's not alone, he's just the only one who's admitted it. Things were wrong here. The owners tried to give the supporters what they wanted, everybody was excited, but those people have to have a hunger and desire to want to do well.
You were at Spurs at the time QPR were signing all those players. What was the chat about it there? What did you think as an outsider looking at QPR?
LF: What the hell? What the hell? What the hell is going on there? I was hearing rumours about what was going on and thinking what the hell are they doing? What are QPR doing?
When you have backers with the finance that this club has you think maybe it won't be a problem maybe they'll get away with it. One thing I will say about the owners is they backed the managers. As much as owners try and get involved it wasn't the owners saying let's buy this one let's buy this one let's buy this one… they'd ask a question about how good players were but when the manager said these are the players to take us forwards they backed the manager.
At a club like QPR, where 18,000 are coming through the door, you have to try and find a way to attract players like that here if they're the players you want. This club was very appealing to me, but I was a young kid coming up through the ranks wanting to play, determined to do well. Some of the others I played with at the time were exactly the same. One way to attract people to the club is big personalities and they can develop over time, but if you're trying to bring in ready-made personalities you have to pay over the odds to persuade them to come. That's what happened.
The first summer
How did you find last summer, your first full pre-season in the job?
LF: It was tough. We got rid of 13 players and brought a lot of new ones in. On average, only one in four players you bring into a football club go on to be successful. We were bringing in an entirely new side. We didn't know how Ale Faurlin would be, we didn't know how many games we could get out of Clint Hill, we didn't know if we could rejuvenate Junior Hoilett, we didn't know if Matt Phillips would continue his form of the previous season and so on.
We also didn't know if the new players we were bringing in could adapt to the Championship. I don't care who you are, 95% of foreign players coming into leagues in this country take a year to 18 months to settle into it. Roberto Soldado at Tottenham, cost £28m, never settled. If Erik Lamela had been an under 21 player he'd never have played for Tottenham. If he'd come through the ranks at Tottenham playing like that he'd never have played. Players need an opportunity and he got one, because they'd paid £30m for him and didn't want him to fail. He got an opportunity that a 21-year-old wouldn't have done. Andros Townsend had to go out on nine loans to get the same opportunity.
People take time, we understood that, and that's why I've been saying from the beginning that 2015/16 was always season of consolidation. You're always hoping for the play-off places but realistically it wasn't going to happen. Look at what's happened at Fulham, they've almost gone down two years on the bounce.
Teams that get relegated from the Premier League are seen as a scalp at this level, everybody wants to beat you. A lot of clubs in this division look at us and think we're flash fuckers, and they want to beat us. Some opposition players also come here and think ‘if I have a good game against these, they might want to buy me, I want to go there because they spend loads of money’.
We had to deal with all of that while bringing a lot of new players through the door.
We also struggled to offload the bigger earners, and ended up doing loan deals for some. What was the score there?
LF: When you've been relegated there are always one or two players that other clubs might think they can come and take, but then they look at what they're earning and they're not so sure. That's what we had here last summer - we had high earners, people didn't want to match their salaries.
It's happened frequently here. We end up with players happy to sit on their contracts until they came to an end. Harry famously came out and spoke about Shaun Wright-Phillips not wanting to go out on loan when he could get his full wages for doing nothing. That's what you're left with. And what that's doing is taking all the goodness out of the football club, because you can't bring in somebody who wants to fight for their place and do well when you've got budget tied up with matey boy earning too much money. You don't have the finances to sign somebody else. That's the situation we've been in, that's what we want to change. We're trying to change players, bring the wage bill down to a reasonable level and not have players earning so much money that even if they're not playing any football they're happy to just sit here.
I suppose you can’t blame the players for that, it was the club that gave them the contracts.
LF: Of course not. Not at all. The only thing I would say, and this is where the sport has changed as a whole, is I always wanted to play football.
I went to Bolton when I was 39, Sam Allardyce persuaded me to have one more year. I said I'm only coming if I'm going to play football. He said Kevin Davies had just had his best year for them, but I could come off the bench and play games that way. First few games that happened, the team was doing well, but as we went through the season my game time was reducing. I would warm up and say 'I'm ready now' and Sam, who was brilliant with me to be fair, would say come and sit on the bench with me. If they weren't winning I'd be telling him I could score him a goal, get me on.
It got to Christmas and I hadn't played nearly as much as I thought I was going to. I went to see him and said this is my last year in football, I could sit on this contract and be very comfortable but it's not what I want to do. He said I really respect that, and you're going to play a lot more in the second half of the season. I said you're right I'm going to play a lot more; it's just not going to be here. I understood they couldn't tinker with a team that was doing well, but I wanted to go and play. I could easily have sat there for the season.
Personally, I cannot understand somebody who comes in to train every day with no game at the end of the week. The game at the end of the week is the icing on the cake. That's what you're working towards. Not everybody can play, but you should at least want to.
Could you have come back here and played at that point?
LF: When I told Sam I wanted to go, he said it's funny I've had loads of clubs come in for you but I'm not letting you go to another Premier League club. Reading are going for promotion and they've called, QPR have called about you so maybe you could go back to your old club. The problem was Sam asked Ian Holloway not to put it out, to let him speak to me first, and Ian put it out so he wouldn't let me go. He phoned Ian in front of me and told him I wouldn't be going to QPR because it had got out, Sam knew it wasn’t anybody at Bolton who’d put it out, so it was off. Would I have come? Of course, yeh. Part of me now is pleased I didn't, because the supporters would have expected me to be the player I was when I left, and I certainly wasn't that. I might have disappointed people.
Going back to last summer, you’ve mentioned there was something of a panic from us towards the end of the transfer window, can you elaborate on that?
LF: When you're getting rid of 13 players it’s difficult. The ideal situation at the end of the season is replenishing three or four positions. We were trying to scrape together a team, have enough players to choose from, have enough good players to be competitive in a difficult league. In the end we had to bring in some people who, if we had a bit more time to think about things, we probably would have decided didn’t fit into the way we wanted to play. But we didn't have enough players on the ground to worry about how we were going to play, we just had to get players in.
One thing you did manage to do was put together a very experienced back four. Given that James Perch was the Wigan Player of the Year, Gabrielle Angella had been promoted at Watford, Paul Konchesky was very experienced, were you surprised how many goals we conceded?
LF: I thought to start with we'd struggle for goals but we'd be solid at the back. It was completely the opposite. The first game Gabrielle Angella played he started off really strongly, fantastic, and then split his head open and was never quite the same again.
We'd watched him several times for Watford and thought he could really play - part of a Championship promotion winning side, very experienced. You know, I started to think about this over the course of the season, we saw him play for another team and play very well and assumed he would come over here and play very well for us. But there's a depression in that player. He's done that well with his previous side, helped them get promoted, played every game for them, then all of a sudden they've said he's not good enough and gone off to the Premier League without him. He's got that cloud over him: ‘I've done everything I can for you and now you're saying I'm not good enough’. I think that showed.
The pre-season itself was poorly organised, what happened there?
LF: The pre-season was arranged before I came in and it looked fantastic on paper but when we got there the agent that had arranged it all didn't deliver. The training facilities weren't great, two of the teams didn't turn up, the Monaco game was a good game for us but the rest of it was a shambles. The boys trained as hard and as diligently as they could, but the games programme we needed wasn't good enough. We have to make sure that doesn't happen this year.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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