Not in a disrespectful way, far from it - Column
Tuesday, 10th May 2022 19:53 by Clive Whittingham
We're making first contact and picking up second balls, looking after the football and going on the front foot today as we assess the good and bad of Mark Warburton's three-year stint in charge of QPR.
Perhaps Mark Warburton made a rod for his own back. Having taken the team from nineteenth to thirteenth in his first season, and thirteenth to ninth in his second, he was very keen to emphasise the importance of year-on-year progression as a key metric of success. When a collapse in the back half of year three led to the team finishing eleventh, it gave his critics and those alarmed at the rate of decline in the final 20 games of 2021/22 a chance to say the team had stalled, or even regressed, even though it had been able to make a concerted push for the play-offs for the first time since 2013/14. If you don’t think the team Warburton leaves behind at Loftus Road is considerably better than the one he inherited, I don’t know what to say to you.
Let’s recap. The team that QPR brought back down from the Premier League in 2015 was so incredibly bad that it stood no chance of bouncing back up while in receipt of parachute payments – and as we’ve seen at Stoke, Sunderland and elsewhere, if you get those, and don’t go back up with them, it’s a long period of cleaning house that awaits you after. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Bobby Zamora’s last minute play-off final winner had saved a club sporting an £80m p/a wage bill from a financial catastrophe and hefty FFP points deduction. The club was badly run, the team was poorly managed, the player recruitment was an expensive shambles, and a second chance to cement a Premier League place was squandered as a result. Things needed to change, but that could only happen after the wage bill had been, at least, halved and halved again. Doing that, while maintaining a Championship place, is pretty difficult because at the end of every season you’re having to release players you’d ideally want to keep, because they’re on too much money, and replacing them constantly with players earning less. There are few better predictors of success in football than wages paid – Mark Hughes’ and Harry Redknapp’s Premier League Rangers, typically, a bit of an outlier in this.
The task was made more difficult still by several recruitment strategy missteps: lower European leagues successfully mined by Swansea and Norwich brought only the likes of Toni Leistner, Seb Polter, Yeni Ngbakoto and Ariel Borysiuk to Loftus Road, though Pawel Wszolek had his moments; a ‘best of the lower leagues’ ideal that has worked for Blackpool, Peterborough, Steve Gallen’s Charlton and others turned up only moderate success in Mass Luongo, and plenty of Ben Gladwins and Conor Washington’s to offset that. And an incoherent approach to appointing new managers. Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink was not the rising star the club hoped for. Ian Holloway was a populist choice foisted upon the people who run the club day to day, and though he succeeded in moving big earners on, making some decent signings and bringing in several promising youngsters, his erratic and provocative behaviour and team selections burned off credit that didn’t exist in the first place with the execs above him. Steve McClaren wasn’t their choice either, one source at the club told me there was a feeling Tony Fernandes needed to “get him out of his system” after his impressive coaching cameo here in 2013. Having taken one look at the summer transfer plans and torn them up late in the day, his team started the season woefully short and lost its first four including a 7-1 at West Brom, at which point he demanded, and was given, four expensive Premier League loans to get him out of the shit.
That McClaren team Warburton inherited was a state. Its best player, by several country miles, was Luke Freeman, who we all loved dearly and eventually got decent money for, but let’s be honest he didn’t make much impact at this level previously with Bristol City, and he’s sunk without trace since in a Sheff Utd team that finished bottom of the Premier League and a Nottingham Forest outfit that ended up in the bottom half of this division. It relied very heavily on loanee Tomer Hemed a) playing and b) being arsed, and he set a Guinness World Record for number of games missed with a hernia. A centre back pairing of Leistner and Joel Lynch conceded 71 goals across the season – the club would put Tweets out calling them ‘The L Team’ on rare afternoons when it went well for them, and the nickname was very apt. Warburton arrived expecting to move half a dozen players in either direction in his first summer, and was immediately warned off it by John Eustace who’d coached Rangers the season before. Eustace said whether he was to be kept on or not, Warburton should not put any faith in the players he was inheriting, who weren’t good enough, and had a dreadful losing mentality. In the end they did 16 in and the same in that first summer, and Eustace was kept on.
