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Warburton gets his ball-playing centre back - Signing
Tuesday, 1st Sep 2020 13:47 by Clive Whittingham

QPR's leaky defence has a new addition, with Mark Warburton's long quest to find a ball-playing right-sided centre back ending at Oxford United's Rob Dickie.

Facts

Rob Dickie is a 24-year-old, six-foot-tall, right footed, ball-playing centre back from Wokingham. He enjoys fishing, painting in watercolours, and cooking Thai food.

Dickie initially came through the ranks at QPR’s Championship rivals Reading, starting in their academy as an eight-year-old and winning caps for England at U18 and U19 level along the way. His one and only appearance for the first team at Reading came on the final day of the 2015/16 season when he came on as a substitute at half time in a 3-1 loss up at Blackburn.

By then he’d already been through two prolonged and highly successful loan moves. First he played 24 times for Basingstoke in 2014/15 as they made the Conference South play-offs. That was enough for Reading to offer him a new contract for 2015/16, the vast majority of which he spent with Conference side Cheltenham Town, who won the league with him in their defence. He scored on his debut in a 2-1 win at Barrow in August and would go on to score twice more in the league, home and away against Guiseley. He also, rather randomly, netted a hat trick in an FA Trophy win against Chelmsford. Cheltenham won 19 of Dickie’s 27 league appearances for them and kept ten clean sheets.

Now back in League Two, Cheltenham took Dickie on loan from Reading again for the first half of the 2016/17 campaign, and once again he scored on his first appearance of the season in a 2-0 home win over Crewe. He played 26 times in all comps for Cheltenham (W7 D7 L12) prior to returning to Reading at the end of the half season loan in January, scoring against Accrington.

Another season, another loan move in 2017/18 as League Two outfit Lincoln City took him temporarily for the first half of the year. He made 21 starts and two sub appearances for them through to Christmas (W10 D3 L10) contributing to six clean sheets. In the January transfer window League One side Oxford paid Reading an undisclosed fee to take him on a permanent two-and-a-half-year contract and he made his debut at the higher level in a 3-1 loss at high flying Rotherham.

Unusually for his career to this point he’d have to wait more than a year – April 2019 – to break his scoring duck for the club with one in a 3-1 away win at Walsall. But he has become a mainstay of the Oxford defence over the last two and a half season, making 112 starts and one sub appearance with three goals scored. In that time Oxford have embarked on a number of eye-catching cup runs (well he can pack that in for a start) losing in the third round of the 2018/19 League Cup at home to Man City then beating West Ham 4-0 and Sunderland on penalties in last year’s competition before succumbing 3-1 at home to City for a second time. They also reached the League One play-off final last season only to be narrowly beaten at Wembley by Wycombe Wanderers just when it felt like Oxford were getting on top in the game. Dickie was named the club’s Player of the Season for 2019/20 having played more minutes than any other player over the season. He also picked up a rather hefty 12 yellow cards but has yet to be sent off in his professional career.

He joins QPR for an undisclosed fee, with his Oxford contract only having a year left to run. He’s signed a four-year deal at Loftus Road.

Reaction

"The manager had a big influence on my decision. I got a really good feeling off him. I watched a lot of QPR last year. I really like how they played and how the manager set them up. I feel this is a really good fit for me because of how I like to play. It feels like the right club for me. I like to bring the ball out and start attacks but, at the same time, I do whatever is necessary to defend our goal." -Rob Dickie

“He is a very talented young player, he has proven himself at Oxford, showing his undoubted quality, and is more than ready to step up. He is a talented ball player and is aware of how we like to play. He likes to get on the ball, he makes good decisions and has good physicality about him as well which you have to have in the Championship - but he is also a young player with lots of development potential. He is a tremendous addition to our squad.” -Warbs Warburton

Opinion

It’s taken him more than a year, but Mark Warburton finally has his way with the middle of the QPR defence. Toni Leistner out, at pretty much any cost, and a more mobile, ball-playing centre half in.

