Mark Warburton – Patreon
Monday, 19th Jul 2021 09:05 by Clive Whittingham, Patreon
LFW’s annual summer catch up with the QPR manager took place with Mark Warburton in the sunshine at Harlington last week, with rising expectations, a busy summer transfer window, Covid and isolation worries about the new season, Todd Kane, Stefan Johansen and more all up for discussion.
LFW has been conducting written interviews with figures from QPR’s past and present for 17 years and publishing them free-to-view. Now, to help support both this website and the iconic AKUTRs fanzine, 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 for free below…
Year three, I almost brought a little carriage clock along for you…
Yes I have heard the word unprecedented being bandied around. It’s nice, it’s been nice to see the squad develop. It takes time and that’s a commodity managers are rarely given. Hopefully we’ll have a strong season.
Have you recovered from Sunday yet?
No. No I haven’t really. I was at the game and there was disappointment with the result but I also saw some of the behaviour and it was a bit of an embarrassment to be English on Sunday. I’m sad to say that because I’m very patriotic but it wasn’t a good day for many reasons.
I loved all the good that Gareth, his staff and his team did for the country but some of the behaviour I saw, even from people my age – there’s been a lot of talk about the younger supporters but, no, I saw people 40, 50, 60 years of age behave in a way that was just shocking.
Are you able to watch a tournament like that as a fan or do you always have your manager’s hat on?
I love the sport, I love it when the English team does well, but I was talking to our coaches literally half an hour ago about watching Verratti and Jorginho work, watching how hard that Italian midfield worked in the first half in particular to maintain shape, so it’s about watching things like that and then applying them to here. Every player loves a role model and they’ve got to aspire to that level.
I’ve heard you say before the best coaches at the best thieves, who do you thieve from?
You look at ideas and takeaway. I worked on a piece with Inside Soccer magazine at one stage where we wanted to go around the world and get the absolute best coach for each age group anywhere in the world – the U9 coach at Inter Milan, the U15 coach at Boca Juniors, the U14 coach at Ajax. You take ideas from all of them and think ‘I can use that’. One of the ideas I use a lot here with the boys was from the U13s at Boca Juniors, a passing drill. You tweak it, change it, and now it’s for the first team players. You take ideas and look at how it would suit your players, your team, your philosophy.
Are you a big reader of the deep thinkers from other sports, NFL, NBA that sort of thing? Who should I be reading?
Yes I am. People like Bo Schembechler the American college coach, John Wooden at UCLA for all those years and the way he talks about discipline and how he worked with his players. I love all of these books, I read so many of them, I’ve recently read Legacy about the All Blacks… Bounce, The Gold Mine Effect. I try and get the players to read them, if you’re going to read something on the way to an away game read this. You can pick up all sorts of things. I’m not trying to be a studious teacher about it but you can pick up so much.
Last season, a season in two parts in many ways, how do you look back on it now?
I’m pleased for the players and the staff, because they worked hard, that we finished strongly. Had you said to supporters, or anybody, at the start of the season ‘we’ll finish just a couple of points shy of seventh’ I think they would have taken it. We’d seen some improvement, then lost players like Eze, Hugill and Nahki, so to finish strongly was really pleasing.
There is no doubt that in the first half of the season we let ourselves down despite playing some good football. We didn’t get our rewards and there’s no doubt, at Christmas when we were eighteenth or nineteenth, we deserved to be there.
Were you worried?
Personally, no, because we were creating chances. We were creating chances without getting the rewards. We needed a catalyst of change and you saw how Charlie, Jordy, Stefan and Sam galvanised the players we had here already. It was a complete change in the second half and nice to finish strongly. With seven or eight games to go we could have easily said ‘well we’re safe now’ but for me that was the worst thing we could have done – to finish strongly and see the appetite of the players through those games was very pleasing.
Was it as simple as adding four players, because there seemed to be something stirring away at Norwich before the new players arrived?
Yeh we were angry going to Norwich. We’d had a really bad game the match before, we were disappointed with where we were, we spoke about the table not lying – there was no point saying ‘oh we’re better than this’, the table didn’t lie – so we went there with a really clear message that we do not lose this game of football. No way are we losing this game of football. We went 1-0 down to a fairly shocking penalty decision-
-scream for enough penalties you get one in the end-
-well exactly and they screamed enough that night. Then we looked very good. I was about to bring on Stephen Duke McKenna and Faysal, a couple of young guys, to get them exposure to that situation, then we got a penalty of our own, and then Bright missed that chance right at the very end to win it 2-1. That was a good point, it was a turning point, a good point there and well deserved which gave us a fillip to kick on.
Swansea at home, ten without a win, did you wonder whether faith would be retained?
I’m sure there were many, fans are fans and it’s their club, who were talking about a change. Boards are boards and you sometimes get that. I’m 58 now, maybe if I was 38 I’d have been thinking ‘oh my God what happens now?’, but you keep working hard. I knew we were creating chances, I knew we’d be ok, but had they sacked me at that point I wouldn’t have been surprised. Very honestly, not at all surprised, because many clubs would have done. We then turned the corner with that result at Norwich and kicked on from there pretty quickly. There was a run of results against Watford, Bournemouth, Blackburn, Brentford where you’d looked at it thinking we’d be lucky to get one point out of 12 and we got all 12. There’s no doubt we were in trouble at Christmas.
