Angel Rangel - Patreon
Wednesday, 12th May 2021 10:54 by Clive Whittingham, Patreon
Our latest Patreon interview is with recently retired QPR full back and Swansea legend Angel Rangel, looking back over his unique start to life in the professional game, why QPR and Swansea sides promoted at the same time went in such different directions, and his optimism for Rangers' future.
LFW has been conducting written interviews with figures from QPR’s past and present for 16 years and publishing them free-to-view. This season, in addition for the first time, we’re also making the audio from these interviews available to all three tiers of our Patreon subscribers as podcasts as a thank you for your support. Listen to the full interview via our Patreon by clicking here or read an abridged version for free below…
How did you get spotted and end up going from the lower leagues in Spain to Swansea?
I was playing in the third tier in Spain at the time, which was as high as I’d ever played, and was working also as an accountant which is what I qualified for. I was playing against Benidorm, you probably know the city, and Roberto Martinez and his two scouts were at the stadium that day. They had a flight out that day that was delayed by three or four hours, they knew there was a game nearby so they came to watch because there was a striker in the other team they wanted to see. I played, it finished 3-3, I had a decent game, and I got a phone call from Roberto. He told me what Swansea was all about, and where it was because I thought it was in Scotland in the first place. I looked at some videos on YouTube, I thought it sounded good, it was near the end of the season so I thought I’m going to have an adventure here because I’d never been able to get any higher than the third tier in Spain. I took the plane to Bristol, came over to Swansea, I’d left 35 degrees in Spain and it was raining really badly in Swansea and I thought ‘oh my God what is going on here’. That was it, the rest is history.
A real sliding doors moment for that plane to be delayed on that day with those passengers and you to be playing in that game.
Exactly, the right place at the right time. If they’d flown that day at the right time they wouldn’t have spotted me. It taught me the lesson that you should always be giving your best in your job, particularly in football, because you never know who is watching. I was lucky to get spotted that day and come to sign my first professional contract at Swansea at the age of 24.
Was it a big decision and risk to move to another country, to a League One club, and leave the accountancy career you’d trained for behind?
It was very easy for me. I had to try it. It was my first offer of a professional contract. If it didn’t work out, well at least I can learn English and I’ll go back to Spain and be an accountant and play football at that level. Luckily, my first season at Swansea went very well, we were champions of League One, got promoted, I was named in the team of the season. Everything started so well for me and that’s really important when you move to a new country, new culture, new football, new language, to adapt quickly.
What were your first impressions of English football at that level? A lot of stereotypes about League One football, but not so much in a Roberto Martinez team.
The way Swansea were playing at that time was very much a European style of football. A lot of the team was from all over Europe, Spain and Holland, and the style was very clear, Roberto wanted to play that way, out from the back, and needed to sign players he knew could do that. In that division Doncaster got promoted with us trying to play that way but the rest of the teams were very typical, 4-4-2, balls in both boxes, trying to make the games manic and hectic. We won the league that season because we were different and we knew what we were doing.
In the long run, over 46 games, it went well for me but it does take time to adapt. In Spain you are playing against teams that are more tactical, try to stop you playing, whereas in League One at that time the games were more open. There was no build up, the ball was in the air, and you had to be ready for the physicality. Set pieces and situations like that were very big, Roberto would tell us you can be the better team for the whole game, have 70% of the possession, but they’ll put a long ball in, flick it on and it’ll be a goal. You had to be ready for that, and that was the hardest thing for me. I had good team mates around me, Garry Monk was the right centre back next to me the club captain and he helped me a lot at that time. We had a good mix of players who knew the UK game inside out and the foreign ones coming in who adapted quickly.
’The Swansea Way’
What is Roberto Martinez like as a manager for a defender? He’s often criticised for ignoring the defensive side of the game, how is it to be a defender in that system and style?
He was only with us for a year in League One and a year in the Championship, he was very much all about who’s playing for us not who we’re playing against. If they score three, we’ll score four, simple as that. Expansive football, open things up, move the ball, try to create chances. We did that but it comes with a risk, you’ll be exposed at the back if your full backs are very high up and the centre backs are exposed. I think he believed at that time he wanted to use our time at the training ground to focus on our style, especially with the ball. It didn’t help that a few of us didn’t speak very good English, communication was difficult trying to perfect the style. Roberto’s way was exactly that, score more goals than the opposition, and that was exciting for the crowd.
