Bright, Free and Eze - Column
Sunday, 29th Jul 2018 12:30 by Clive Whittingham
Ebere Eze and Bright Osayi Samuel starred as QPR won their final summer friendly (a little too easily) against Union Berlin at Loftus Road on Saturday.
Another (yet another) one of those weeks where it was nice to have some actual football to look at on a Saturday afternoon to distract attention from the latest hurricane of piss to come blowing through Loftus Road.
A £20m fine in the name of forcing financial prudence on a club seems perverse even by the Football League’s standards. But when the judgement comes with the insistence the board convert a further £20m of debt into equity, which is exactly what they did to spark the action in the first place, you’ve really got to wonder. A dispute between an organisation led by Shaun Harvey and the world’s most accident prone football club was never going to be settled quickly, logically or satisfactorily. As long as the board sticks around and continues to finance the club through loans that convert to shares then they’ll be picking up the fine. If any of that changes, it could be a 10-year millstone round the club’s neck a la the infamous ABC loan – another fine mess we got ourselves into. With the certainty of the settlement comes new uncertainty about the effect it will have on us five, six, eight, ten years down the track.
The devil is in the detail. That bloody awkward smallprint again. Support a football club they said, it’ll be a good way for to get out and make new friends – smallprint, you may need to read through fantastical and unworkable rules on Financial Fair Play and 100 page legal judgements against your club. Run a football website they said, it’ll be a good way to earn a bit of extra money to pay for your tickets and travel – smallprint, you are basically going to have to teach yourself financial journalism and spend many long nights trying to make sense of accounts.
Supporting QPR can often feel like parenting an errant child. God you love them, but they drive you bloody mad. Can’t leave them alone for a second, panic every time they go a bit quiet. What is it now? Don’t worry father, I’ve just blown a once in a lifetime game changing amount of television money on a part used Ji Sung Park. What is it now? Oh nothing mother, I’ve just managed to get the biggest fine in the history of global sports leveraged against us. Can’t we just play nicely?
Well, actually, yes we can, as we showed against Union Berlin at Loftus Road on Saturday. (Come on, that’s an award winning segue).
Amongst the steady stream of off field arseholery, Steve McClaren has arrived at QPR for reasons known only to himself to try and instil a bit of consistency and structure following the happy chaos of Ian Holloway. It’s a sign of how far his stock has fallen that a former England manager is taking on a Championship job at a skint club of our size, but it’s a coaching job for a man who, for all his failings, is renowned as a good coach.
Watching the team train on Tuesday was an object lesson in repetition. Two drills, worked on for more than an hour. The first, working the ball out from Matt Ingram through Joel Lynch, Toni Leistner and a deep lying Josh Scowen until a gap opens up ahead at which point it’s worked wide to Osman Kakay or Jake Bidwell and then sprung forwards to a collection of four attackers. The second, again starting with Ingram, more direct to go over a high press early and then work off Matt Smith or Idrissa Sylla – McClaren remains a fan of Chris Martin for the strength of his back to goal game in that circumstance. Over and over and over again they ran this until the pile of footballs at Matt Ingram’s end were all in the back of the net/back of the car park/bouncing off down the road towards Heathrow Airport at Joe Lumley’s end. Then they dragged all the balls back to Ingram and ran it all over again. For an hour.
This is how you teach thick boys to do things. Repetition, repetition, repetition until it’s just second nature to them. A fortnight ago at AFC Wimbledon, McClaren looked so depressed with what he was seeing from his team I thought we were going to have to talk him down from the camera gantry. Of the ‘Quality, Professional, Relentless’ mantra he has set for his squad the only quality came from a late show from Paul Smyth, it was only professional in the sense they were getting paid for it, and the only relentless thing about it was the sun. Don’t do it Steve, it’s not worth it. Back to the drawing board/training ground they went.
Against Union Berlin, a vast improvement. Lots of things we’d seen from them in training on Tuesday were put into action on the field and QPR looked really very decent indeed. Playing in something between a 4-2-3-1 and the 4-3-3 we finished last season in, Luke Freeman and Bright Osayi Samuel looked particularly impressive in wide attacking roles. Samuel scored the first goal with a neat finish off some quick feet in the penalty area, Freeman set up the second with a near post corner for a standard Matt Smith headed finish.
The star of the show, however, was Ebere Eze. Selected off Smith, he tormented Union all afternoon, winning countless free kicks and, eventually, a penalty which he nonchalantly top binned down at the Loft End. Looked terrified stepping up to take it, really uptight and nervous. The club are laying it on thick with Eze, giving him the number ten shirt with the new squad numbers this week. They think they’ve got a star and are keen to extend his contract beyond the two years (one year with a one year option on the club’s side) he currently has to run. If not, and his agents are well aware of what they have on their hands, it could be a case of enjoy it while it lasts because the current FFP rules Rangers are struggling to comply with dictate that we need regular, big money for players that we sell. Hoffenheim, Champions League qualifiers, effectively enquired about his availability on the touchline after last week’s friendly. Could all yet go to shit, but he’s looked fantastic in the two matches I’ve watched this week.
One issue McClaren has with his squad is several of the players in it can play a multitude of roles, but are yet to nail one down. The likes of Manning, Chair, Eze, Luongo, Freeman and others can play here there and everywhere in midfield, and the new manager would like that to be simplified down into ‘this is your position, this is your job, you stand there and do that for us’. Consistency and clarity of message is something the club are really after after Holloway’s, at times, wild approach in 2017/18. Josh Scowen, who’s also pointed out this summer that he can play further forward in midfield if necessary, to his manager’s exasperation, exemplified this approach on Saturday with a disciplined (position wise) performance as the holding midfielder, fetching and carrying from the defenders and freeing the players ahead of him. They’ve got Grant Hall earmarked as a potential for that as well, should he ever walk again. Scowen impressed until he was the victim of a strong tackle by the dugouts late on, and then spent the next five minutes hunting down the German who’d done it to him before trying to kill him to death.
The usual caveat about not reading too much into pre-season friendlies comes with a fresh, strong, warning that Union Berlin were absolutely atrocious. This time last year they’d been far superior to QPR in a friendly re-arranged after Noah’s Ark had invaded the pitch at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei. That was a good workout for QPR and the club were hoping for the same high tempo, high press approach here to give the defence a test ahead of what is a very tricky start to life back in the Championship next week against a well organised Preston side that always do a number on us and then Sheffield United and their shrewd manager Chris Wilder. Toni Leistner looked much better, and fitter, than he had done at Wimbledon, but bar one smart save from Matt Ingram in a late second half counter attack the visitors didn’t threaten at all. McClaren would like, and will almost certainly get, another centre back before next week’s transfer deadline, but you’d never know we needed one against an attack as woeful as this. The big concern is this might have been too easy for a final summer workout – we’ll need to be sharp out of the blocks against PNE next weekend because they sure as hell will be.
Union started last season as promotion favourites, sacked a manager halfway through when fourth in the league, then nearly got relegated. The hangover from that trauma looks like it’s continuing on the field, though certainly not off it where 2,000 supporters packed the top of the School End and provided away support the likes of which I’ve never seen in 25 years of attendance at that ground. I’d probably want more assurance than my drunk mate hanging onto my leg if I was going to stand up on the ledge at the front of that upper tier and lead the singing, but we managed to make it through 90 minutes without a death. Which was nice.
Loftus Road – 2 days since a major incident.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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