A new BFG eases QPR's centre back issues - Signing
Sunday, 1st Jul 2018 21:18 by Clive Whittingham
QPR have announced German centre back Toni Leistner as their first summer signing, on a free transfer from Union Berlin. LFW spoke to Bundesliga 2 expert Jonny Walsh about the new man.
Toni Leistner is a 27-year-old German centre back who has joined Queens Park Rangers on a free transfer following the expiration of his contract at Union Berlin. He has signed a three year contract at Loftus Road.
At 6ft 3ins tall, Leistner is the commanding defender QPR have been crying out for following the departures of Nedum Onuoha and Jack Robinson who were mainstays in the centre of the QPR defence last season. He’s also a decent candidate to pick up the BFG nickname from Sebastien Polter, who left Rangers for Union Berlin 18 months ago – Leistner was the best man at Polter’s wedding.
Leistner spent four years with his hometown club Dynamo Dresden having signed fromlocal side SC Borea prior to joining Union in 2014. His first team debut at Dynamo came towards the end of the 2010/11 season, in April, with the club promoted from Bundesliga 3 to 2 at the end of that campaign. He made only three appearances at the higher level in 2011/12 and spent the second half of the season on loan at Hallescher FC. He returned for the 2013/14 season and became a first team regular but could not prevent relegation back to the third tier. He had, however, done enough to suggest he could play at the higher level so moved to Union Berlin in the summer of 2014.
He was named in the Bundesliga 2 Team of the Season in 2016/17 and missed only one league game for Union Berlin in 2017/18, solidifying his reputation as one the outstanding defenders at that level in Germany. He was offered a new contract at Union following that consistent two year spell but turned it down in March sparking a flurry of rumoured interest, most recently from our fellow Championship side Norwich who have shopped in Germany frequently since Daniel Farke became manager there.
“I feel very proud. QPR is a big club and a traditional club so it is good to be here. I like to play football the hard way. I love the physical side of the game and I hope I can give the supporters a lot. Sebastien Polter told me only good things about QPR. He said the fans are very crazy, positive and he loved playing here. I also met the manager and he convinced me with the style he wants to play. It made my choice easy.” - Toni Leistner
With Nedum Onuoha, Jack Robinson and James Perch leaving the club, and Grant Hall coming back from a long-term injury, we are obviously short in that area. We have been looking for the last month for centre backs, and we believe we have found a very good one in Toni. He has been much sought after, he’s run his contract down and many people were chasing his signature, from the Bundesliga and the Championship. I have watched him play, we have done a lot of character references on him and I went out to Berlin to meet him, to look him in the eye and speak with him. He is a leader, a winner and dominant in the air but can also play, so he seems an ideal fit for how we want to go forward. We have got a young squad, and Onuoha, Robinson and Perch were all experienced players, so getting someone in of Toni’s age and experience is crucial. - Steve McClaren
Centre back was obviously a clear priority for QPR this summer, and probably remains so despite today’s addition of Toni Leistner. Three senior defensive departures at the end of contracts this summer meant it was important to get somebody, anybody, in through the door. Alex Baptiste did a lot better than I expected last season but is still a very basic player at Championship level and at 32 shouldn’t be any more than cover. Grant Hall’s fitness record is non-existent while Joel Lynch is prone to do his best turnstile impression at the worst possible moments of games, while also enjoying frequent sabbaticals from work – particularly around Christmas time. Go into the season with that as your first choice centre back options and you can start making plans for Rochdale and Scunthorpe away in 2019/20. It was never going to be allowed to happen, but it’s still a relief to see somebody come through the door and start the rebuild of the backline.
In Nedum Onuoha the club has lost speed, physicality, organisation, experience and leadership. Jack Robinson has taken with him speed, strength in the tackle and a more cultured passing style than Onuoha. And James Perch’s murderous hunger to snap opposition shin bones in two has gone as well. In Toni Leistner it sounds like Rangers have found an option at a good age who offers a bit of all those things. Coming from a club we’ve got an increasingly close relationship with following Sebastien Polter’s move there and the subsequent friendly games, one would hope a lot of the uncertainty that comes with brining European players into the Championship is negated. Homework and references, presumably, have been done.
It's a rare example of QPR signing a player that none of us here at LFW have seen, so rather than bluff it we’ve spoken to journalist, commentator and Bundesliga 2 expert Jonny Walsh (@jonathanwalsh_) about what exactly we’ve got for our three year contract…
“Last season was a poor one in general for Union, especially after they came so close to getting promoted a year prior. Despite that, Toni Leistner still had a very solid year. That’s earned him interest from Germany and England, although it seemed England was always the likely destination. He’s strong and his physicality is extremely impressive – there’s rarely a duel that Leistner loses and he’s a man mountain in the air. Leistner is strong on the ground and in the tackle too. Being 27, he’s in his prime and should be a solid addition to the team from the get-go. Another bonus is Sebastian Polter, who will hopefully speed up the adaptation process from past experience at Loftus Road.
“Although a pass completion rate of nearly 80% in the last season is nothing to be laughed at, at times, Leistner’s on the ball ability can be somewhat of an issue. It isn’t anything to be too concerned about and if he’s with a centre-back with an eye for a pass, it’s not a bad thing at all to have someone like Leistner who is more robust. His physicality certainly won’t be a problem in England, but he lacks a little bit of pace. However, depending on the defensive line, it could be negotiated in the same vein as his passing. These are minor issues for a defender who has only got better in recent years.
“VfL Wolfsburg, Aston Villa, Fulham, Norwich and an unnamed Moscow-based club have all been a part of the reported interest in Leistner. For one reason or another, these moves haven’t worked out and QPR fans should be well pleased that it has worked out for them. Leistner was named in Kicker’s Team of the Season for 2016/17 and has been consistent across the last three seasons with Union. He always gives 100% and is somewhat of the typical, strong, solid defender that a lot of English clubs have been crying out for. Once he gets settled, which hopefully won’t take long, QPR have a real player on their hands.”
The Twitter @loftforwords, @jonathanwalsh_
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