Did you like it as a defender?
I liked it at the time because I was getting up and down the line a lot. Later on in my Swansea career I had managers who focused much more on how to defend, like Paolo Sousa who you guys also had. He was in many ways the opposite of what Roberto was, trying to absolutely not concede goals and be strong defensively. Roberto just wasn’t like that, it was tough sometimes I would get exposed in the wide areas one v one with good players but I coped pretty well in League One and the Championship and got used to it, you evolve your own game as you play.
A lot of 0-0 draws with Paolo Sousa, he divided opinion at QPR, how was he with you guys?
When you see how we finished the season with him we were one point from the play-offs, so we did better than we did with Roberto. He left the club a little through the back door in the end, people had become used to watching the team play in the ‘Swansea way’ scoring three or four goals a game, conceding two or three but still winning and being exciting to watch. With Paolo it was a lot more structured, we didn’t concede many but at the same time we didn’t create much either. I think a lot of us learnt a lot from Paolo, obviously defensively he coached things that Roberto hadn’t. Roberto had started the work, teaching us the way of playing out, and Paolo brought that balance. It wasn’t mastered yet, we were defending too much and not attacking, after attacking so much we conceded too many goals, but it was a process and Paolo was a big part of the process towards the ‘Swansea way’. You’ll be criticised if you don’t score many goals and that’s what happened to him.
So did Brendan Rodgers benefit from all of that groundwork?
It would be harsh to say he came in and just found everything there for him. Brendan is arguably the best manager Swansea have ever had. He’s a manager, a coach and a person who works very much on the attention to detail in everything he does. He found a very strong core of players at Swansea who knew who to play Roberto’s way and Paolo’s way, but he definitely brought his own style and recruitment as well - he bought players that fitted the ‘Swansea way’, Scott Sinclair scored 20 goals that season. He really develops players, he makes good players top players, and you’ve seen that at Leicester, Liverpool, everywhere he’s been. He mastered what was already there, we’d played both sides of the game and he created his own style with a core of players craving to learn and improve their game. He was the perfect fit.
Brendan Rodgers has quite a unique way of speaking about football, an odd turn of phrase sometimes, and you hear these stories of him walking around the room placing imaginary crowns on people, that perhaps mean he’s not taken as seriously as his record suggests he should. What makes him as good as he is?
I remember losing at home to Manchester United, I made a mistake with a pass, Ryan Giggs intercepted it and Hernandez scored a winner. I was criticised, my mistake cost the team, but straight away he defended me in the press saying that was how he wanted me to play and if I did that 100 times then 90 times we’ll get into the final third and create chances. He didn’t have to say that. He’s very objective and honest in what he sees in a game.
Your promotion season, 2010/11, is also QPR’s Adel Taarabt promotion season. What are your memories of that season and those games against QPR?
It was a very tough team to play against. Adel is probably one of the best players in QPR’s history but that team was very strong all over the park. Not just quality wise, there was real character in that team. They knew exactly what they were doing and going to Loftus Road like always we wanted to try and pop it and play it but it was a small pitch, it was physical, and it was difficult. They would bully you, but then also had the quality to hurt you. Sometimes you’d feel like you were in control, then Adel would get the ball go around two players and score a worldie, or somebody would get smashed in the middle of the park and be a bit scared of the game. It didn’t surprise me QPR did well that season, they were definitely one of the best teams that year. They weren’t perhaps always playing the exciting style we were playing, but they knew how to win games and they were very strong all over the pitch. Tough, tough team.
When preparing, did you make special plans for Taarabt? Could you man mark him, or were there too many good players in the team to do that? Talk to me about how an opponent would prepare to face that QPR team.
We didn’t really double up on players, we never did that – looking back maybe we should have. I think maybe Brendan was preparing us for the next level, because if you want to play at that top level you can’t be doubling up on players because there are Adel Taarabts all over the pitch. You can’t do that. You have to face that challenge. He would play wide left when I was right back and I suffered him a few times, you would try and kick him early in the game to put him out of it but he would still find those pockets and hurt you. It was the 4-0 at Loftus Road that year that he megged Joe Allen and scored from outside the box, when that happens you just think ‘wow, that’s why he’s the best player in the Championship’.
