Window pain – Column
Thursday, 9th Aug 2018 22:47 by Clive Whittingham
Another summer transfer window closes and with QPR down a clutch of senior players and only Toni Leistner incoming the church is restless.
What we have (left) we hold (desperately). There will be loan signings, we’re assured, as gaps at centre half and centre forward remain. But a long, slow, gruelling grind stretches out ahead of us. And there’s no January get out clause.
QPR were in the market for at least one more centre back to play with Toni Leistner. Trent Sainsbury was never likely once PSV Eindhoven had got involved. Michael Hefele, on the other hand, was realistic and would have been brilliant for us. It’s somewhat dispiriting that we couldn’t even stretch to £375,000 for the permanent transfer he was looking for – an absolute steal for Forest at 27 years old. That said, you suspect that the permanent or loan thing was less important than the wage. Simply put, when a club like Forest comes in for one of our targets at the moment they’re able to blow us out of the water on salary as we have a strict wage structure to adhere to. There was a tentative, always unlikely, loan interest in Jordan Hugill who went to Middlesbrough, and once he’s fit (well, fit by his standards) it wouldn’t surprise me to see us try and bring Chris Martin in on a temporary deal.
But, as we’ve said time and time again, the club’s accounts and the league’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules mean it’s going to be tough for QPR in this market for sometime to come. We’ve successfully - just about, by all accounts - squeezed under the barrier for the first three years back at this level, but it’s a rolling three year target and the parachute payments end next season. There was some hope, and Ian Holloway talked frequently about this, that several big earners coming out of contract and leaving this summer (Nedum Onuoha, Jack Robinson, Jamie Mackie, James Perch, plus Alex Smithies as it turned out) may allow a bit of belt loosening and an opportunity to trade. The club has decided, in full possession and knowledge of its balance sheet, that they can’t risk it. This can't be us forever, there has to be more to life than this, we're losing out to Ipswich and Wigan on players now. But, for now, penance for previous folly continues to be paid. If you think QPR can afford strikers and are choosing not to buy them, you're a full moron.
The best business QPR did, Leistner apart, was getting Furlong and Eze tied down to deals, and given how much fuss was being kicked up about that beforehand it's amazing just how quickly it was dismissed and buried under a deluge of bile about other perceived failings.
Perhaps the most intriguing deal was the one that didn’t happen involving Luke Freeman. Interest reported a week ago from Middlesbrough made sense: Freeman’s set piece delivery + Tony Pulis = Aden Flint Championship top goalscorer. Likewise Sheff Utd, who have £12m from David Brooks burning a hole in their pocket and a need to replace his assists. But news this morning that the Blackburn bloody Rovers had suddenly found £4m stashed down the back of the sofa for a bid brought the QPR faithful out in hives. Losing our best outfield player of the last 18 months to a relegation rival? There hasn’t been anger like it since Gurnham Singh was last on the circuit.
That whole Blackburn thing felt rather suspicious to me, and not just because of the “where to buggery did they get £4m from?” angle. Firstly the leak, clearly from the QPR end, was conveniently timed for last night leaving a full day for a bidding war. CEO Lee Hoos had defended the relatively low price for Alex Smithies by saying there was only one interested party, and nobody else to play them off against. Blackburn, who already have Bradley Dack and Kasey Palmer and therefore little need for Freeman unless they’re going to crowbar him into a role he’s not suited for, were perhaps a useful stalking horse to tempt out Boro again, with a cheque for their main creative outlet Adama Traore freshly cashed.
I strongly suspect that had that tactic dragged the bidding got up towards the £6m mark he’d have been on his way. That he wasn’t anyway is a good sign for the finances – we’re not so desperate for money that we had to snatch another offer for a key player below our valuation – and that we now have clubs interested in our players rather than us paying them to leave. But it’s also probably the club recognising how many quality senior players have left this summer and how many big dressing room presences have been lost in the process. Not to mention the loss of his assists from set pieces alone. You’re risking death by a thousand cuts to lose Smithies, Onuoha, Robinson, Perch, Mackie and Freeman from what we had last season, which whilst never in any serious trouble was also never really anywhere close to a top half team.
