Ramsey, Warnock and a difficult autumn – Ferdinand interview
Monday, 23rd May 2016 11:01 by Clive Whittingham
Part two of our annual long read interview sees director of football Les Ferdinand pull few punches as he looks back on a winter of discontent at Loftus Road.
Charlton apart, the season started well – we won two away games in August. Where did it start to go wrong?
LF: Firstly we lost Charlie Austin injured for a period, and he'd become Mr QPR. We'd become so reliant on him to score goals, and when he wasn't there people were looking around wondering who was going to score.
We levelled out basically. Some people didn't perform to their capabilities, some people were getting used to the Championship. Grant Hall came to the fore and played well, but we gave silly goals away. Massimo Luongo started the season really well, then went away on a long international trip with Australia and wasn't quite the same afterwards, maybe through tiredness, so the manager left him out to try and rejuvenate him a little bit. Sometimes a player needs that.
There was a lot of excitement and expectation around having people like Leroy Fer, Sandro, Matt Phillips, Charlie Austin and others in the Championship. Given that they were all part of the team that finished dead last the season before, did we just over estimate how good they actually were?
LF: At the end of the season, barring Lionel Messi, nobody had more assists in the second half of the season in all of Europe than Matt Phillips. If he brought that level of performance to the Championship, he'd have ripped it up. But when you're relegated, I've been unfortunate enough for it to happen to me as a player, there's a depression that comes over the whole club: the owners, the manager, the supporters, the players - they're all depressed.
They were part of the team that took us down and I said to every one of them there's only one way you're getting back there and that's by performing week in week out. Do that and people will come and get you. If you don't you'll end up staying here. But there are also going to be a few players who believe they should be playing in the Premier League and we had a group like that. There was an element of people hanging around who believed they should be in the Premier League, for cohesion in a team and atmosphere around the place it's not good.
I guess you also have the new players who have arrived on more realistic wages, looking around the dressing room at players on the old silly money which also can’t help team spirit…
LF: I always say to players when they arrive, don't worry about what anybody else is earning. We're paying you this to do your job. Yes, years ago we were paying out ridiculous amount of money, we're not doing that any more. The QPR you spoke to three years ago is not the QPR you're speaking to now.
What did you think of the reception Chris Ramsey got from the crowd here towards the end of his spell, particularly the MK Dons game which we actually ended up winning 3-0?
LF: Supporters want to see somebody they can relate to. Nobody knew Chris Ramsey, they couldn’t relate to him. If Harry Redknapp or Neil Warnock had been standing down there picking the same team playing in the same way the reception would have been different. Both those managers have experience and credentials behind them which Chris didn’t have. The team wasn’t playing as well as people would have liked, they couldn’t relate to Chris and they reacted that way.
Neil Warnock came in to advise around that time, why was that decision made? Did it undermine Chris further? I thought you looked quite uncomfortable around that time, in the stand at Brentford for instance, with Neil phoning instructions down to the bench…
LF: The first thing to say is Neil had tried to bring Chris Ramsey to Crystal Palace when he was the manager there. The second thing is the remit for our season had changed and instead of consolidation the owners said ‘can we get promoted with this team?’ because we’d kept the players we’ve already spoken about. They’re good players, we haven’t got rid of them, with the money they were earning we needed to try and get promoted. So we spoke to Chris and said he probably needed to bring somebody in alongside him.
The reason Chris got the job in the first place was we were looking for somebody to consolidate us for this year and develop the players for a push next season. When Harry left the players were very impressed with Chris and told Tony and Reuben as much, so rather than spend £3m on another new manager we thought we might have somebody ready-made. When the remit changed, we thought we needed to bring somebody in alongside him who has the experience, doesn't want to be a manager any more but can guide him. Chris spoke to a few people, including Neil, and it was Chris' choice at the end of the day.
Neil came in to assist Chris. He said he didn't want to be in every day, he would come in on a Thursday and Friday, chat with Chris, come to a few games… He was never brought in to replace Chris, he was brought in to work with him. After the Derby game we released Chris, I felt it was the right time and at that point Neil said he could do the job for eight weeks. A lot of people have asked since why we didn't keep him until the end of the season. He said to me he could do the job for eight weeks. He told Tony Fernandes the same.
That gave us eight weeks to find a new manager. We spoke to 13 or 14 different managers and at no stage did Neil say he wanted to do the job to the end of the season. Had he said to me at the beginning that he could do the job to the end of the season, give us time to look for a manager for next season, I'd have gone for that.
I think his wife taking ill changed his perspective on what he was doing with his life, and that last game he had with us at Reading gave him a real taste for it again. Subsequently he’s decided to go back in again at Rotherham. I was surprised. It'll be interesting to see if he comes back in again for next season because he was the one who was saying he didn't want to manage any more, didn't want to do the day to day management of a football club any more.
The LMA is putting together a group of experienced managers who can go into clubs in advisory roles. There's loads of managers out there, I met up with Walter Smith and others in Scotland last week and listening to them all talk you realise what a wealth of knowledge there is out there that needs to be tapped into.