Did anybody bring that up with Joe afterwards or do you just let him sit quietly on the coach home?
We did laugh later, of course we did laugh. I think Joe was only 19 at the time, he was very young, so to experience that…
You’ve had a meteoric rise from Spanish third tier and League One into the Premier League, how did you find it?
I think what was good after we got promoted, we kept the same core of players and the same manager. Brendan’s recruitment was very good again on top of that. We went into that season with the same mindset – we don’t care who we play against it’s all about us. We’re going to try and dominate games, hold the possession, if we’ve got the ball they can’t score and we kept a lot of clean sheets that season because of that. We had good quality up front to win games.
First game of the season, Man City away, we lost 4-0. For most of us that was our first ever game in the Premier League after years of chasing that dream. You could think ‘cor, this is going to be tough this season’. I don’t think we won the second game either, at home, straight away you’re thinking we need to get that first win on the board quickly otherwise you’re a relegation team already. It’s one of those things, you need to keep playing the same way, trust the process, and results came. We finished in a comfortable position that year.
QPR went up as champions with Swansea behind us, but Swansea went on and did much better than us in the Premier League. QPR spent a lot of money, bought a lot of proven players, whereas Swansea stuck with a core of players that went up. Why did you guys do so much better than we did?
You mentioned it, you need that good core of players. The recruitment then is vital, the type of player you sign, the type of person you sign – are they committed in good and bad times? And, ultimately, the style. If you’re playing more direct football, we’ve seen it with the likes of Cardiff, they get promoted and go back down because it’s a style that suits the Football League but in the Premier League you need a lot more than that, you need to have good structure with and without the ball and you need players to be switched on and concentrated all over the pitch because as soon as you switch off in that league you are punished. Teams are so clinical in the Premier League. We had all of that because of Brendan, he had such attention to detail. In my position I was shouted at every day in training, in meetings I was always exposed, I used to think ‘am I doing anything right here?’ but I understand why he was so demanding because the Premier League demands that. If you get relegated there’s a lot at stake, money wise, career wise and player futures. Brendan did a great job. In my position I faced tough wingers, it wasn’t easy, and when I look back now my game had evolved so much from when I started in League One and it was all down to the three coaches I’ve mentioned.
Is he different with different players, did he know you had the personality and character to cope with that criticism or is he like that with all the players?
Yeh it wasn’t the same with everybody. He did it with the ones he felt had more to offer, and maybe weren’t doing it. Maybe I was like that, and he was harsh on me. At the end of the day he improved most players’ games, the team that got promoted with QPR that season didn’t have players who’d played Premier League, it was a big gamble to go and play at the highest level without that experience so he must have done a good job.
Was there a specific moment you guys felt you did belong there, after the scary eye opener to begin with?
When you stay up in the first season it gives you that belief. You still have to keep working because it’s one thing to make it and another to maintain it and that was obviously the club’s goal, we didn’t want it to be a one off and then get relegated the club wanted to push on. That attitude helps the player’s confidence and Brendan had that psychology about him, he has a psychology degree I believe and we would have psychologists coming to the training ground to do lessons and exercises with us to improve the confidence and belief in the team. It really helped big time.
As you look back over that period of time, winning a League Cup, playing European football, what are the stand out highlights?
Winning the League Cup, a major trophy, the only one we had won, was a big, big deal. For me, playing in Europe, four or five years prior when I signed for Swansea that was unthinkable. I remember we went to Valencia in the Europa League, September time, I’d lived about an hour from Valencia when I was younger, and we beat them 3-0 at the Mestalla, I was captain for the first time and I had my whole family and friends at the stadium, it was a beautiful day, 30 degrees, all the Swansea fans… that’s up there. I still have the shirt from that day on the wall behind me here from that game, alongside my QPR one. It’s a big memory for me that day.
The League Cup final was actually against Bradford, a League Two side, so actually it was more the semi final was the big achievement there. A very weird situation. What was running out at Wembley like given your unusual route into the sport?
You want me to talk about beating Chelsea don’t you?
That would be amazing.
