Cameron makes Rangers return, but will it be in the same role? Signing
Thursday, 25th Jul 2019 19:09 by Clive Whittingham
Another day, another signing, as Geoff Cameron rejoins QPR on a free transfer from Stoke City. Question is, does Mark Warburton intend to use him in the same way Steve McClaren did?
Geoff Cameron is a recently-turned 34-year-old central midfielder or central defender from Massachusetts. He has 55 caps and four goals for the artist formerly known as the United States of America.
In college Cameron played first for the West Virginia Mountaineers and then the Rhode Island Rams. He also featured for the Rhode Island Stingrays in the USL Developmental League for two seasons. He was subsequently drafted in the third round of the 2008 MLS draft by Houston Dynamo, making his professional debut in March 2008 away to New England Revolution and scoring on his first home appearance in a 3-3 draw with FC Dallas. He made 32 appearances in the 2008 season as Dynamo made the play offs before losing to the New York Red Bulls. He was also part of a title winning Houston reserve squad, and nominated for the MLS Rookie of the Year.
In 2009 he became a regular starter at centre back, missing just one match as the Dynamo reached the Western Conference final before losing to LA Galaxy. He was selected for the MLS All Star game against Everton and made the MLS team of the season. Injury restricted him to 17 appearances in 2010 as Houston missed the play-offs but he, and they, were back in 2011, reaching the final of the MLS Cup where they were again beaten by the Galaxy. Another All Star selection followed and then midway through the 2012 campaign he was picked up by Premier League side Stoke City.
He played 32 times for Stoke in 2012/13 as they finished thirteenth, often featuring at right back. Although Tony Pulis was replaced by Mark Hughes that summer, Cameron maintained his place down the right side of the defence and made 41 appearances in a season which ended in a ninth placed Premier League finish. Stoke finished ninth in both of the following two seasons, with Cameron featuring in 31 games in 2014/15 despite a hernia operation, and 34 in 2015/16.
Cameron was a part of the US national team during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. He started as central defender during the team's first two group stage games against Ghana and Portugal. He was benched for the third game against Germany. In the round of 16 defeat against Belgium, Cameron started in central midfield.
Injuries began to hamper the American in 2016/17 as Stoke rallied from a dire start of no wins until October to end up in thirteenth place. He only made 21 appearances that season, though more often in his favoured role of midfield. Although two years were added to his contract in the summer of 2017, Cameron spent much of the following season out of favour as the Potters were relegated from the top flight. He was subsequently loaned to Queens Park Rangers for 2018/19 where his LFW numbers were…
He has now returned to Loftus Road permanently, on a one-year deal with an option for a second, in an old Oakland A’s Moneyball-style deal – picking up a player at the end of his career with his previous club swallowing a chunk of his wage to make the deal happen and clear the other percentage of his salary from their books.
“It’s great to be back. I really enjoyed my time here last year – it’s a family-orientated environment and this move is the best fit for myself and my family. The manager wants to get the ball down and play good football. Hopefully myself and Angel, who has also come back, can use our experience to help what is a young squad. I’m here to help the team in any way that I can – whether that’s leadership on the pitch or off it as well. For me, I’m excited for this role and I’m excited to be here. I just want to enjoy my football, like I did here last season. The fans have been great with me. I’ve seen a few Tweets – one guy said that if I signed permanently then he’d get a tattoo of me on his leg. The fans have been super supportive, and I’ve had lots of nice messages since the end of last season. I’m really happy to be back.” - Geoff Cameron
“Geoff is someone who knows the club. He brings experience to the group and he also brings Premier League quality. He is well-known by both the fans and the players, and his physicality is an asset as well. We’re delighted to welcome Geoff back to QPR.” - Mark Warburton
The two interesting bits of this transfer for me are where Geoff Cameron is going fit into Mark Warburton’s team, and how much we’re intending to rely on him this season. Does the new manager have a different role in mind for the American than Steve McClaren did, and will we be caught out (as we were last season) asking players into their thirties with chequered injury records to do big minutes and large numbers of consecutive games.
The priority last summer at Loftus Road, in the wake of Nedum Onuoha and Jack Robinson leaving the club, was centre halves. Toni Leistner was recruited from Union Berlin on a fair chunk of wage, Rangers beating Norwich to his signature (my how I bet he regrets that decision now as he becomes the latest senior player to be told Warburton has no use for him), but a partner for him was required. Michael Hefele was on his way from Huddersfield to fill that role, and would have been a tremendous fit for us I believe, but Nottingham Forest spotted him driving past on the M1 and sucked him into their insatiable vacuum of Championship players without ever really knowing what they were going to do with him.