Nineteenth to thirteenth is not a great distance to travel, but the difference between the 2019/20 QPR and the 2018/19 one was stark. You only had to go to the games and look at them. Right from the first game, at Stoke, QPR played with a belief and an attacking style wholly lacking previously. The R’s had won five away games in 2018/19 under McClaren, and a pathetic three under Holloway the season before. Under Warburton they won four of their first six, which included the special Ebere Eze goal at Stoke that started with Joe Lumley on his own goalline, the counter to the ‘no plan B’ criticism when he reintroduced Toni Leistner and changed the formation to get a 2-1 from a Matt Smith-led Millwall, a Jordan Hugill brace at Sheff Wed, and the one-man Eze show up at Hull City. For two-and-half-years of Warburton’s reign QPR were good to watch – they played the ball on the floor, attacked with numbers, and played to win. All of this was new. You travelled to away games with genuine and justified hope you might get something. The 08.30 from Euston was no longer the train of doom.
Bright Osayi-Samuel and Ryan Manning, two players completely ignored by his predecessor, became two of the team’s best players under Warburton. To watch Osayi-Samuel’s goal at Birmingham, and his thrilling demolition of Cardiff in a 6-1 home success, and imagine he’d been lucky to get 20 minutes off the bench the previous season, was astounding. His performances put him on the radar of Fenerbahce, where he signed at the same time as Mezut Ozil and has outlasted the German in their first team. QPR could, for the first time, justifiably say they were developing players. Manning, Osayi-Samuel, Ilias Chair and most of all Ebere Eze flourished into genuinely sellable assets (but for contract cock ups in the former cases). From relying on Alex Smithies to keep us in games/the league, or Luke Freeman to drag the team kicking and screaming to results, and then spending the summer hoping to get a couple of million quid for either of them, Rangers had a £20m player on their hands, and others in the queue behind him.
Over the course of a few months, Warburton lost all of them. Eze was sold, the contract situations of Osayi-Samuel and Manning came home to roost, Hugill got a better offer from Norwich, captain Grant Hall went to Middlesbrough, experienced back-up Marc Pugh retired. The team got better again regardless, and finished ninth thanks to a spectacular run through the second half of the season that was bettered only by promoted duo Norwich and Watford. The first half of the season had been problematic, and eventually held Rangers back from a proper play-off run. Only four wins from the first 23 games, a situation turned around largely – as with McClaren – by the signing of four expensive loan players. But having had to lose what few good players he inherited – Freeman, Luongo, Darnell Furlong – initially, Warburton had then seen all his best players depart again for a second summer in a row. Attempts to own, rather than loan, strikers had presented him only with Lyndon Dykes - who remains, at best, ‘raw’ two years on – and Charlton’s Macauley Bonne who shows few signs of being good enough. Frustrated after an interview with LFW that had gone rather south towards the end thanks to me being a provocative, clever little shit, Warburton patiently explained off mic that he didn’t think enough credit and attention was being paid to exactly what he was up against. A week out from a home game with Nottingham Forest he had only Dykes as a recognised forward, and he’d been injured on international duty with Scotland. Forest meanwhile had added £30,000-a-week Loyal Taylor to £45,000-a-week Lewis Grabban, and agreed to pick up 100% of loanee Luke Freeman’s Premier League wage as well, as part of another mad and expensive summer trolley dash. When pushed on why we kept conceding from set pieces he pointed out there was a striker in this league on £107,000 a week (Mitrovic) who he was marking with the likes of Conor Masterson (not in a disrespectful way, far from it). Rangers beat Nottingham Forest 2-0, and rallied through the second half of the season to finish ninth.