You switched to a back three, it’s no secret you’re more of a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 man, what prompted that and is this us for good now?
I was thinking to myself ‘I can’t be stubborn’. I like 4-3-3- and 4-2-3-1, but what’s best for the players we have? Yoann in particular is far more comfortable to the left of a three, Rob Dickie looks very good to the right of the centre, we had options coming in with Jordy as a dominant central player. Lee Wallace was fit and I knew Lee could get forward and provide that option down the left, and we had Oz and Toddy at the time who could do that down the right so we had good options. Stef gave us a controlling, calming influence in midfield.
Is that us forever now or is the aim to get back to the 4-2-3-1?
If we looked at a situation or an opponent and needed to change it we’d change it - we can go to 4231 very easily. Up front do we go with just Charlie or just Lyndon? Who you going to play? I’d like to play both of them really. If one is injured or tired Chrissy Willock can jump up there, young Charlie Kelman as well, that flexibility is really key for us. Illy can play left, right or centre, Chris Willock can, George and Albert can. That flexibility allows us to have a smaller squad. If the 4-2-3-1 is there we’ll do it, but right now we’re comfortable in this shape.
Charlie Kelman gets a mention there, Mac Bonne has gone out on loan, can you talk about why you’ve made that decision to go with Charlie over Mac as the back up striker?
Players want to play. Mac Bonne is a more senior striker than young Charlie Kelman, he’d played at Charlton in this league, got the move to QPR and wants to play football. Being brutally honest the nature of the business is he has to be better than Charlie Austin and Lyndon Dykes to do that. That’s the role. The manager picks the best team. He was training well and wanted a chance, that’s the frustration, so he needs to play regular football. Charlie Kelman is younger, he’ll get exposure in U23 and B team games but can also come off the bench and start the odd first team game if required. If there’s a six-month loan for Charlie at some stage that might be something we’ll do, but Mac needed to play games whereas Charlie is a little bit younger.
He looks sharp in the glimpses I’ve had of him.
Oh he can finish Charlie. A natural finisher. One of the most natural finishers I’ve seen. But he knows this even as a young player learning, there’s far more to it. Fans will see a striker and just want goals but he’s got to learn when to press, when to drop. He’s learning and the presence of people like Charlie Austin will help him in that.
What pleased you most about last season?
The mindset. The players never caved. They were angry and frustrated. We had a really heated one before Norwich, we were annoyed about being nineteenth and you can’t sit and make excuses for it. We were where we were because we didn’t score goals. We needed more clean sheets and we needed to be more ruthless in front of goal. The mindset to respond to that well, and go right to the end was pleasing. Then you start looking back at games like the two against Reading, away from home Stef missed a great chance from 15 yards, the home game Ilias hit the inside of the post, it becomes about fine margins and details. Only a couple of points off seventh, that’s good progress, good mindset, and we have to pick up and go again from there.
Don’t. You know why it niggles, Stef got forwards great and scored some good goals for us but that one he’ll say himself I don’t know how he missed and at 2-0 they were dead in the water. They said it themselves. One nil up, eight minutes to go, just get the points. They’re the type of moments that you look back on and learn from. That cannot happen this season. We cannot be 1-0 up at Birmingham and let ourselves down like that.
Is that the biggest disappointment from last year or was there another?
It’s individual games. Bristol City at home I’ve talked about a thousand times. Games where we play well, we cannot afford to play well and not get the reward from it. We have to be ruthless. We weren’t ruthless enough at times. It’s not that it didn’t bother us, but did we understand the implications of missing those chances? Did the players and the staff understand the importance of it? We’ve got to understand how important it is every single game. You can’t just say ‘oh we had a slow start and came good at the end’, it can be lost by then. We have to make sure we are ruthless right the way through. That was disappointing, but the mindset was good right to the end.
Is that time and practice, or incentives and bonuses, how do you drill it in?
A combination of everything you’ve said there but more importantly learning to win games of football. Learn how to be a winner. Never underestimate the teams that come up because they know how to win. At the moment the favourites are Sheff Utd and West Brom, but they’ve come down. They’re fighting the fact they’ve lost players, they’ve been relegated it’s disappointing, teams that come up know how to win.
A big theme of this interview last year was how quiet we seemed as a team, and you working to break them down into smaller groups then bring them back together to get them speaking up. That doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem now.
Yeh it’s people like Charlie, but people like Stef as well who’s not a screamer but has a presence about him and people listen when he speaks. People like Lee when they’re not playing may not be so vocal because they don’t feel they should be, when they are playing they’re far more vocal and he’s one of our most vocal now. Charlie, Albert, Stef our senior boys played a huge role. I’ve tried to explain in my programme notes about the need for voices. Charlie will dig somebody out, but he doesn’t mind if they give it back to him. That’s seniority and experience. Some young players crumble under a volley of abuse but you have to deal with that sometimes.
Did you think Charlie was your sort of player before you worked with him?
