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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.


QPR Squad
PlayerPositionPlayerPosition
SmithiesGKWszolekW
FurlongRBN’GbakotoW/AM/ST
BidwellLBPerchRB/LB/CB/CM
HallCB/CMPetrassoW/RB
OnouhaCB/RBLumleyGK
LynchCB/LBShodipoW
FreemanAM/W/CMGrego-CoxST
CousinsCMKakayRB/CM
WashingtonSTEzeST/AM
ScowenCMHamalainenLB
MackieST/WSyllaST
IngramGKEl KhayatiAM/W
ManningCM/LBComleyCM
CaulkerCBPaulCB
BorysiukCMJETST/W
SmithSTFinneyCB
RobinsonLBPhillipsCB
GossCMProhoulyST/AM
LuongoCMOwensCM

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:

QPR Squad
PlayerPositionPlayerPosition
SmithiesKEEPWszolekKEEP
FurlongKEEPN’GbakotoSELL
BidwellKEEPPerchKEEP
HallKEEPPetrassoLOAN
OnouhaKEEPLumleyLOAN
LynchKEEPShodipoKEEP
FreemanKEEPGrego-CoxLOAN
CousinsKEEPKakayLOAN
WashingtonKEEP/REPLACEEzeKEEP
ScowenKEEPHamalainenLOAN
MackieKEEPSyllaKEEP
IngramKEEPEl KhayatiSELL
ManningKEEPComleySELL/LOAN
CaulkerSELLPaulKEEP/ACADEMY
BorysiukSELLJETSELL
SmithKEEPFinneyKEEP/ACADEMY
RobinsonKEEPPhillipsACADEMY
GossLOANProhoulyACADEMY
LuongoKEEPOwensACADEMY

Also by Ram >>> Freeman’s on fire, but how’s he doing it? >>> Holloway’s report card

The Twitter @loftforwords

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WrightUp5hit___ added 16:21 - Aug 3
Think what surprised me when looking at the squad, is how the average age has been drastically reduced over the past couple of years.

Squad No. Name Date of Birth (Age)
Goalkeepers
1 Alex Smithies 5 March 1990 (age 27)
13 Matt Ingram 18 December 1993 (age 23)
26 Joe Lumley 15 February 1995 (age 22)
Defenders
2 Darnell Furlong 31 October 1995 (age 21)
3 Jake Bidwell 21 March 1993 (age 24)
4 Grant Hall 29 October 1991 (age 25)
5 Nedum Onuoha (C) 12 November 1986 (age 30)
6 Joel Lynch 3 October 1987 (age 29)
15 Steven Caulker 29 December 1991 (age 25)
18 Jack Robinson 1 September 1993 (age 23)
24 James Perch 28 September 1985 (age 31)
29 Osman Kakay 25 August 1997 (age 19)
32 Niko Hämäläinen 5 March 1997 (age 20)
Midfielders
7 Luke Freeman 28 July 1991 (age 26)
8 Jordan Cousins 6 March 1994 (age 23)
11 Josh Scowen 28 April 1993 (age 24)
12 Jamie Mackie 22 September 1985 (age 31)
14 Ryan Manning 14 June 1996 (age 21)
16 Ariel Borysiuk 22 March 1992 (age 25)
19 Sean Goss 1 October 1995 (age 21)
21 Massimo Luongo 25 September 1992 (age 24)
22 Paweł Wszołek 30 April 1992 (age 25)
23 Yeni N'Gbakoto 23 January 1992 (age 25)
25 Michael Petrasso 9 July 1995 (age 22)
27 Olamide Shodipo 5 July 1997 (age 20)
— Brandon Comley 18 November 1995 (age 21)
— Chris Paul 25 September 1997 (age 19)
— Abdenasser El Khayati 7 February 1989 (age 28)
Forwards
9 Conor Washington 18 May 1992 (age 25)
17 Matt Smith 7 June 1989 (age 28)
28 Reece Grego-Cox 12 November 1996 (age 20)
30 Eberechi Eze 29 June 1998 (age 19)
40 Idrissa Sylla 3 December 1990 (age 26)
— Jay Emmanuel-Thomas 27 December 1990 (age 26)
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PunteR added 18:20 - Aug 3
Good article. Agree with most of that but for me, if we had a choice between buying a CB or striker i would opt for the later. depending on the player of course!.
WrightUp5hit's post highlighted to me how inexperienced this squad is. I think this is a problem in this league. You need wily old players to keep the opposition and the ref on their toes.
Its about getting a good balance i guess . We're a club in transition and i do feel we're turning over a new leaf.
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Tomo_5 added 23:01 - Aug 3
Good article with many merits. I liken QPR to a used car lot with the old beleaguered salesman trying to polish the old 1990's Skoda's to look and perform like new Audi's. Putting slicks and a fat exhaust on them just isn't working. My point is there isn't enough quality and experience in this squad to compete even at mid-table. Nedum is under too much pressure for most of the game to be an effective captain. Our midfield goes missing at crucial times of the game. Our forwards end up running into fog and brick walls. The biggest reason we have such a bloated squad is we have had too many different
managers with different styles coming in and buying their type of player, and none really gelling of making a difference. We need a strong central midfielder with a Patrick Vieira presence who can steady the ship when needed, nurture and command. The younger guys will grow in confidence knowing this guy has their back....Time to sell some cars :-)
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Myke added 00:17 - Aug 4
A really strong piece Ram and funnily enough was thinking along the same lines since reading a piece a few days ago by Smithies on the benefits of continuity and having a settled squad. This benefit should be further heightened by Olli's assertion that he has a set game plan that he intends to stick to. Bringing in new players of (at best) similar quality would only endanger that plan as they learn to master it.
I do agree that we desperately need a commanding CH and Caulker is not that. While there is plenty sympathy for him for all he has been through, he is too flaky and unreliable. A year ago he was been similarly lauded, scored a couple of early goals and disappeared from October on. I don't think we will successfully off-load him before the window shuts, so our best option will probably be a loan .
The CH problem is compounded by Hall's on-going injury problems. Tendinitis is extremely tricky and may flare up at any time. The only real cure is rest and presuming he had plenty of that over the past couple of months, it doesn't augur well for the immediate future .
If we are going to use either Smith or Silla then the ball has to be either played in front of them from wide positions or someone (Washington? Freeman?) has to be prepared to run beyond them if the ball is knocked long from the back. Neither player is a hold-up player and hitting them early from the back and hoping to make it 'stick' hasn't worked in the past and won't now. I'm concerned that of all the players Olli is heaping praise on Shodipo hasn't got a mention,imo he is one of the few that could supply Smith or Silla with the kind of ball that could hurt the opposition
Finally, going back to the CH problem if Scowen turns out to really be able to protect the back four just as Derry did, then it might not be such an issue. I know we had Clint Hill behind him, but he also had 'one size'and a variety of other iffy defenders. Plus we do have one of the top keepers in the division behind them.
Anyway roll on Saturday, maybe we can repeat the heady days of 12 months ago!
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