Neil obviously went and performed beyond everybody’s wildest expectations at Rotherham and that’s used by your critics as a stick to beat you with. They say imagine if he’d stayed here all season, we could have been in the play offs…
LF: If he'd told us he wanted to do the job until the end of the season and I’d turned him down so I could get somebody else in, then you could beat me with that stick. He told me he could do it for eight weeks, and at no stage did he ever suggest he'd changed his mind. If people want to beat me with that stick that's up to them.
While we’re talking about sticks to beat you with, Steve Gallen left the club at the same time after many years of service. Why?
LF: Steve had stepped up to coach the first team, the new manager came in and didn’t want him as part of his group. Steve told me the role he wanted to go back to in the academy and the role wasn't available. Chris Ramsey had it in his contract that if he relinquished the first team job he would go back to the role he was hired for in the first place. Steve didn't have that in his contract. We tried to find a role for him, the role we did offer him he didn't want to do, so he decided to take the redundancy and move on. This happens in football.
Steve had been here for a long time, Kevin was here for a long time before that and was disappointed with how he was treated by the club and has never let his feelings about that die.
Clive Allen scored 49 goals in a season for Spurs, he stepped up to do the first team with Harry Redknapp and when Harry left his job was gone. If we're talking about club legends, they don't come much bigger than Clive Allen at Spurs, but that’s how it goes in football.
It has created a group who look at Chris Ramsey getting another role after losing the head coach job, who see your former team mate Andy Impey getting a job, and then hear you say there’s no role for Steve and will Tweet ‘oh it’s jobs for the boys’.
LF: There is a group of people who were involved with the club who have moved on and they talk about the progress of the development squad, but there had been no progression over their time. That wasn't the reason Steve left, as I said, that was simply the choice of the new first team manager.
What disappoints me most - I don’t read Twitter or get involved in social media, but people who have read what is being said and have told me about it - is the racist element to a lot of it. Managers take their own coaching staff with them all the time. When Harry Redknapp goes into a club he has Joe and Kevin with him. Mark Hughes has his people, that’s just how it is. But what’s happened here is people look at Chris Ramsey, look at Andy Impey, see black guys getting jobs and say it’s jobs for the boys. Harry Redknapp comes in, hires as many Caucasian people as he likes, nobody bats an eyelid.
It tells you everything you need to know about the people who are saying these things.
The youth team was competitive though, it won play-off finals down here, the odd cup. Very few people watch the youth teams week to week obviously but they see the results now, which have been very poor across the age groups, and it adds fuel to that fire doesn’t it?
LF: The youth team won play-off finals, fantastic. How many players did it produce for the first team? People put too much emphasis on teams winning. The only team that needs to win at the football club is the first team. Everything else is about developing players. The players who won things here in the youth team, where are they now?
I got asked this at the fans forum, am I worried about the Under 18 results? No.
Look at our record for developing players at Tottenham. We had Benteleb, Ryan Mason, Tom Carroll, Andros Townsend, Harry Kane, Stephen Caulker coming through the system. The U21 team we had at Tottenham, I think only two of them didn't make it as footballers at all. Some went elsewhere - Nathan Byrne went to Swindon and then Wolves, Ryan Fredericks went to Bournemouth then Fulham, Jon Obika is at Swindon – but they're all playing bar two of them.
We weren't ever worried about the U21s winning. Often somebody would ask us the score and we didn't know. We'd do things like take Jon Obika aside before a game and tell him to make ten runs into the channel this half, tell him all we wanted him to do was see how often he could go in behind. If he gets in behind and scores then brilliant, bonus, but it was about developing his game and teaching him to do that.
But I presume that Under 21 team did win games…
LF: The results aren't great, but I think you'll see players will start to come through the system. We've had to change a lot and it doesn't happen overnight. Just because they're getting beaten heavily, doesn't mean there aren't one or two players there who can come through. It's unfortunate, we had one lad who Jimmy was keen to give games to at the end of the season but he wasn't available. Hopefully you'll see him make some appearances next season. We've got one or two we believe have what it takes.
When we talk about pathways to the first team, Jake Mulraney a youngster who came in from Ilkeston since you’ve been at the club, and has recently had a decent spell at Stevenage, has decided to turn down a contract and leave. Does he not believe those pathways exist?
LF: You have to look at the ages of players. We brought him in, we wanted to see what impact he had, but at his age you have to ask are they going to impact the first team and at the moment we don't see him impacting the first team with the players we have in his position already. Unfortunately agents get involved as well, making ridiculous demands, and sometimes you have to say ‘if you think you can get that somewhere else off you go’.
What did you make of Brentford’s decision to close the majority of their academy and only run one senior youth team? God knows what the reaction would be if you did that here…
LF: They’ve had a good academy set up there for several years and produced some good players but the way football is at the moment you can work with a boy for several years and then somebody with a category one academy can come and take him and all they have to do is pay training compensation. That’s what they’ve been finding.
So without a category one academy, is there any point?
LF: The most important thing for our players to realise is there is a realistic chance of playing in the first team here. That can be our unique selling point above anybody else - convincing players that there is much more of a first team opportunity for them here more than if they go to Arsenal, Tottenham or Chelsea in particular.
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