Weirdly though, Freeman is probably more expendable than several others who have left – particularly Onuoha and Smithies. Since being moved out of a free role behind the striker that Ian Holloway played him in, he’s struggled for form in a wider position, just as he did at Bristol City. With Ebere Eze seemingly the nailed on new number ten, does Freeman fit into McClaren’s system as a wide left man in the forward three? Union Berlin game said yes, Preston away said no. I think the club have done the right thing hanging on – to show we’re not a soft touch, to prevent the loss of another key senior player – but will Freeman’s stock ever be as high again as it is now? He’s been unbelievably consistent for 18 months, can he do it for another six and what effect will it have on his value if he can't? And how keen was he to leave? Do we now have a player who was already halfway out the door having to re-adjust mentally? I give it three mediocre performances before the same people who were laying into Tony Fernandes for selling him this morning start piling in again saying we should have taken the money when we had the chance.
Ah yes, Uncle Tony, Tweeting twice in the last week that he wasn’t for sale. Driving a hard bargain and forcing the price up? Or putting pressure on the people that run the club not to sell somebody they’d actually quite like to cash in on to furnish the team elsewhere? Whatever the fans thought, however badly it would have played from a PR point of view, if Lee Hoos and Les Ferdinand felt Freeman should have been sold then he should have been. Buying for £350,000 in January and selling for £5m+ 18 months later is exactly what we should be doing.. Hopefully this wasn’t a case of their boss Tweeting them into a corner. If Middlesbrough had offered £6m today he would have been sold, and so he should have been, but it would have left Fernandes forever trying to live down his "not for sale" Tweets.
Even if you don’t think (as we do) that his social media activity around QPR is consistently unhelpful, you only need look at the replies he gets to start changing your mind.
The lack of action has brought about the standard gnashing and wailing at the club through the usual channels. You could say that QPR have left themselves short in key areas (pending loan deals) and are reliant on unreliable players like Joel Lynch. Or you could say that actually we’ve had a window where the wage bill has been cut further, we’ve secured a good centre back on a free transfer, and we’ve tied several of our best young players down to long term contracts. Or you could say: “Couldn't give a fuck about QPR or the fans! Sick of it now been going on far to long. The dof is a cunt! How he can think strikers are good enough!” Little taste for you there from our adventures in QPR Social Media Today, all with Fernandes copied in of course.
Personally, I don’t think it’s been a great transfer window for QPR to put it mildly – loan signings pending. But it was always on the cards. People losing their shit because they thought QPR would be signing this player and that player this summer would do well to listen more to our CEO when he talks about our accounts and the rules of the league rather than “Sky sources”, “Football.London”, “Here Is The City”, “Get West London” and various other gutter clickbait websites and Twitter feeds.
They’re there to get you to click, because that’s how they get paid, they don’t care if what they say is true or not. I’ve seen QPR hammered in the last couple of weeks for “missing out” on players they were never in for in the first place, on the back of something some churnalism no-nothing has stuck out there to bring in a bit of traffic.
I’d recommend seeking out an old Football Ramble podcast with Dave Jones from Sky Sports for your morning commute. He talks about his time at Sky Sports News before he moved onto the main channel, and what exactly constitutes a “Sky Source” on Deadline Day (which we cap up now, otherwise Jim White comes to visit us in the night with his rough glove). In that interview he freely admits (and tries to justify when pushed) that if a player’s agent drops them a line saying his client is in talks with Burnley, West Ham and Blackburn, they’ll just run that as a story – because, he argues, the agent is a representative of the player and speaks for him, so that’s a good source. But, of course, it’s the agent’s job to create a market for an unhappy player, or to drive his fee and signing on bonus up if he is moving, or to drill a better contract out of his club if he’s staying. So, chances are, the agent is making all this up for his own gain. So far, so obviously transparent, but Sky run it anyway, and Jones saw no problem with this despite agreeing that much of what’s peddled their way in such a manner isn’t true. No call to the clubs involved, nor with any of the impartial observers or commentators on the clubs involved, to check whether it’s an actual possibility or not. Agent says Scunthorpe United winger Josh Morris is in talks with Barcelona, then Scunthorpe winger Josh Morris is in talks with Barcelona as far as Sky are concerned.
