Baptiste arrival a sign of the times at QPR - Signing
Tuesday, 8th Aug 2017 15:14 by Clive Whittingham
Alex Baptiste's free transfer arrival from Middlesbrough to add cover to QPR's new-look back three won't set many pulses racing but highlights the situation the club finds itself in as the market overheats.
Alex Baptiste is a 31-year-old centre back or right back who has signed a two-year contract at QPR today following his release on a free transfer by Middlesbrough.
A veteran of ten clubs, he is best known for his 166-game, six-year stint at Mansfield where he came through the club’s junior ranks, making his debut in April 2003 in a 1-0 Second Division home defeat to Barnsley; and a 190-game five-year spell with Blackpool.
Pool signed Baptiste from Mansfield in the summer of 2008 after he’d requested a transfer following their relegation to the Conference. Blackpool were a Championship side under Simon Grayson at that point but he up and left for Leeds midway through Baptiste’s first season leaving Ian Holloway to step in after a spell of caretaker management under Tony Parkes.
Holloway famously led the Tangerines to the Premier League in 2009/10 – Baptiste a regular all season at centre half with Ian Evatt and a starter in the play-off final where they won 3-2 at Wembley against Cardiff City. He made 19 starts and two sub appearances in the top flight scoring twice (including in a 4-0 opening day win at Wigan) but couldn’t prevent relegation despite them reaching 39 points – enough for survival in five of the six Premier League seasons played since. Baptiste made 43 league appearances the following season as Holloway’s men reached Wembley again, but they were beaten this time by West Ham 2-1.
His release by Blackpool in summer 2013, just as the Seasiders were about to start imploding and plummeting through the league, sparked a tour of Lancashire which included stays with Bolton (42 appearances, two goals) and Blackburn (34 appearances, three goals) before a move to Middlesbrough on July 6. Sadly, just five days after joining the club, he suffered a double leg fracture in a pre-season friendly at York and has consequently only ever played one League Cup game (lost 2-1 at Fulham) for Boro.
His football in 2015/16 came via a loan spell with Sheff Utd towards the end of the season and he spent the whole of the last campaign on loan with Championship side Preston where he appeared 24 times and scored three goals.
He will wear squad number 20 at QPR.
“Alex is one of the biggest characters I've worked with in my time in the game. I know him really well and know what he can bring to our squad – so I'm delighted he's signed and I'm looking forward to working with him again. He's versatile – he can play anywhere across the back – and that was a big plus for me. And the fact I know him – and he knows me – and I know I can rely on him too, means he'll be a big addition to the group.” - Ian Holloway
“I’m very excited to be working with Ian Holloway again. Working with him at Blackpool was the best time of my career. We had an unbelievable team spirt there and he was the biggest part of that. I’m an honest lad who gives 100 per cent. I will give it my all, I will leave it all on the pitch and hopefully it will be good enough. I’ve played at Loftus Road before. It’s so tight and the crowd are on top of you, so hopefully we can keep getting the wins, keep getting the crowds in and make the place a fortress.” - Alex Baptiste
“Positives: Ollie knows him and being so adamant about players having the right character, we can be confident he knows Baptiste will be a positive influence; he plays in positions we need some strength in depth with; he's free and will not be on much money; this is similar to Clint Hill-style unfashionable transfers for players we assume are crap and past it but known by the manager and low risk. Negatives: he's been absolutely dog toffee whenever I have seen him.” - Simmo
“I've actually always thought he was quite good in a very basic championship way... Good price, good age, good cover. And is an immediate upgrade on Perch for the right centreback slot.” -Wadr
“On his day fully fit he's a high-quality defender in this division. However his fitness does bother me slightly.” -KDP PNE
“Not pulled up any trees even when he has been fit. Very easily beaten in the air and doesn't play like a seasoned pro for me. Think there's better out there.” -Nishtar36
“I'd be happy for him to return - he gives us a bit of mobility and canniness at the back as well as versatility. But loan only - his fitness makes a contract unless maybe only for 12 months too much of a risk.” -Ernest
“I'd take him back in a flash. Similar to Tom Clarke, a proper defender who does nothing fancy and plays to his strengths. Knows this league and our manager inside out and performed well for us last season.” -Haggy45
Ashley Fletcher has made 48 senior appearances in his career, just 19 of them starts. He has, as a striker, scored nine senior goals in his life, four of those in League One and another four in the Football League Trophy during a loan spell at Barnsley. He is, at 21, little more than a promising graduate from Man Utd’s academy currently kicking around in West Ham’s reserves. He has all the attributes, all the potential, but then so did lots of boys at 21. This summer it’s cost Middlesbrough £7m (more than Newcastle paid us for Les Ferdinand who’d whopped in 91 goals in 183 appearances) to find out if he’s going to turn out to be any good. That’s the market our club is currently operating in.