Don’t think pre-season friendlies with Man Utd and Leicester just happen. Of course their potential to travel on shirt-selling foreign tours was restricted by Covid, but those clubs sought out Rangers as an opponent rather than the other way around. QPR were seen by outsiders as a progressive team, playing a Premier League style, and a very useful preparation opponent – these clubs were absolutely not queuing up in previous summers to defend long balls against Matt Smith, remember we were only able to get Bournemouth down here for the Stan Bowles match. Players like Rob Dickie and Chris Willock wanted to come to W12 ahead of other competitors often offering more money because they saw it as a place they could play good football and develop their careers – Willock and his agent re-approached the club themselves to resurrect a deal, that at one stage looked to have collapsed over money and gone away, and get it done. Joe Walsh, too, turned down other clubs to be here. Seven goals were scored in those friendlies, United soundly thrashed 4-2. Watching QPR was entertaining again, following QPR away from home was fun again, optimism was back in Shepherd’s Bush. From the usual 650 die-hards traipsing around the place, to mad rushes for tickets for Wednesday nights at Bournemouth, Friday nights at West Brom, and of course the takeover of the Madejski Stadium. Warburton said he’d be judged by the number of fans wanting to come and watch his team, and here they all were in their thousands.
For years questions about what exactly QPR’s aim and ambition for the coming year was were just straight batted back with “to be competitive”. Whether padding around in sixteenth while becoming the only club in two full years to lose a Championship home game against Rotherham counted as that I’m not sure. Here though, far more relaxed as we battled the plane noise and glaring sunshine to meet again at Harlington in the summer of 2021, was Mark Warburton, a QPR manager, openly stating the top six had to be the aim for the campaign. Again, I wonder whether he looks back on this as perhaps making a bit of a rod for his own back. I guess he couldn’t really say anything else, given how strongly we’d finished the prior season and the significant and expensive transfer business done over the summer – he’d been backed, and England expected. Still, QPR fans deemed 2020/21, a season with a dire start and wonderful end with a ninth placed finish, to be a great success and source of immense optimism; while 2021/22, a season with a wonderful start and a dire end with an eleventh placed finish, is being written off as a colossal failure for which the manager must pay with his job. That's the value of expectation management for you.
For a long time it looked like his team would follow through on the promise. To the end of January the play-offs were almost taken as a given, of course we’d be in those, and the real quiz was running down wobbly Bournemouth for second – a position Rangers would have occupied in mid-February had they won at Blackburn. This was being done sans-parachute payments, in a league increasingly dominated by those still drawing money from recent Premier League sojourns. The budget had been increased, primarily to get Charlie Austin and Stefan Johansen on board permanently, but it’s still a midtable Championship spend, and a top six finish would have been an over achievement on that. Luton and Huddersfield both massively over performing probably hasn't helped his cause in this regard. There were plenty of mistakes, sure, as we’ll come onto. There was plenty of mitigation too: injuries to Seny Dieng, Chris Willock and Rob Dickie particularly damaging; senior players like Austin, Johansen, Wallace and Adomah who’d all been key to the highs of 2021 all coming to the end of the physical road collectively at the same time short of the finish line. For the most part, Rangers gave it a really good go, but fell three fences from the end.
The team that Warburton leaves behind is night and day, chalk and cheese different from the slop he inherited. There are genuinely good players here, and sellable assets in Dieng, Dickie, Willock, Ilias Chair, Jimmy Dunne and Sam Field. The team has had a clear identity and style of play, with a settled and consistent system, making the job of the recruitment team far easier, and the signing of players more coherent. Bar the last three months, they’ve been good to watch. He made watching QPR, and particularly supporting QPR away from home, a lot of fun again. His team provided us with some fantastic moments over three years, and he did it from the wrong end of an uneven playing field, while twice having all the best players stripped out of his team. I thought, by and large, overall, he was excellent. Exactly what I wanted my QPR manager to be. He would simply say, I’m sure, all credit must go to the players.
Now, as you can probably tell, I liked and rated Mark Warburton and thought he did a good job here. So, some of what follows is playing devil’s advocate. But, there were problems, failing and mistakes and it would be wrong to pretend otherwise. Like I say, we lambasted McClaren’s loaned “team of men” technique for getting him out of the shit, but then lauded Warburton’s 2021 which was also kick-started by the arrival of four senior, expensive players on loan.