When Geoff Cameron subsequently arrived from Stoke it looked like quite a nice temporary solution to that problem. Experienced, tough, used for much of his time at Stoke as a right back but now getting on in years and perfect to transfer his physicality, experience, positional sense and all round ability to the centre of the defence where there’s less charging up and down the touchline. Not that QPR’s full backs ever do much charging up and down the touchline, you understand.
But it soon transpired that the role Steve McClaren had in mind for him was actually the sitter at the base of midfield in a 4-2-3-1 system, with Mass Luongo doing the box to box job as the other in the pairing and the likes of Luke Freeman and Ebere Eze on up ahead. It’s a key role in 4-2-3-1 anyway, but especially the way McClaren plays it. He had wanted George Thorne to join from Derby, having worked with the player before, but George Thorne is in such a state these days he probably qualifies for a blue parking badge and the club weren’t nearly as keen on the idea as Schteve.
Cameron came in instead and, there’s no doubt, QPR were a better team when he was in it. W8 D4 L6 – easily the best ratio of anybody in the squad last season. But I did, at times, feel some people went overboard with just how incredible and all-curing Geoff Cameron really was for us. Whether it’s been with Onuoha and Hall at centre back in 2016/17, Onuoha and Robinson in 17/18 or Leistner and Lynch in 18/19, QPR have been ropey at the back for some time. It’s a defence that lacks many of the fundamentals of the game, one that has conceded 70 goals in two consecutive seasons. It naturally improves when you park protection in front of it, and when you take that protection away you get 6-0 defeats at home to Newcastle.
Geoff Cameron was very good at that protective role, slipping seamlessly back into the defence as a third centre back when the going got really tough, but let’s not forget that in Ian Holloway’s first season back here Grant Hall had looked very adept in the same ‘deep-lying six’ role to the point where the team literally couldn’t win a single game when he didn’t play. That defence will improve if you park midfielders in front of it, whoever they are, through sheer weight of numbers and volume of traffic in front of our area. Cameron was good, but he wasn’t God-like.
So where, I wonder, does Warburton see him playing? Dominic Ball has been used so far in that deep-lying destroyer role alongside Luke Amos and you would think – given that Ball wasn’t good enough to get into the Rotherham team over three years, or even to be picked that regularly by Warburton himself in the Scottish Championship – that Cameron will now take his place and leave him on the bench to cover a multitude of positions as a utility back. But Ball has played almost every second of every game this summer so far, and not looked too bad doing it to be fair to him (albeit only against Vienna, Boreham Wood and Oxford) and Warburton seems keen.
I wonder whether things might run in the reverse of last summer. Then we assumed that Cameron had come in as the second centre back but he turned out to be McClaren’s solution in midfield, now we assume he’s Warburton’s solution in midfield but has he in fact been brought in as a second centre back to play with Yoann Barbet? He certainly fits the bill of being both a tough defender, and somebody capable of playing out (though his passing last season was rusty at best). Grant Hall has been starting there this summer and Leistner has (like Matt Smith, foolishly in my opinion) been bombed out altogether and will likely leave before the window closes. But Hall has shown repeatedly since the turn of the year that you cannot rely on his form and fitness at Championship level at the moment. Given how Cameron performed at centre back for John Eustace at the tale end of last season, I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing him there again this August. Mind you, has there ever been an older or slower back four at this level than Rangel, Cameron, Barbet and Wallace?
Which sort of leads me to my second point of just how much we’re going to rely on Cameron, and a couple of others besides, this season. We said repeatedly on LFW through the first half of last season that Steve McClaren’s policy of picking the same team for every game, while at the time yielding positive results, was putting immense strain on players at either end of their careers – those who didn’t have the legs for it, and those that didn’t have the experience for it. Sure enough, while players like Ebere Eze lost form and confidence, players like Geoff Cameron and Angel Rangel broke down.
Cameron was unlucky. The tackle on him by Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips, after the whistle had gone, that caused his injury was an absolute horror – as opposed to Rangel who limped out of the same game with a fatigue-related muscle injury. But if it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it’s a fucking duck. If we go into this season expecting Angel Rangel at 36, or Geoff Cameron at 34, to be able to do a week-in, week-out Championship campaign of even 30-35 games each we will, in all probability, come a cropper in both cases. It’s the same with Grant Hall. People talked about how much we missed the Spanish right back and American central midfielder last season when they were out, people pointed to the results with and without them and lamented that if only they’d stuck around and been fit to play it would all have been fine, but it was ridiculously optimistic to think they could both come from being bit-part players at their previous clubs, in the twilight of their careers, and handle the rigours of nine months of Championship football.
If we make the same mistake again, we get everything we deserve.
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