Over 180 minutes, 2-0 at Stamford Bridge, 0-0 at home against a very strong Chelsea side under Rafa Benitez, that was a hell of an achievement. The final was 5-0 against a League Two team, we felt if we could score a goal early on the game would be over and it was exactly that Michu scored in the first ten minutes and we went on and dominated from there. That was five years into my Swansea adventure and, again, it’s about being your best self every day because you never know who is watching. I got that opportunity, I got spotted, I came to Swansea, I signed in League One, Roberto told me we would be in the Premier League in four years and I laughed but he was spot on. The project was there and the dream was achieved. To go on again and win a major trophy and play in Europe is another level again. There are so many paths to make it in football, you could come through an academy to the first team, you could be transferred from one team to another, you could be promoted with your own team which was my path. Playing part time, semi-professionally, gave me the values of hard work, consistency, day in day out, and a hope that I would make it. If not, you have to know at least you gave it everything. I was lucky.
Swansea were the model club everybody wanted to be. Their managerial appointments were always great, the recruitment was spot on people like Michu coming in for 50p, the club seemed unbelievably well run. How? From somebody on the inside, how did they do it?
You have to give credit to Huw Jenkins, the chairman, he did a very good job. He was the one alongside the managers signing the players. They were very careful to get the right coaches, right managers, and right players, without spending a lot of money. How did they do that? There is some element of luck and gamble there, not every single signing was good, not everybody was Michu. There were stories like mine, I cost £15k and paid £10k of that myself, Michu cost £2m. The most important thing is having a plan that you believe will work and sticking to that. For me a lot of it was down to the recruitment. Michael Laudrup signed seven or eight players from Europe, Chico Flores, Pablo Hernandez, Jonathan De Guzman… these were top, top players and they came here for nothing really but he knew they would adapt immediately to the ‘Swansea way’. I don’t want to mention the opening day in 2012 when we beat you guys 5-0…
To be fair if I can talk about Joe Allen being nutmegged then we’ll let you have that one.
Michael Laudrup said to me before that game ‘I don’t want you to go up and down the pitch today’. Adel Taarabt and Junior Hoilett, their wingers, don’t track back, so if you go forward and lose the ball they’re gone and they’re the threat. Stay with them and I’m sure we’ll win the game because that’s their main threat. That was a difference between what we did with Brendan and what we did with Michael, a little tweak there.
It’s hard to formalise exactly how they did it. You need to have a plan and stick to it.
Did you say you paid your own transfer fee?
Yes. I didn’t have it either. I said take whatever it is off my wages over the next two seasons to make it up so I can come. I didn’t have the money. Swansea only wanted to pay £5k and my club at the time wanted £15k. I said ‘look, it’s a good opportunity for me, I’m going to gamble on it’. It’s one of those things.
So the second part of the question is how you go from being the model club, to being a club that started rapidly rotating through disparate managers and getting relegated. Again, how and why?
Personally, I think it started with changing the style. At Swansea it used to be all about how we’re going to play, not who we’re playing against. It became a bit the opposite after Michael Laudrup left. We appointed first Gary Monk, Paul Clement, a few managers who focused very much on team shape, how not to get broken down, defensively solid, and basically play to survive. It wasn’t the way that had succeeded for seven or eight seasons before that when we’d been a role model club on and off the pitch. When you start doing that you start changing players who can play football for players who are probably stronger, and more defensive. Good players in their own way, but for the ‘Swansea way’ it’s when things started going wrong. We were knocking on the door for relegation for a couple of seasons, just surviving, not playing good football, and in the end it happens. The Premier League is unforgiving. You lose your style, your way, it’s hard to get back.
It’s trendy to talk about having an ethos and identity in your team and how important it is, is it as simple as Swansea went away from theirs?
That’s exactly it. We used to play against Man City and have more possession, we drew at Anfield in the first season under Brendan and got an ovation. That doesn’t happen if you play the opposite way, sit back and try not to concede a goal and pray for a counter attack. In the EFL, with good players, you can do that, in the Premier League you need more than that. History shows us this, teams that try and do that don’t establish themselves playing that way in the Premier League. The club changed owners as well, Huw Jenkins was gone and they had a different vision to what Huw and the managers at the time had.
How did you come to leave after 11 years?