He did inherit a mess, and had to do 16 in and 16 out in his first summer while cutting the budget, losing what few ‘best’ players he had in the process, which meant we were all surprised and grateful that the team improved as much as it did on the field in 2019/20. There is, though, definitely an argument that this team should have done better still. He also inherited a generational talent in Ebere Eze – along with Jarrod Bowen easily the best player in the league that season. A team with him, Ilias Chair and Bright Osayi-Samuel behind Nahki Wells with Jordan Hugill, Marc Pugh and others thrown in for good measure should not have been finishing thirteenth in the Championship. You could see what it was capable of in the 6-1 demolition of Cardiff and it should have pushed well into the top half of the table, if not the top six.
It looked capable of doing so when it won 3-1 at Preston to move within the margin of error for sixth the week before lockdown hit, and the collapse behind closed doors was a significant failure. QPR had seven matches in that spell, including games against four of the bottom five. Four wins from five games against Wigan (23rd), Charlton (22nd), Barnsley (21st), Luton (19th) and Sheff Wed (16th) would have taken Rangers into the play offs even if they’d still lost the remaining matches to Fulham and West Brom, but they took just a solitary point from a possible 15. The defeats to nil against Barnsley, Charlton and Wigan in the first week back were abject, and the 3-0 home loss to Sheff Wed is legitimately one of the worst QPR performances I’ve ever seen. There was a casual, almost shrugged-shoulder approach to that whole period that infuriated me. Marc Pugh shaking hands on his contract early, Grant Hall saying he didn’t want to play and us just going along with it, keeping the goalkeeper coach furloughed while Liam Kelly and Joe Lumley went through personal horrors. Warburton’s explanations at the time were poor, vague insight about players having to train alone by road running in lockdown, and the ongoing assertion that it was an unprecedented situation the players hadn’t coped well with because “they’re human”. But every club had to deal with the same thing, and we undoubtedly coped the worst of the lot. Whatever we’d done, clearly hadn’t worked and yet when I asked him to reflect on what he might do differently given the same situation again that summer he wouldn’t play ball and simply said again it was an “unprecedented situation”.
The cliched criticism Warburton arrived at Loftus Road carrying was that he’s got “no plan B”. I disagree. He changed his 4-2-3-1 to get Wells and Hugill on the pitch together, he recalled Toni Leistner (who he didn’t rate at all) for a special ops in a 2-1 away win at Matt Smith-led Millwall, he switched Geoff Cameron over to right back for another specific mission against Neil Harris’ wheeled cannon Cardiff which contributed to a 6-1 win, he flipped to a back three to help transform the 2020/21 campaign, and plenty else besides. What I would accept is that he was often slow to change. The team conceded a, frankly ridiculous, 76 goals in his first season, and came bottom of the league for goals from set plays. Watching QPR defend corners over the last three years has, at times, been terrifying. There was a point where opposition corners felt like opposition penalties. We came back for 2020/21 still with Joe Lumley in goal, still with the same mix of zonal and man-marking at set plays, and still with the same problem – goals against in pre-season at Oxford and Plymouth culminating in a shambles at Coventry in the first televised away game at which point, finally, Seny Dieng was given a long overdue chance. Making Dieng wait that long nearly cost us his services - Birmingham were very keen to sign him after his loan at Doncaster and he was minded to leave to get first team chances, but Gavin Ward the keeper coach persuaded him to stick it out a bit longer. Rangers subsequently went from worst to best, conceding only three from set plays in the first half of 2021/22, and then back to the worst again letting in 10 in the final 20 games when Dieng was injured.
That, the performances in the initial part of lockdown, and the prolonged downturn through the autumn of 2020 went on too long unchecked. The switch to the back three could have been done far earlier, with Warbs’ main man Yoann Barbet obviously well suited to it. He’s lucky crowds weren’t in the grounds, and the club kept faith, because a ten game run without a win, including shockers at Wycombe and Huddersfield, would surely have cost him his job post Swansea home loss in normal circumstances.