Probably no. He won’t mind me saying that. I was worried about the fact he’d been here before, sometimes you leave a place and come back and it’s difficult because the fans remember Charlie scoring goals, getting you promoted, and it’s different now and fans can turn very quickly. So I wasn’t sure. But he’s a goalscorer. He loves playing football, scoring goals, and he’s infectious. He trained very, very well this morning. I’m delighted to have him on board he’s reacted really well with the players.
You were linked with a job at the FA after a midweek win at Swansea, QPR never allowed nice things for long, any truth in that?
It happens everywhere you go. When I was at Glasgow Rangers I was going to Fulham, then at another point I was going to the MLS. I don’t know where these stories come from. From my point of view it’s only disruptive if you pay attention to it. The players ignored it, I was honest with them and would tell them if I was leaving. I’ve no idea where it came from.
John McDermott, ex Spurs, at the FA you’ve worked together previously, was it 2+2=5?
John I know very, very well. Have done for years. I would go into the Spurs training ground for a coffee every couple of weeks, speak to him and the manager, I have lots of friends there, Scott Parker was there, Dean Rastrick and all these guys. These are old friends. When I left Watford Dean was at Norwich and came down to have lunch with us straight away, they’re good people and old friends. I think people put two and two together. The truth is I went for that job before I came to QPR and was more than close to getting it before I came here. I think people put two and two together.
No discussion this time?
Absolutely not. I’m at QPR.
Todd Kane. Was our first choice right back, had come into some form, is no longer our first choice right back and was the only senior player I saw at Hampton on Saturday. What is that situation?
I made a decision based on what I thought was right for the squad. Todd is an experienced player and we saw his quality last year, I’ve played him many times so I don’t doubt his quality, but I pick what I think is the right squad to move us forward now and in my mind Todd won’t be part of those plans.
Was it the interview or the Brentford incident?
To nip that in the bud straight away, I feel Todd was very harshly dealt with over the Brentford incident. I’m not saying I stand for any form of discrimination because of course I don’t, I won’t tolerate it in any form. But I think Todd and Rob Dickie were honest, their story about what happened never changed and both Todd and Rob will tell you my first words to them off the pitch were ‘do not change your story, be honest, because if not you’ll get found out’. They were both honest right the way through and unfortunately Todd paid the price for a charge that I felt was inappropriate.
It’s not a good position to put a club like QPR in though is it, trying to distinguish what’s ok and what’s not between diver, foreign diver, Spanish diver…
No, I don’t particularly want to get involved in the EFL and FA processes, and we don’t tolerate any form of discrimination plain and simple, but if you listen to a football pitch be it in a stadium or over at Hackney Marshes you will hear men playing against men, women playing against women, and it’s an adult sport. I was a little bit surprised by it if I’m honest. Any reference to ‘foreign’ or whatever is obviously wrong and we don’t want any of that in football, but with what goes on every week in football I was very, very surprised by the outcome of that.
I know you’ll want to keep this in house, not rake over old graves and so on, but what disappointed you most about the comments we’ve all seen and are aware of in the interview that Todd gave?
The biggest thing for me in any squad environment is respect. That’s my biggest thing. How we speak to each other. I think I mentioned to you earlier about Charlie bellowing at somebody in the heat of the moment and there’ll be an apology, an arm round a shoulder if it goes over the line. How you speak to each other is massively important to me. If I’ve got a problem with somebody I’ll tell them that in a respectful way. If a player doesn’t like my training in the morning no problem, knock on my door say ‘gaffer what was that about this morning?’ Don’t bang on my door and come in f-ing and blinding, I won’t tolerate that. How we speak to each other is important. Osman Kakay is a guy I have enormous respect for, never a problem, come through the academy, works hard, wants to give his best every day and I won’t stand for a lack of respect within the squad.
And that crossed that line?
As I say, I stand for respect, I certainly felt that was inappropriate.
Happier things. Good, early, strong business this summer, McCallum, Dunne we haven’t seen a lot of them what can you tell me about them?
When we spoke earlier about what pleased me last season, players with flexibility meaning we can have a smaller squad, we do want a bit more depth. If we have injuries and have to squeeze through four or five weeks, in four or five weeks you can have nine games. We want to make sure there is strength in depth there. Sam McCallum has played 40-odd games for Coventry last season, athletic, really strong aerially, a good character who Neil Adams and the guys at Norwich speak really highly of. He was desperate to come here and prove his point, I loved his interview with Paul when he spoke about Lee Wallace and knew he’d had a good season and knew he’d be coming to compete with him for a place. Love that. Jimmy Dunne is another who could just stay at Burnley and be classified as a Premier League player, but wants to go and play football. That desire, good age, 6ft 4ins tall, good feet, can play right, left or centre across the back, more flexibility for us, more physicality for us allied to the way we want to play. Really pleased to get those two. We’ve got competition right across that back line now with Moses Odubajo of course for the right.
That’s a done deal is it? Where are we on him?
Moses is a player we signed at Brentford for seven figures and he was outstanding. He got a Premier League move which was ruined by a fractured knee cap. Last year he started at Sheff Wed but got a really nasty hamstring injury, a tendon off the bone thing, so we have to make sure he’s fit and he has to prove his fitness which he’s doing now every day. He’s an athlete, he’ll be the fastest player at the club, he’s rapid, so if he’s fit then for me he provides a perfect option down the right.