I was told I wouldn’t get a new contract. My game time had been limited for two seasons compared to the previous eight. I was getting, in some ways, old, and they wanted new players so I wasn’t getting a contract. They wanted me to go to DC United instead because it was the same owners. That never happened because in the MLS you have one so-called ‘designated player’ per team and they signed Wayne Rooney. Rangel or Rooney? I believe he sold more tops than I would have done. So that didn’t happen. It was sad, I had a farewell at Swansea and there I was at 34, I’d hardly played that season and I had a summer that was a nightmare because I wanted to know what was next and nothing came about for two or three months.
Any anger and bitterness at how that ended?
A bit bitter yeh. I believe I wasn’t treated the way I deserved. If Huw Jenkins had been in charge it would have been completely different, he was a good friend after working together for so long and I didn’t have that relationship with the new owners, they weren’t around Swansea very much and it was difficult to build that contact and relationship. It felt a bit unfair. But you realise football is a business, there’s a lot at stake. It was time to move on. In the past I’ve maybe said things about them that I shouldn’t have because I was bitter. As you get older you tend to realise how things work. It’s business that’s all it is.
You’ve made a home in Swansea, you’re well loved there, a lot of charity work in the city, were you tempted to call it a day then at 34 rather than move away?
No. I wasn’t ready. The last two-and-a-half-years at Swansea I hadn’t played enough, and I wanted to get that game time back. I felt still fit. My aim was always to play to 38 and I would do anything possible to achieve it. I ended up back in Spain with a friend of mine who was managing an Indian team in Bangalore, they were doing pre-season in Spain and he invited me over to train with them with the option of a deal there. I had nothing else, I got rejected by Championship clubs, even some League One clubs told me I was too old. I couldn’t believe it, I’d just played almost 200 games in the Premier League and now nobody wanted me. How was it possible? Anyway, I was in Spain with the Indian team and Steve McClaren rang me. He told me QPR needed a bit of experience at the time, it was a talented young team that needed experience. That sounded great to me. We spoke on Tuesday, I flew over Wednesday, there was a game on Saturday he wanted me to play in straight away, the first game of the season at Preston. I said ‘Steve, I am not fit at all. I’ve been training, but I have no match fitness you have to understand’. Then he kind of doubted it a little bit so I said let me come over, I’ll train with you guys, you can assess me and see what you think. After two days he said you’re staying.
Don’t worry, there’s some QPR stuff…
What were your first impressions of QPR and that team, it lost the first four games including a 7-1 at West Brom which was a long old afternoon.
I think those results might have helped me get a deal! I thought you could see in the Sheffield United game, at home, that actually we were the better team but lost 2-1 and it wasn’t fair. But I could see there was a lot of quality there, so many good players, particularly Eze, it just needed time to get used to a new manager and new style. Steve wanted to play like I had at Swansea, the passing game, but when you don’t get the results in the first games the pressure starts, you don’t get results you get sacked, and he had to change the way a bit. He signed Geoff Cameron, myself, Nahki Wells and Tomer Hemed, went to 4-4-2 and a bit more solid and that was smart. That team didn’t quite have the right players to play the way he wanted, Massimo Luongo and Geoff in midfield were tough in there, Toni at the back, myself on the right, it was a very strong QPR team playing that way. I was very happy to sign. It was very different to what I’d been used to at Swansea but you adapt and be ready for it.
How was London? Your family are still in Swansea and that’s a long commute…
I stayed in London full time, and on my day off I would travel back to Swansea – not every day off because I was often tired after the game and I just wanted to rest on the sofa and be back for the next game. My wife and kids came to every home game to experience that, it was great to have them over and spend time together in London.
I was a hands on, full time dad since the moment my kids were born. Train in the morning and then kids all day but I love that and I missed it. My little girl Isabella was six and I would leave on Sunday night to come back for training on Monday morning she would be crying saying ‘please don’t leave, we miss you’ which broke my heart. At the time I had to do it. I had a couple of years left in my career and I was doing it all for them.
What’s Loftus Road like on your side as opposed to against you?