Again in 2021/22, a prolonged downturn continued unchecked, wrecked the whole season, and this time did cost him his job. I don’t particularly like picking out Dion Sanderson, because he’s just a kid, but he kept making mistakes, kept costing us goals, and kept getting back in. The immediate recall after he’d almost cost us a rare win against Blackpool with that stupid headbutt incident was poor. What confused us even more still was the swashbuckling, attack-minded side we'd so loved following to Middlesbrough and elsewhere, was replaced with this weird, cautious, staid outfit that played most of its football among the back three. The absence of Seny Dieng's out-ball, as we saw on the final day at Swansea, is key to this, but there was still a feeling that really from the moment Yoann Barbet got caught up the field in the last minute of the Peterborough league game and we lost there that we'd been getting steadily more and more cautious and worse to watch. That Siriki Dembele goal was the last of the centre backs striding over halfway and posing a threat, which had actually been a key tactic prior with Rob Dickie's 30-yarders against Millwall and Oxford obviously catching the eye, but his ability to sling in a nice back post cross for Macauley Bonne at Derby and Lyndon Dykes at Blackpool just as important - we have three strikers who thrive on crosses, and by the end we were putting a cross in about once a month. No team gained as many points from losing positions as QPR over the three years of Warbs' tenure, but this season we also lost 26 of our own from winning positions. Somewhere the Warbs-ball we all so loved at the start dissipated and was lost.
Warbs can, for me, be a little bit stubborn. By accounts leaking out of the club now he was nearly a gonner prior to Luton away, but a surprise win kept him in a job there, only for all the same problems to resurface a week later against Peterborough. Five cracks QPR had at the worst two teams in the Championship last year without a single win – Warburton would no doubt point out Chris Willock was unavailable for four of those, but it doesn’t suggest a great amount of problem solving when you play as badly as we did and lose so catastrophically in game 3/3 against Peterborough. Tony Fernandes and the board were openly furious about that one, which Warbs knew about in no uncertain terms, and he was a dead man walking from that point.
There’s another Sheff Wed game that sticks in the craw as well. Mark Warburton was certainly better with cup competitions than his predecessors with regards attitude and team selection – though he could hardly have been worse. However, it’s a fact that Rangers had a game against the worst team in the Championship standing between them and a fifth round FA Cup tie at home to Man City, and a home match with a League One side to get them a quarter final League Cup game away at Arsenal, and lost both. Plenty of chances missed at London Road, a scandalous refereeing error against the Mackems, but defeats in easily winnable games all the same. When I said recently QPR often play rich club-poor club with themselves, sometimes behaving like they’re skint and other times acting like money isn’t a problem, their willingness to pass up opportunities for a gate and television windfall, building excitement among a beleaguered support base, and giving exposure to players they supposedly want to develop and sell, by underperforming in cup ties remains lamentable. At the end of a terrific January 2020 we had a very favourable home tie against Sheff Wed in the fourth round of the FA Cup, left out the in form Nahki Wells and Bright Osayi-Samuel, and went out. That week the rested players lost at Blackburn in the league anyway. Wells, it transpired, was actually only being rested to play against us for Bristol City the following week. That was piss poor, and again the explanations felt mealy-mouthed and insincere.
Perhaps, more than the ‘plan B’ stuff, Mark Warburton’s biggest issue is managing up. I can almost hear his trademark Angry Warbs “complete bull” as I type it but let’s look at what we know. At Brentford he isolated him and his staff away from owner Matthew Benham, refused January additions because he thought it would upset a settled team, refused to entertain new ideas like the introduction of a set piece coach to his staff, to the point where the Bees let him go even though he made the Championship play-offs. Despite almost gaining promotion, Benham described it as his least enjoyable season as owner. The circumstances of his departure from Rangers are disputed - they quietly accusing him of courting Nottingham Forest, him flatly denying it – but there’s that word again, 'dispute'. At Nottingham Forest he was sacked at Christmas despite, he says, fulfilling all the KPI’s he’d been given upon appointment.
Now, at QPR, having initially seemed to embrace the remit and the financial challenges, he’s drifted more and more away from the player development side of the job which is key to the club’s survival and more and more towards the big names, populist signings, money spent, Premier League loans route to chase a promotion. We've gone for 'what manager wants manager gets' again, and it never works here. The club was minded to send Andre Gray back in January, concerned about form and, shall we say, availability. Bristol City, as they've been trying to do pretty much since they overpaid for him in the first place, had a cheaper deal for Nahki Wells on the table. But Warbs stood by his man and we went along with that, causing further divisions when the season collapsed. Les Ferdinand's barbed comments in February about "Mark didn't want a striker" were exactly that, though as discussed Chris Willock's injury probably backs the manager's assertion that a Jamie Paterson/Tom Lawrence type would have been more useful, and there wasn't really the money for either a nine or a ten in any case.