What attracts you to Andre Dozzell?
Range of pass. Hungry. Can play alongside a deep sitter in midfield and jump forward to join the attack. Can play as an eight or a ten. A good athlete. A real dynamism about his play and hunger in his play. When I’m watching him train there’s a real appetite there, he rattles into a tackle, wins the ball, plays it, wants the ball again. Really good young player. Adds value to the squad. Another left footer, I don’t think I’ve had so many left footers in my life, but he gives us another layer of energy, quality, a really good investment for the club.
Moses you’ve worked with before feels like a Mark Warburton pick, the three we’ve just discussed how are they identified, can you talk about the process?
We have Les the director of football and Andy Belk the head of recruitment and we work very closely talking about player profiles – what do you want from this player? Let’s say a wing back – we want the ability and endurance to go up and down, it’s an absolutely key position for how we want to play, that energy that you saw from Oz and Lee at the end of last season is vital to us. So we need somebody with physicality, pace and power. But we also need somebody with technicality and bravery to take the ball. We’ll build a profile up, physically, mentally, technically, tactically, this is what we want. They will then come up with six or seven names who tick those boxes and we go from there. Sometimes then it’s not what you want, it’s what you can afford. We can all identify ten world class players, can we afford them? Then it’s what our budget will allow us to do while leaving scope to strengthen other positions as well.
Do you get the final tick? Who presses go?
Not in an arrogant way but the manager has got to pick players he wants in his squad. It’s the manager who gets the sack so he’s got to have final say but it’s a constant dialogue with Les, Lee the CEO, Andy Belk, John Eustace, Neil Banfield and myself. We talk every day. We were talking in there just now before you came, if this happens what would we need there? We’re constantly talking football because it’s our job.
Jordy De Wijs was excellent when he did play, and you can’t legislate for getting belted in the face the way he did at Rotherham, but he was injured when he arrived and has had a knock already this pre-season, you’ve pressed ahead with a signing regardless, any concerns there?
The type of injury he had when he arrived here was the same as the one Lee Wallace had early on and without boring you with details they niggle and take time to go away. I think also, without being rude to any other club, we’ve got a very good medical team here. They work together with the coaches and the sports science and players benefit from the care they receive here. It’s an individualistic approach rather than a generic one and I think Jordy is benefitting from that. He went out for a pre-pre-season run and got tightness in his calf but he’ll be back training with us by the weekend and should be involved against Manchester United in some capacity. Hopefully that will set him up from there but he knows as well that Jimmy Dunne has come in now, Osman is there as well, and the boys want to fight for the shirt so there is competition there.
Have you signed him thinking if we get 25-30 games out of him that’s a success, or more than that?
We have talked about that. Another example, Geoff Cameron last year, initially we thought if we could get 25-30 out of Geoff we’ve done great with games every three days, but he played right the way through and was magnificent. Players surprise you. It’s how you deal with them between games. Yoann getting through the way he did was magnificent, but very often during the week he’d be in there getting treatment, then come out and do the set pieces. We have a management and a maintenance programme for players like that. Jordy, if we look after him, 25-30 would be sensible, but he’ll be keen to say if we work with him and get it right he’ll be able to do a lot more than that. When you’ve got competition for places it’s amazing how quickly the healing time reduces.
Luke Amos, where is he and how do you see the season ahead after two of these?
Yeh, such a shame. The trouble for Lukey is he had the same injury again, but worse. There were peripheral issues that had to be solved. He had in his mind his recovery from the first one – with an ACL it’s structured by week and in week x you’re doing this. It’s structured and clear. When there are peripheral matters it’s more murky. He’s working really, really hard. You’ve never met a player more focused on getting fit to play football. His diet, his body fat, everything about Luke Amos is outstanding. He’s so hungry but we have to make sure it’s right for Luke. What normally happens with these injuries is there’s a side injury – a hamstring, a quad – so we have to make sure he’s right to come back. At Bournemouth I thought we saw the best of Luke Amos, how he pressed, energy, quality. I’m looking forward to having him back.
Goalkeepers, Joe Lumley and Liam Kelly I sense you didn’t really want them to leave.
True. There’s a budget we have to stick to, a pay scale to stick to, but also players want to play. Some are happy to sit on the bench or sit in the squad, pick up their money, go home, and it’s like a health club. Joe and Liam both want to play. Seny had come in and I think you’ll agree had an outstanding season and set a high standard. Injury aside they saw their pitch minutes being limited. At 21, 22 that might not have been a problem, like with Joe Walsh who’s learning all the time. Liam, on the fringe of the Scotland squad, Joe at 26, they want to play. We couldn’t stand in their way.
We are working on a budget, is four goalkeepers, plus the U23s, excessive?
If you look at the age of the players, and don’t forget that Seny plays for Senegal now and will likely disappear for six weeks for the African Cup of Nations with the Chelsea goalkeeper, so you’ve got to make sure cover is in place. If Dillon Barnes continues his development by going out on loan then we’d have Seny, Jordan and Joe. Rather than excessive I think we’re under most clubs. Yes we could keep Dillon here but our whole policy is about developing players so if Dillon could go out on a good League One loan it would really bring him on. We have goalkeepers in the academy and Chris and Paul will juggle their squads but from our point of view three goalkeepers in the first team squad wouldn’t be excessive.