Some great games, that reminded me what QPR was about when I played there with Swansea. The Brentford game I think we beat them 3-2 with them having the possession but us being more physical and wanting it more than them. The crowd and the stadium was bouncing. I think we beat Sheff Wed 3-0 when they had 70% possession, that was QPR being tough to play against even though you’ve got the ball. Loftus Road is a tough place, the crowd get the team going, a few tackles go in early on, that happened against Swansea that year we beat them 4-0 my first time at Loftus Road against my old club. The memories are great.
Yes, that Swansea game, 3-0 up straight away, and then a moment where they don’t kick the ball out for an injury and you just erupt. No mixed emotions playing your former team then?
The main reason, at the time we were winning 3-0 and I felt we were maybe running out of breath so I wanted to waste a bit of time. Let’s cause a bit of a fight, we’ll have a couple of minutes break, and we’ll get back to it. I knew Dan James, I’d trained with him at Swansea, I knew he didn’t like the kicks against him, I knew as soon as I kicked him he wouldn’t be as confident. I want to stress it wasn’t about doing anything to the fans, I think afterwards some people felt there was more to it like that because I’d said before I left the club in a way I didn’t like. It wasn’t about the club, it was about the management of the game, breaking the momentum up because if Swansea had got a goal back before half time, like against other good teams we had done, we might have started to panic a bit. I think some fans took it the wrong way. It was just part of that game.
I remember when we played Swansea in the first half of the season they beat us 3-0 on my first time back at the Liberty, everybody was around me hugging me, calling me a legend, all the players, all the fans, I was clapping to everybody. We beat them 4-0, I look around, nobody was left.
What was Steve McClaren like? He has this reputation of maybe good coach bad manager, how did you find him?
A little bit the other way around. His man management, with the older players and especially with me, was second to none. I had a very strong relationship with him from day one, he gave me strong belief that I was part of the team, trying to help the young players and not just being in the team but being more than that with a role in the changing room. I remember having meetings with him every couple of months and he was asking questions about the players, their family, are they up here, do they need a day off, trying to make things easier for individual cases. Coaching wise he was still involved, he’d bring in a defensive coach in the international breaks which helped the back four a lot, working on defending the box and not leaving gaps in between. I think he was doing the right things, unfortunately you look at the first half of that season compared to the second and it was a completely different QPR team. It’s not for me to say what happened. I think his coaching was good and his man management was good, perhaps others may say different, maybe the younger players would tell you he wasn’t like that and he wasn’t great with me, but I’ve only got good things to say.
As best you can, why did it go wrong? From not far off the play-offs to winning three games in a whole half of the season, the team looked tired, there was some bad luck and poor refereeing in there as well, Bristol City away in the last minute for instance…
It’s hard to say. I’ll sound like a bit of a knob here, but I got injured at the end of November and didn’t play again until the end of the season. Geoff was the same, out for three months with an ankle, both of us at Leeds. Tomer was playing with a hernia issue. That’s three of the four experienced players out. Then you put back in the young ones and they were ready for the challenge, initially after we got injured the team still did well for a period of time, but as you say it was a collection of things: referee decisions; you will get a drop in levels from players getting tired because they’d played most of the games; you lose a few games and confidence drops off in a young team that doesn’t know how to cope and overcome that… a lot of factors. It could also be we were safe, so are we going to push on for that top ten or are we just happy with a midtable finish? A lot of things, mindset, injuries, lots of things.
Was the mentality strong enough in that squad?
I felt the team mentality was strong, but 50-60% of the squad was under 23 years of age, or even less than that. They were important players for the team - they didn’t have 50 games in their professional careers but we had to rely on them. There is a lot of pressure on kids. You did still have the senior players around them, I remember having so many meetings in groups where we had questions to answer in groups then bring it back together and we all agreed on the same sort of things – back to basics, do the right things, avoid individual mistakes, all these myths and cliches. I remember saying ‘look there is two months left, some players are probably thinking about their next move when we’re not safe yet… you want to perform now. The next two months is the most important time of the year, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done up to now these eight or ten games will define where you are next season – a new contract, a transfer. Don’t be selfish, play for the team, and you’ll get your reward’. That was my message at the time that I felt needed to be given. Did it help? I don’t know, but when you have players who haven’t played much in the game I felt they needed to hear these things.
Mark Warburton comes in that summer, first impressions?