Warbs, unlike Holloway and McClaren, was a Les and Lee pick, but there’s been a split between the development staff at the club from Les down, and the first team coaching team led by Warburton – a feeling from the former that the latter has taken itself off and operated separate and independent of an otherwise integrated system. It's why John Eustace is seemingly a non-starter as his replacement, despite previously running close for the manager jobs at forward-thinking Swansea and Blackpool. Warburton has had little time for the young players the club wants, and needs, to be in his team. He had to be harangued for a long time by Chris Ramsey to give Osman Kakay a chance; he never rated Conor Masterson only for him to come into the first team out of desperation, and do well; players like Joe Gubbins were kept at Heston when the staff there wanted them at Harlington because he “didn’t know how to play the system” – again, a dispute, Paul Hall and his coaches not using the back three system in their teams rankling with the first team staff. Communication between the respective parties has disintegrated to basically non-existent.
Devil's advocate mode again, but success stories like Jimmy Dunne, Chris Willock, Ebere Eze or Sam Field were developed by Warbs and his staff, sure, but they were either inherited, or brought in under the recruitment model led by Andy Belk. Warbs' signings - Lee Wallace, Moses Odubajo, Dom Ball, Liam Kelly - were very much more hit and miss, and produced zero sell-on value which is crucial to our survival moving forwards.
He can come across as quite an odd fish Warburton, on occasions. Difficult to get a read on his sense of humour, other than he definitely doesn’t find me funny. And again he’s leaving a club having ostensibly done everything he was asked to do because relationships have broken down above him.
It’s that, more than anything he does with the team on the field, that perhaps needs work ahead of his next job which, with two Championship clubs already speaking to him this week and a rumoured approach from the MLS already made, won’t be too long in coming. That should tell you that, despite these drawbacks, he’s done a very good job here and the rest of the sport recognises that perhaps more than we do.
Mark Warburton did not enter football via the traditional route, nor does he behave like people within it now he’s here.
He turns up on time. You may not think this a particularly big thing, certainly as somebody who was brought up being told ‘the latest you should ever be for a meeting is on time’ I would assume it taken as read that you’d be punctual because it’s rude to the other people involved if you’re not. In football, it’s unheard of. Football people, football managers, tend to swan into meetings, interviews, press conferences whenever they please. It’s not unusual to be waiting an hour beyond your scheduled start time, and apologies are thin on the ground. Mark Warburton was late for me once, because one of his group sessions with the overly-quiet team he’d inherited had finally yielded a breakthrough when Faysal Bettache was brave enough to put his hand up and say it was difficult playing central midfield for a team where the centre backs never speak. I’ll allow it. Other than that, every interview, every podcast, there he was on the absolute dot of whatever the start time was. You could literally set your watch by him.
He writes his own programme notes – sometimes on the bus, on the motorway, in the middle of the night, on the way back from away games. Again, this is uncommon. As is his ability to know and remember all the journalists and fansites like this one by first names, and address you as such when he speaks to you while looking you straight in the eye. I once sat in a room for ten minutes while the title of A Kick Up The R’s was explained to Steve McClaren in myriad different ways stopping just short of getting the finger puppets out. Warburton reads, and listens, to the fan media regularly, which he’ll let you know by dropping things you’ve said or written back into future conversations with you – when I asked why he liked Osayi-Samuel so much he deadpanned that his “rawness” and “lack of an academy education” were an attraction, after I’d previously prissily railed against nice young boys brought up on pristine academy pitches with no proper football and no edge to them.