One of the U23s couldn’t do that Dillon Barnes role?
Joe has come in and done very well, Dillon is away with Jamaica and getting experience there. He needs the same experience Ilias got when he went to Stevenage. If he gets the right loan it’s so important. He needs to go and get involved in the rough and tumble of league football. He made a mistake in a game in his loan last year, whenever goalkeepers make a mistake it gets highlighted and he needs that experience. Hopefully we’ll get the right loan for him and if we need to call him back we can do at any time.
Elephant in the room, Stefan Johansen was obviously really good. I remember you once saying Romaine Sawyers was your money-no-object perfect signing for us, did Stef illustrate why?
Yes, and Stef was excellent for us. Sometimes loans just work. The QPR environment suited Stef, his personality suited us and our style here, the style of play suited Stef and his attributes absolutely suited us. Everything came together and you know there are loads of loans where that doesn’t happen. It worked perfectly. It means for us… Stef is a very good player, we would like him back, that’s common knowledge, but he’s not our player so I don’t want to talk about him. If it can come about I think it will be good for all parties. When I read reports saying ‘Warburton desperate for this…’ I don’t know where that comes from. We have enormous respect for Stefan Johansen, he’s a Fulham player, let’s see where the next few days and weeks takes us.
Where are we on that signing? I’ll get kicked if I don’t ask.
Yeh you’ve got to ask, but from my point of view it’s another club’s player. If somebody started talking about one of my players I’d be very angry about it. It’s common knowledge what I think about Stef, he had a great season with us, I think he thoroughly enjoyed it, he wasn’t in the Fulham squad so everybody won and benefitted from it. I hope very much we can get something done, let’s wait and see, I’m trying not to avoid the question but there’s only so much I can really say.
Has Dozzell been brought to do that role as well or is he for something different?
The Championship is such that you can come in, play five or six games, look fantastic, and it wears you down and by game seven, eight or nine people are saying ‘he’s not the same player’. He is, it’s just a demanding, relentless league. Look at our start, Millwall, Orient, then we’re travelling to Hull, then we’re travelling to Middlesbrough on a Wednesday and they’ve then given us the early kick off that Saturday, how does that work? That’s the Championship. Every team faces it. Andre can absolutely play that role, sitting alongside Sam or Dom Ball, or he can jump forward and sit alongside Ilias, Chris or George, but the mentoring role of somebody like Stef helps those players enormously.
Yes Middlesbrough away on a Wednesday really is a big welcome back isn’t it – you missed going to football did you?
Happy new season. Get back at some point on Thursday. That’s the division, we can't sit and moan about it. For the Saturday against Barnsley at 12.30 that might mean we alternate Jordy or Jimmy, Sammy or Lee, Moses or Ozzy. That’s why we have the squad because the boys are invariably tired.
Logistically with Covid cases rising, isolations, we’ve already lost the Gillingham friendly, how do you see this going?
I’m really concerned that football if it’s not careful is going to walk into a real problem. Not so much in the Premier League where it costs too much to lose a game and they’re doing everything possible, but the Championship if it’s not careful will see games cancelled. Look at us here, it’s a tight training ground, if we have a case here we could lose ten players very quickly and then what do we do? We could very easily lose the Man Utd friendly, Cambridge and Leicester, and the season starts a week later. We can’t deal with that, and there are many clubs in the same situation. I’m really concerned we’re going from red to green when we need an amber period, especially in football, and especially having been so careful and cautious. The doctors here have been magnificent, the medical team and everybody at the club has worked so hard. We haven’t been fortunate, we’ve worked hard to be fortunate, now I do fear, not through QPR but through society, that we are going to walk into a real problem.
Are there protocols in the EFL around postponements for certain numbers of positive tests or isolations?
Last year I think the situation was if you had U23s available and they’re full time players you have to use them. All the usual things we talk about, league positions, expectations, player values, managers being judged, are impacted if you lose five, six, seven players. Let’s say Charlie and Lyndon room together and we lose our frontline, or we have five lads in a room at some point and now they all have to isolate, what are we going to do? Throw the kids in? Great. Hull away, Middlesbrough away, Barnsley and then by the way West Brom, Bournemouth and Fulham after that. I see players, and staff, not here but elsewhere in football, who I respect enormously apart from on this Covid issue. I’ve seen and heard people talk a language that I think is completely alien to me. I respect everything they do, say and how they conduct themselves apart from around Covid where suddenly people think they’re infallible, untouchable, and spout all this nonsense. Anti-vaxxers, I’ve never heard such bull in my life, and I’m worried we’re going to lose games and players.
Do your isolation rules and things like that change after the 19th?