QPR have a pre-existing Financial Fair Play penalty currently being worked out and are scrambling to even meet the latest relaxed laws in an 18,000 seater stadium. They pay London rates for policing, stewarding, maintenance on an ageing stadium, the rent of two West London training grounds. Their season ticket income (£5-6m) doesn’t even cover the costs of running the club day to day before a single salary is paid (£8-9m per season). Their current biggest income is parachute payments (£10m this year and £10m next then nothing after that). In 2015/16 the club received a parachute payment in the region of £30m, a £10m windfall from Raheem Sterling’s move to Man City, and transfer fees for players including £4m from Southampton for Charlie Austin. The club still lost £11m that year. Even to stand still and “just” lose the same £11m in the 2016/17 season just gone they would have had to find £24m because there was a reduced parachute, no Sterling money and no Austin money. So when you vomit your “where’s the Josh Bowler money gone?” bile onto Twitter… I don’t know, maybe it’s gone on that?
That is the situation our club is currently grappling with, at a time when it costs you £7m to find out if some kid is any good or not.
And so, as Lee Hoos says until he’s blue in the face while everybody gets on their “sign a fucking striker” high horse, it’s about trying to find value. Value in a market that has become so overheated and crazy it kind of makes you grateful that we are skint - £7m for Tom Lawrence? You’re alright ta.
Value can come in several forms. Picking up players from lower divisions who are capable of stepping up (Massimo Luongo), picking up players released from Premier League academies who maybe shouldn’t have been or who certainly can do a job at our level (Grant Hall) or playing our humiliating part in the disgusting stockpiling of young talent by the country’s biggest clubs by taking a Tammy Abraham or Izzy Brown type on loan. The arrival of Gary Penrice and, more encouragingly, Mel Johnson as scouts this summer will hopefully return us to something like a time when they were both previously here and it was QPR spotting the likes of Martin Rowlands, Danny Shittu, Lee Cook and Lee Camp. It can be done, successfully, in the current market, at this level – as Preston, Huddersfield and Barnsley all showed last season, playing attractive, winning football with teams assembled on a pittance.
But value can also be found, Moneyball style, in players that other clubs have given up on or will ignore – for their age, for their behaviour or for their fitness. Those of us who adored Adel Taarabt pointed out to people who whinged about his tracking back and sulking during his 19-goals-and-21-assists promotion winning season that if he behaved himself and defended well he would never have been at QPR in the first place would he? You’ve got to have something a bit wrong with you to be signing for our club.
This is risky, particularly at QPR which has a terrible record for improving players. In fact, players tend to come here and get worse. As we said with Ravel Morrison as he ambled through six months behaving like a dickhead, keeping time like Southern Rail and eating like Homer Simpson “if it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it’s a fucking duck”. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas remains an expensive lesson for Rangers in this – another year of his contract left and no hope of playing for the club again for exactly the same reasons Arsenal, Ipswich, Cardiff and Bristol City got shot of him.
Alex Baptiste was never a player I rated particularly highly to start with, despite Holloway describing him as “the best defender I’ve ever worked with” following Blackpool’s promotion to the Premier League. He missed all of 2015/16 having suffered a horrible double leg fracture in a pre-season friendly at York just days after signing for Middlesbrough. He managed to get 24 starts and a sub appearance under his belt in Preston’s 51-game season last year
He looks like a mediocre, ageing player with recent injury problems, quacks like a mediocre, ageing player with recent injury problems, and in all likelihood is a mediocre, ageing player with recent injury problems. But QPR need cover for the right side of their defence, particularly if they’re going to play three at the back as they did on Saturday with James Perch utilised in the right centre half role and successfully making it through 90 minutes without killing anybody. Joel Lynch has proved injury prone, likewise Grant Hall, Steven Caulker cannot be relied upon to stay, and if he does he certainly cannot be relied upon to behave. Baptiste knows the division, knows the manager (and the manager knows him), might be acceptable cover and, most importantly, is available for free. There aren't any centre halves currently tearing it up for the youth sides whose path he is obstructing. It's not going to sell many tickets, but it might work out ok.
After the early Fernandes years, listening to people on Twitter, listening to Mark Hughes and Kia Joorabchian, listening to Harry Redknapp and Willie McKay, and doing everything all of them told him to do, this is where we are folks. It’s Hoos and Ferdinand trying to mop it up, not causing the problem.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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