It was good. The gaffer was good with me personally. We went to Austria and focused on how to play the Mark Warburton way, out from the back, defending patterns of play. I could see straight away he was a coach that was very demanding with everything we do. It reminded me of Brendan in a way, no switching off, everything we do – if we’re finishing goals in training he wants a goal, he doesn’t want you scoring three in ten, he wants eight in ten and more because on Saturday you’re not getting ten chances. That’s the same in every position, whatever it is, headers, tackles, he’s a very demanding coach and I could see us moving forwards. The club helped him to build a new squad with 15 new signings, the budget was low but good business by the club.
More what you were used to at Swansea?
Definitely. You could see in his first season we were creating a lot but a bit exposed at the back. That’s the way you master that style and identity and we did that with Mark. Then with this season just gone you can see with a bit of recruitment, particularly in January where we brought in four players that made a huge difference to that team, if those players had been in from the start of the season we’d have been in the top six no problem. I’ve watched every game since I ruptured my Achilles, and I can’t remember many games where we weren’t the better team. It shows how far we’ve come. And it is ‘we’, even though I’ve only been there two seasons. It’s been great to see, a joy to watch. A shame they couldn’t have finished top six because it’s a very good team under Mark.
He seems quite serious. Standards, respect… Is he like that when the camera isn’t on? Can you have a laugh with him?
Yesssss you can. He’s a really nice person. You can have a bit of banter with the gaffer. But he’s a man full of values. When the camera is on I’m sure he keeps a straight face and he’s the boss, but he’s got a bit of both. He’ll have a go at you if he needs to, but he’ll have the banter as well. He’s a man with values, he’s come from a completely different industry like banking into the football world where you work with a very young personnel and you need to adapt. Also, the players are not the same now as they were ten years ago. You have to treat players differently these days, you can’t just shout because they won’t listen to you. All round, great man, great manager.
Ebere Eze, tearing the Premier League up, you’ve played at that level and also trained with him every day, was it always obvious?
I’ve played with some top players, but Eze, man… the sky is the limit for him. First of all, a great boy, very humble, good values. That’s difficult, when things are going well for you it’s difficult to keep your feet on the ground but Ebs is exactly the opposite – the better he gets, the more grounded he is. In training I had to mark him so many times and you don’t know what he’s going to do – left or right? Even if you guess right he’s got those strong legs and power so he’ll beat you anyway with strength. He’s got a bit of everything. I believe he could be worth three times what Crystal Palace paid for him in a couple of seasons when he plays even more at that level.
Coming back from lockdown, some out of contract players didn’t want to play. At your stage of your career you’ve probably got one more contract in you, why did you not take the pragmatic option and sit the lockdown games out to make sure you were fit for next season?
I was told by the manager he wanted me to do another season, which was great. I spoke to the club, they hadn’t put the budget together for the following season yet. No problem, we’ll talk at the right time. We came back and I’d already missed too many games at Swansea to be sitting at home when I could be playing for QPR. The gaffer said he would understand if I didn’t want to play, one bad injury at my age I’m probably done, but I said ‘gaffer if I wanted that I’d have stayed home. I am here to train and play as much as I can’. That was it. I played against Barnsley, against Charlton, and my next game was against Luton when I snapped my Achilles. It’s life. It’s life. I could have stayed at home and fallen down the stairs and broken my back. You never know. It happened. It happened. I like to think I’ve always been a positive person no matter how bad a situation is. I knew it would be nine or ten months, and my career was probably over, but I wanted so badly to get back and play one more year. It’s only very recently I’ve decided to retire. I was close to joining with QPR again last month, I was ready. My son told me how much he missed me, I’ve been away for three years, I’m his best friend, my kids are all under ten and I’ve missed a third of their lives. I thought, you know what, is it worth it to go one more year at any level? There’s also the risk of another injury, I’ve had four operations in the last four seasons which tells you something as well. I’m healthy now, I’ve done my bit in the game, it’s a good time.
Did you know as soon as you’d done it?