As far as I’m aware clubs can open up as normal and make their own decisions. We’ll be very cautious. We’re trying to pinpoint our areas of danger, like mealtimes, and keeping the U23s/B team away from the first team. The less contact and the smaller the groups the better, but the lads will go to coffee shops in the afternoon. I went to Wembley on Sunday, it was carnage, absolute carnage. People openly singing “you can stick your social distancing up your…”. I’m looking at guys 40, 45, singing things like that. The world’s gone mad. I sound like a doom and gloom merchant and I’m not but I know for a fact there are other clubs now already with five, six, seven cases, cancelling games, and what happens when that happens in the first week of August?
It’s inevitable isn’t it?
I worry that it is yes. It’s inevitable. We’re going to lose games. The only upside is there is a bit more space in this year’s calendar to fit them in, last year did show we can go to that ridiculous level if we have to, however ludicrous it was.
We didn’t adapt well to lockdown football initially, will there be a similar culture shock adaption with crowds back in?
Yeh there will. At every club some boys will thrive on it, thrive on the crowd and play on it. There are some other boys who’ve probably benefitted from the lack of crowds. Loftus Road is old fashioned, they’re on top of you, you can hear everything, you can really hear everything I can confirm that. When players are having a bad game, put one into row B, and you get it, how do they deal with that? If you’re used to it you can shut it off, but I think there will be players at all clubs who struggle initially, but there will be others who absolutely thrive on it. We have some players here who absolutely thrive on the fans being there and want to show how good they are, either the exuberance of youth or somebody like Charlie coming back, Lee has played in front of some big crowds, those boys will love it.
We’ve got some who because of their age and lockdown… Chris Willock for example has never really played in front of a crowd in his life has he?
True but I think because of the type of player he is, the skillset he’s got, he can excite a fanbase. He knows, like a professional golfer who loves being on that first tee knows he can smash it straight down the middle whereas I’m shaking like a leaf standing there. When you know you’ve got that ability, and you get the chance to go and show what you can do, I think Chris will thrive on that.
Did that change how football games were played, there is an element of occasional panic among the crowd when a QPR team tries to play out from the back, without that has it changed the way games are played?
When I’ve asked for a while at QPR what the expectation is it’s been ‘to be competitive’? Is that still the answer?
I think I’d be stupid if I just said that now. Our budget will still be outside the top 12 so logic dictates that if we finish top ten we’ve had a good season, but I can’t say that. I’ve always wanted to progress. We’ve been thirteenth, then ninth and close to seventh, we’ve got to keep improving. I asked the squad on the first day back what represents success to us this season and I will ask them again at the end of the pre-season period. We’ve got to show the supporters we keep moving forwards and the only way to do that in my mind is get more than 68 points and finish higher than ninth. That’s the only way. You can talk about developing players, sell him for this, it doesn’t matter. Our supporters have to see progress, I think. So, without setting ourselves up to be shot down we have to be strong and confident. It’s a ridiculously demanding league, we’ve got a smaller budget than many, but we’ve also got some good players. I’d like to think we can improve our league finish and our points total.
Other clubs in the league, either through Covid or years of bad management, are struggling, have we got our house in order at a perfect moment?
I think QPR have got their house in order full stop. The work done by the board, Lee and Les. You’ve been here longer than me, you look at the fines they had to pay compared to the punishments that are going the way of other clubs and the way they’re behaving as a QPR fan I’d be questioning that. Financially it’s very tough with Covid but we’re stable, we’re investing in the team and we’re keeping our players. I think if we’d sold three or four players this summer you could have questioned desire, resolve etc. For me now we’re in a good place, a lot of other teams do have issues you’re right and they’ll be dealt with in whatever way by the authorities, we have to focus on ourselves and if we can keep on building. Let me ask you, if we finish higher than last year, with a higher points total, will you be happy?
I would be…
Well it links to my next question which was there hasn’t really been any expectation around QPR since 2013/14 when thew wage bill was £80m. You don’t have anywhere near that wage bill now but you only have to look at the club socials to see there is expectation now around this club and this team. So how do you deal with that, and how does a team that hasn’t experienced that at QPR before deal with that?
We deal with it by telling the players what we expect as a group. We have to come in and recognise that we finished last season very strongly. We sent a message out that we can go home and away, go to Middlesbrough, Swansea, Watford and Bournemouth and play those teams at their own game. We recognise that teams are not going to let QPR do what they want, we have to find solutions to problems we’re set and win games of football. We came ninth with 68 points, we need better than that. We need better than that. We’ve kept our squad, we’ve added quality to it, we need better. There has to be inner drive and resolve within ourselves to finish better than last year. Will it be easy? No. There are some big teams. Straight away Fulham, West Brom, Sheff Utd, Swansea, Middlesbrough, Forest, big budgets, spending money, good teams. Blackburn. We’ve got to make sure we have our house in order here in terms of working hard and then we have to be confident. We’ve got to go to Swansea like we did last year. We went there and said ‘right we’re going to match them’. They play teams off the park possession wise and I think we went there had more chances, more possession, and we won the game. We have to do that more often. Not arrogantly, just a statement of fact, we have to, otherwise we lose those games.
You want other clubs to be listing QPR in a list like that.