Leistner left the club on Friday after reaching a financial settlement with Rangers for the remaining year of his contract. All parties had hoped that Cologne would make his loan move permanent at the end of 2019/20 but they passed after the ‘try before you buy’ period – conceding 17 goals in their final six Bundesliga games, including six on the final day at Bremen with Leistner withdrawn on 34 minutes already 3-0 down, probably didn’t do much for his cause. He subsequently, immediately, turned up as a free transfer to Hamburg. It would have been nice had Hamburg just bunged us £100k for him a month ago and done it that way for several reasons, one of them the aesthetics of having to pay up a player QPR pushed the boat out to sign just two seasons ago.

Leistner represents a significant failure in QPR’s scouting and recruitment. They went hot and heavy to get him in the summer of 2018, making him an offer that surpassed the one on the table from the German enclave up in Norwich and included the club captaincy. Shteve McClaren said Shteve McClaren things about going to Berlin himself to meet the player and look him in the eye. One change of manager later and he we are literally paying him money to leave, for shortcomings that would have been plainly obvious when he was scouted at Union Berlin. He didn’t suddenly get slow after disembarking the plane at Heathrow.

We’ve written a lot recently about QPR’s propensity not only to change the manager too often, but also to change from one style of play to somebody with a completely different ethos. The director of football system is supposed to guard against managers signing players who are then completely unsuited to whatever and whoever comes next. Les Ferdinand has made a point at the last two fans forums of saying QPR used to pay players to leave when he arrived at the club and now we have clubs coming to pay us money for our talent, and that is true, but here we are paying Leistner’s contract up with a year still to run again. Not good. Not good at all.

There’s been some consternation about why Warbs Warburton took against Leistner quite as vehemently as he did – informing the German his services were no longer required even before 2019/20 was underway. QPR are too nice, they lack physicality, they lack height, they concede for fun off set pieces, and when Leistner subsequently battled his way back into the team, most notably in a man of the match display at Millwall, he did improve all of those things. The general perception is Warburton wants to play out from the back and Leistner can’t pass the ball, but it wasn’t just a quality assist for Nahki Wells against Luton that proved that not quite correct. The bigger problem is Leistner’s lack of pace and mobility, which forces him to drop deeper than Warburton would like to defend, opening up a bigger gap between the defence and midfield than Warburton would like to exist, and hindering the short passing game and link up as a result.

Rob Dickie will certainly help with all that latter stuff. Mobile and good on the ball, I think we’ll see immediate improvements in possession with him and Barbet back there with Conor Masterson covering. This could be a rare modern example of Rangers actually doing some better business than Brentford, getting a quality ball playing defender from League One while they spent more getting a worse player, from the division below, with a history of knee injuries, after one good season at Northampton. Of course, we know how it goes, Charlie Goode goes onto be the next big thing and gets sold to Aston Villa for £12m, Rob Dickie snaps his ACL midway through another 70-goal concession season at Rangers, but at the moment we look to have got the better deal to me.

Whether, at six-foot, he’ll improve the physical side of our team, and strengthen what is a particularly weak spine of the team, remains to be seen. Rangers conceded, shambolically, yet again from a corner at Oxford at the weekend – beaten easily in the air for the first ball, marking abysmally for the second as it dropped. But for errant finishing elsewhere in the game by the goalscorer Matt Taylor Rangers could easily have lost that game three or four nil. For all the talk of what we do with the ball, that’s the key improvement we need to make from last season when we conceded 76 goals in the Championship, and that’s where he’ll have his work cut out most.

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QPR_Pricey added 21:27 - Sep 1
Loving the lonely hearts - can you do them for the whole squad please??!!!!
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Phil_i_P_Daddy added 08:19 - Sep 2
I don’t disagree, time wills obvs tell, but patting ourselves on the back for, hopefully, doing a better bit of transfer business than Brentford feels like a bit of a knock to the nads.
Reality is the greatest cause of stress.
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kingfisher6404 added 20:09 - Sep 2
Really good to reference not just his time at Oxford but delve back further and indicate what a benefit he has been. I see that positive impact transferring our way and, having seen a video of him, I love how he somehow manages a two-footed tackle to take the ball off players! Well done everyone involved in getting Dickie to the Rs - especially Jamie Mackie it seems!!
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royinaus added 22:42 - Sep 2
Didn’t see Leistner as that bad - he played in the 6-1 against Cardiff - very nearly scored a blinder too. One would have thought keeping him as cover and or to bring on when proper defending was required would be preferable to just paying him to leave
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