Yeh I did. I accelerated, decelerated and when I tried to go again I felt a pop. It felt like somebody kicked me from behind, but I turned around and looked back and there was nobody there. I sat down straight away, Geoff came over to pick me up saying “you ok bro?” and I said straight away “ I think I’ve done my Achilles”. I got up, I walked three or four yards to the sideline, laid down, and my leg started to shake with the shock, so I knew the tendon had completely gone. Unfortunately, Luton is the worst possible stadium to rupture an Achilles because it’s like a maze to get back to the changing rooms, they couldn’t get me there in a wheelchair, it was a nightmare.
What does it need for this QPR team to push on and be one of the top six teams next season?
There’s been huge progress this season. The back three formation has helped a lot defensively. It’s hard to say what is needed for the top six because there are the four players we mentioned from January who may go back, they’ve made a huge impact, so it becomes about recruitment again. I believe the gaffer will stay, he’s done well in the last two seasons, and it will be down to that. If those guys leave those voids, those gaps will be very important to fill. The style is already in place now. You’ve got players like Lee Wallace, people thought he couldn’t do it, in the last ten games he’s been impressive, that shows you how well the gaffer is doing. Ozzie Kakay has done great. Try to find those last pieces of the puzzle to make it as perfect as you can. Hopefully Charlie Austin will stay another season, a prolific goalscorer we know is on big wages but he loves QPR so come on Charlie… I know you will. It’s important to replace those players, you have the core now. I believe, if not next season, the following one really, the most, I can see QPR pushing for Premier League again.
Coming back to the trendy chat about ethos and identity, that is there in this team, it’s not just that we got some good loan players is it?
One hundred percent. The style is in place. Full credit, at that tight ground with the small pitch, I don’t actually think it suits QPR to try and play from the back because mistakes are costly on a small playing area. I’ve been watching the games and they do well on smaller or bigger pitches, it doesn’t matter, so it tells you how well we’ve done. Players will go, can you replace them? And can players like Dom Ball, who did well in his first season, go on and be better players. That’s down to the coaching staff to develop players, like you’ve seen them do with Ilias Chair. It’s important to develop what you’ve already got which they’ve done, and then the recruitment.
What’s next for you?
For now family time, for the remainder of this year. After that I will look to get back into football, into coaching. I’ve done a few badges but I haven’t got all the licenses. I want to get that done and then I want to travel a bit and visit managers I’ve worked under – Brendan and others – to learn from them, different methods, to help me create my own identity. Then I’ll see what comes next for me, coaching, young kids, first teams, I’ll have to see. I have to be on the grass. The thing I miss the most at the moment is being out on the grass and using my brain football wise, I’m not doing it at the moment and it’s what I’ve done all my life.
A first team manager with all the stress and politics, or more of a coach and assistant working purely with the players without that baggage?
I think coaching will be my thing, but everybody says I’ll be a better manager than a coach so I don’t know. I’d have to find my feet and see what I’m better at. I’ve played the game for many years but it’s one thing playing the game and another managing it. It’s completely different, how you get your message across, the methods. I believe as a coach I’d be able to use my knowledge better, as a manager I’ve never been a boss of anything so I don’t know what that will be like.
It’s a shame of lockdown that players like yourself and Geoff Cameron have left without a proper send off, I hope you’ll be able to come back someday I think you might be surprised how high a regard you’re held in at Rangers even after just a short time.
Well this is my opportunity for me to say thanks to you and all the fans at QPR. I’ve really enjoyed my time there. My gametime wasn’t as long as expected, I’ve had some horrible injuries, but when I was on the pitch I tried to give my best every single game and I hope the fans could see that. I hope to see you soon guys. I have the shirt from the Stoke game on my wall…
Two goals in the same game and none the rest of the time, what was all that about?
I don’t know. I’d never scored two goals in a game before. Steve McClaren had told me to stay back and not go forwards too much but I looked and saw the two midfielders, Jordan Cousins and Massimo had stayed in the middle of the park. I thought you should be in the box, not me, so I just went for it and scored. The second one was just Eze doing his thing and putting it on a plate for me. Sometimes you have to take your own initiative on the pitch. Steve couldn’t really say anything.
If you enjoy LoftforWords, please consider supporting the site through a subscription to our Patreon or tip us via PayPal. Patreon also gives you the ability to listen to these interviews as audio podcasts.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
Please report offensive, libellous or inappropriate posts by using the links provided.
You need to login in order to post your comments
Queens Park Rangers Polls