I felt in the first eight, ten, 12 months here if I was the opposing manager I’d think ‘we’ve got QPR this weekend, we’ll beat them’. Then second year they weren’t sure. I want the third year to be ‘oooof’. I’ll be careful what I say here but as an example, I think Brentford’s media has been very clever. How did they get from ‘little old Brentford’ in 2013/14, to teams last year thinking ‘oooof, Brentford at the weekend’. What’s happened there? It was a clever message, they used recruitment of players like Watkins, Toney, Benrahma, as their big tool and now people are saying ‘bloody hell we’ve got them at the weekend’. We went to Brentford and should have at least got a point out of that if the guy had been sent off, and we beat them at home. There’s an aura about Brentford and we’ve got to get that back here. I want people to think ‘we’ve got QPR, they can hurt us’. If we get that in place it’s a huge plus for us.
On another Brentford theme, I hear talk of us heading down a B Team route, can you explain how it will work and the thinking behind it?
The thinking behind it is I don’t like a squad bigger than 22. You can’t have a bus leaving on a Friday afternoon with 12 lads not on it. When I got to Forest I had 36 players, it was ridiculous we could go to two away games at the same time.
Pretty slim Forest squad that year…
It was ludicrous. We want to keep it tight, so where does everybody else play their football. People say ‘don’t change the backline, that’s how they get to know each other’, well ok but where does the other guy play then? We want a really competitive B team with the best of the younger guys coming through – Joe Gubbins, Faysal, Charlie Kelman, Conor Masterson – and then if we do have to drop somebody like Macauley Bonne down into a B team game it’s competitive and they’re ready to play when called upon. That’s the key, can we get the right games programme. Brentford scrapped their academy, we’re keeping ours here, either way that B team has to be highly competitive and have players ready to step into the first team when called upon.
The bridge from U23s to first team is still enormous right, you tried to bridge that with next gen a decade ago. That situation hasn’t resolved.
Look at Next Gen and the Liverpool team that played in the first game it had Raheem Sterling, Connor Coady, Suso who went onto Real Madrid, Andre Wisdom, Shelvey… they got beaten 8-1 by Sporting Lisbon. Kane, Pritchard, Luongo all played. Loads of those players went onto play professionally, that tournament proved to be the answer. It gave the top players the opportunity to play a higher level of football. Let’s say I was in the academy at Tottenham, I’ve probably played against my Chelsea equivalent three or four times a year from the age of nine. By the time I’m 16 I know that guy inside out. It can’t be right that the first time I come up against Sergio Aguero is in a first team game. They have to get experience of playing against Latin American players for example, an Aguero or Tevez type. In Next Gen you had Tottenham going to Milan needing a point. In the last five minutes the overseas players were diving all over the place wasting time, you saw the frustration, that’s where they learnt. You had Ajax beating Liverpool in front of 10,000 people, 4-0 and could have been anything, people like Fischer from that team have gone onto play. It worked. I watch some U23 games and it is so far away from first team level it almost might as well be the Dog and Duck. It’s miles away.
Yes you could see the difference in physicality and things like that even at Hampton, a Conference South team, at the weekend, so what is the solution?
B teams… working hard… look I do have some views, maybe not for now… I just think we have to find a way to bring the best players through. One of the biggest problems is people think you just come through an academy and naturally progress into that club’s first team. Parents think their son is going to play for Tottenham because he’s in their academy age eight – no he’s not. The likelihood is 0.002% or something. How do we improve that transition? I think the loan market is massive and we will see in the future feeder clubs. That for me is the way forward and how you do it. Fans won’t like that, and will rear up, and say they want their own players playing for their club, but it’s the only way I see. When you have so many clubs with small budgets struggling financially and then you have a wealthy Premier League giant 10 miles away looking for opportunities for their players what are we doing? My own view is it should be a feeder club scenario.
Is that not on the bigger clubs though, for hoarding too many players who could be playing for Blackpool, Swindon…
They could be but then you can also say they’re giving those boys an outstanding education, rewarding them financially - which you may say is inappropriate but they’re working men. Those teams don’t have a magic wand to know who the best player will be, they have to take 12-15 boys to find the one or two diamonds. They’re just doing that at a higher level, every club is doing the same they’re just doing it at a much higher level and higher financial level. I do agree there is a hoarding of players, probably too many at some clubs, but all they’re doing is try to find the next John Stones, Raheem Sterling… the recruitment is more and more acute at that level and the best players disappear. That’s why Brentford did what they did, the best players were just being taken. There aren’t many boys who were outstanding for Barnsley at 13 or 14 now playing for their first team because the big clubs come and take them.
Does your remit to bring players through, develop players, become more difficult now expectation has shifted at QPR the way we’ve previously discussed?
It is hard. Osman Kakay and Ilias Chair have come through and developed, we’ve recruited people like Chris Willock and Rob Dickie and developed them, George Thomas and those type of scenarios, Sam Field and Andre Dozzell now… Somebody like Sam McCallum if we can develop a loan player and send him back a better footballer we’ll get the next one from there too. But it does make it harder when expectation levels start to go up.
One issue with a B Team is when the first team starts to do well and invest in players, then the level of the B Team has to improve with that. If you were a small club with a small budget, and you start doing well and you get to investing £5m in a player, then the level of the B Team has to improve otherwise the gap gets wider again. You may initially take players on a free for the B Team, now you might spend £250k, or £400k, up to £1m for a B Team player and it rises with the first team. Otherwise there’s that gap again.