Extreme example, exaggerated for effect. So how about a real one? Let’s take this from Sky last week, linking QPR and West Brom with a move for Aston Villa midfielder Gary Gardner. This was, naturally, picked up and re-run everywhere, because that’s the state journalism is in these days, to the point where some were saying we might pay £2m for him.
This is a lie.
This is an absolute trademark agent story a week before a transfer deadline about a player who’s stuck deep in the reserves at his current club, had a few poor spells out on loan recently, and is probably on nobody’s radar whatsoever. First job, get his name in the press so people remember him. Second job, create a market (imagined) for him to flush out any actual interested parties. Lo and behold, earlier on today, a desperate Birmingham City (not mentioned at all in the original story) pick him up. Agent job done. It's so blatant, nobody wanted to put their byline on it.
Now it wouldn’t have taken Sky very long to do a bit of research and know that a skint QPR - scrambling to qualify for FFP rules, desperate for centre backs and centre forwards but with the best part of a dozen players that play the same position as Gardner - probably wouldn’t be in the running for him. They could have spoken to journalists who cover QPR regularly, friends who might support QPR, people within the game. Hell, they could have looked at the bloody squad on SoccerBase and seen that we have Freeman, Luongo, Scowen, Hall, Manning, Chair, Eze, Osayi-Samuel, Smyth, Wszolek, Cousins, Wheeler… all competing for five midfield spots. But they don’t care, they just want you to click the story.
Meanwhile QPR get pelters in the first instance along the lines of “why on earth do we want him?” (answer – we don’t), and then in the second for “missing out on him” (answer – we didn’t). “Can’t even get fucking Gary Gardner to sign…” etc etc.
And this is all “part of the fun” I’m told. “Nobody takes it seriously,” people say, “it’s only football transfers”. Except they do. “Fuck off tony seriously fuck off out the club, take that American tosser and shite dof with ya! Embarrassment!” Another little taste from Tony’s Twitter for you there. It’s like a footballing InfoWars this – they’re peddling stuff that is blatantly untrue, but don’t worry about it because anybody with half a brain knows it’s bollocks, nobody’s that stupid. Well, it’s a dangerous assumption to make that everybody has half a brain, with dangerous consequences. Lee Hoos’ perfectly reasonable explanatory interview on the official website tonight met with replies including and not limited to “fuck off you Yank cunt”.
Disagree with him, and us, and Fernandes, and anybody you like. But we need to be so much better than "fuck off you Yank cunt".
QPR are going to be reliant on a number of kids performing very well this season or they’re going to be in trouble. Whipping up a support base with outright lies about potential transfers only for nothing to happen increases the chances of those inexperienced 20-year-olds having to do that in front of a hostile home crowd. But then, the talentless hacks that did it will have moved onto their “17 things we learnt from Red Monday” and “you won’t believe what Jose Mourinho said in today’s presser” bait by then.
They’re lying to you to make money. Stop listening to them.
Has anyone checked on Schteve?
What of our new manager/head coach in all of this?
On last week’s season preview podcast Steve McClaren was talking about hopes for “at least a couple in” before the season started. He was also making fairly loaded comments about the need for one or two quality players in key positions to supplement the promising youngsters, and about the club needing to decide whether after years and years of cutting and cutting now was the time to try and draw a line in the sand and move forwards.
He will get, surely to goodness, his desired second centre back, and probably Chris Martin for the attack, on loan before that deadline on August 31. He’s spoken openly about the challenges the club faces, the direction it's taken, the coaching and development of youth players. It seems he’s come in with his eyes wide open. But then, a few weeks ago the club were (rightly) saying that loans didn't suit the business plan, because you have to pay fees and wages for players you don't get to keep - it's dead money basically. To now be talking up the loan market suggests things have not gone to plan.
Taking on the same challenge as last season without Onuoha, Robinson and Smithies (and nearly Freeman) with only one centre back from the German second division is a daunting prospect. Chuck in Furlong's injury for the full clusterfuck. Several of these kids are going to need to be very good, very consistently, very quickly. It’s a huge gamble, one that if it were to go wrong and relegate us to League One would bury all this financial prudence under a whole heap of fresh shit.
McClaren and Nottingham Forest split very early when it was clear everything wasn’t quite as it was advertised in the brochure. Penny for his thoughts tonight.
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