Is the old Combination league one of those things where people talking about the good old days are actually right?
Yes. In a stadium, in a league, in a game that mattered. I remember playing in games at Filbert Street for Leicester, looking at a team sheet and seeing some big hitters in there. Now in football in general a B Team game is almost seen as a punishment. You should want to get fit. I saw Kalvin Phillips playing an U23 game for Leeds after a suspension, he’s in England’s midfield for a European final. There’s a stigma about it that we need to remove.
It has been noticeable where we’ve signed players from this summer compared to a couple of years ago when Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was our manager. Is that Brexit changing the game?
Yes, recruitment has changed. The points total you need to sign overseas players, international players qualifying to come here, has changed. There are now more fisherman at an ever smaller pool. I hear there are thousands of players out of work, but how many are good enough for QPR, or the Premier League? Very few. The pond is smaller now. Recruitment is harder and if you try and rely on your academy as previously said the best players get taken from there. The likes of Chris Willock, Rob Dickie, Charlie Kelman, Joe Walsh, George Thomas are vitally important for QPR’s future.
The way I read that points system there doesn’t seem to be a lot of point a lower Championship or League One side scouting Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, which have been fertile grounds for Championship signings, am I reading it wrong?
No you’re right, it’s very difficult. It’s very hard to find players who qualify, if indeed there are any that qualify. If you look at Bundesliga 2, Segunda, these types of markets where you’d look for players, now you can’t. You can’t access those markets. It makes recruitment very difficult. We’ve focused, as you say, on a certain market and we’ve tried to move early. Now I think you have to be prepared to take an upfront hit early rather than delay because I think you’ll now pay more at the end. Prices aren’t going to come down in this environment. Available, homegrown British players are invaluable.
We had to cut this bit out last year in the end because we were actually trying to sign him, who’s your money-no-object ideal Championship signing now?
…. I can’t say can I? … We best leave that there.
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When Saturday Comes #10 by wessex_exile
So here we are again, still looking for that elusive first home league win of the season, only this time against high-flying (and recently non-league) Harrogate Town. That isn’t meant to be in any way disrespectful for Harrogate Town, they should be applauded for what they have achieved so far, but it is nevertheless a measure of how far our stock has fallen in recent years that we find ourselves in this situation. I have no doubt that today will be a difficult game, but it’ll be even more so if Hayden Mullins doesn’t take anything from recent performances and realise that what he’s trying just doesn’t seem to be working – he simply has to change things around. Whether he will or not remains to be seen – maybe he will, maybe won’t and the old guard will finally come good? I guess we’ll know one way or another by 5pm.
When Saturday Comes #9 by wessex_exile
After the complete horror-show that was U’s v Salford last Saturday, we find ourselves desperately clinging on to our away form like a drowning man to a lifebuoy…and I have no doubt Tranmere will be seriously stamping on our fingers in that regard. As a Friday night kick-off, I can look forward to the live match stream, which I was fortunately spared for the Salford game (it sounded bad enough). Swings and roundabouts though, if this hadn’t been rearranged to a Friday night, I may well have joined my Tranmere mate Chris and his family for the weekend – Prenton Park is always a good visit for an awayday, so safe travelling and good luck to Durham and the rest of the U’s faithful who make the trip.
When Saturday Comes #8 by wessex_exile
I’ve gone back through my archive, and the last football match I attended before last Saturday at the County Ground was U’s at Cheltenham on 29th February 2020 (and covered in LfW11) – In other words a 574 day wait. Others have mentioned about finding other things to do, losing their love for live football, things like that, and certainly my bank balance has appreciated the break from costly awaydays for the best (worst) part of 18 months. If I’m honest, I was slightly worried that I would go the same way, that the attraction would fade after so long, but I needn’t have been. As a result, it’ll be a slightly different format to this When Saturday Comes blog.
When Saturday Comes #7 by wessex_exile
Well that didn’t go as planned at all – after a stirring battling performance full of grit, character and togetherness with the small band of travelling supporters at Barrow, the U’s then finally returned back to the JobServe and completely failed to turn up against bogey side Crawley. They weren’t the only ones either, Hayden Mullins was absent as well, and we have since learned he has Covid-19 and will also miss tomorrow’s game at Swindon too – I know we all wish Hayden a speedy recovery. Fortunately, I won’t be missing the match, with tickets arriving last weekend – first live game for best part of 18 months, and I can’t bloody wait!
When Saturday Comes #6 by wessex_exile
After over a month of absence, the U’s finally make a welcome return to the JobServe for a home league fixture. Sutton seem to have quickly got over their Covid-19/ injury crisis/ international call-up woes, fielding a team the following Tuesday that was strong enough to push Cardiff City hard in a narrow 3-2 defeat to the Championship side. But enough of that, I haven’t seen the outcome of the EFL investigation, but I don’t doubt the decision has either already been or will be rubber-stamped. Gamesmanship – maybe, but I hope at least the EFL are now a bit more alert to the fact that some might think they can treat them like chumps when it suits their purpose? Still – it’s great to be back home isn’t it!
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