Our second interview together was not a happy one, and blew up slightly when I responded to really quite an interesting bit of insight about the bonus structure including rewards and punishments for a defence that conceded religiously from set pieces with a smart-arsed “their overdrafts must be bigger than mine” comment. This, obviously, qualified as disrespect, and as Todd Kane discovered later on there are not many more heinous crimes than that in Warbs World. I’d actually been given the nod on the way into that meeting that he’d read some of my stuff and, shall we say, not agreed with it – an arsey match report, accusing us of going down Brentford’s “justice league” path after a long midweek slog down to a 3-0 defeat at Cardiff when we had all the ball and the chances and lost to three goals from corners and Warburton said he was happy with the performance, touched a particular nerve. You could say this displayed a bit of a thin skin, particularly for somebody who’d previously dealt with the nonsense that comes with being part of the so-called “Old Firm”, but I quite liked it. Passion and going off piste in interviews always makes for better copy, more engaging content, and a better insight into somebody. And Warbs cared what we all thought and said, which is no bad thing. Producing attractive football that we enjoyed and wanted to come and watch was a big part of his plan. Isn’t that what we want?
You could say this is just clever media manipulation from an obviously intelligent man. Turn up on time, remember the journalists names, be polite, and watch the positive copy flow. See how the journos on the QPR circuit have universally thanked him and lamented his departure these past few weeks. Unusually, I’m a good deal less cynical about it than that. QPR’s recent managers have, in general, represented the club appallingly. Mark Hughes, “we’ll never be in this position again while I’m here”, struggled to express himself publicly and came across as arrogant and aloof when he did. Off camera, apparently, that was not the case but when the shit hit the fan he sent Mark Bowen out to do the explaining for him on the QPR Podcast. Harry Redknapp was a twat. He’d chuck players under the bus, revealing Jose Bosingwa’s salary to push him over the edge with QPR fans and accusing Adel Taarabt of being fat. He’d use the media, and his substitutes bench, to try and force the board into letting him spend yet more money on yet more players – Tom Hitchcock coming on and scoring against Ipswich still one of the most underrated funny moments given he was only there that day to show we needed to pay more money for yet another forward. He openly said away matches were “bonus games” while supporters were forking out a fortune to travel to them and support the team. He said he was planning his golf club membership when Gary O’Neil was sent off in the play-off final. As we throttled towards two Premier League relegations, he’d jovially sit and laugh along with his Sky bum chums about who he thought might win the Ryder Cup. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink irritated with his “it is what it is” stock phrases, and got the club splashed all over the front pages of the nationals shilling his Chelsea speaking tour and cash-in-hand work in the Far East. Ian Holloway started on supporters who left games early, came close to inciting a riot at Millwall and had to be warned about his conduct by Lee Hoos that night - a career first for the American CEO. McClaren, and his Quality Professional Relentless PowerPoint presentation, was a joke.
The way Warburton represented himself, and the club, was a world away from all of them. Sure, there were stock phrases and cliches – first contact second ball, take care of the football, get our rewards, not in a disrespectful way, far from it – and when times were tough he perhaps slipped into that banality a bit too readily instead of explaining better to us what was going on. But he recognised the players both as human beings and as club assets, protected them and did right by them unfailingly. Dozens of times he could have chucked somebody under the bus, was invited to do so by journalists’ questions, and refused to do so. Even Todd Kane was cut quietly and efficiently, a clear and concise explanation given, and nothing more. I thought he treated the supporters, the media and the players with enormous respect and integrity. He never turned down a request for an interview or podcast appearance, regardless of how the team was doing or the time of the recording. On the national media he spoke intelligently and thoughtfully about a range of issues, particularly around lockdown football and potential restarts, representing the club superbly. Exactly what QPR needed after some of the chancers that had preceded him. He made a point, repeatedly, after every game, rain or shine, good result or bad, to thank the fans for their support, and got the players to do the same - again, a little thing, again, not something we were used to from those who preceded him. It was nice to feel appreciated, and valuable to hear a manager talking about the positive and negative effect a crowd can have, particularly on younger players.
I’m still unsure on whether shaking hands at this point is the right thing to do – all of my soul thinks no, but then if things have disintegrated behind the scenes to the extent we’re led to believe how do you carry on? I still lean towards thinking we’ll come to regret this decision. His is a very tough act to follow for whoever comes next.
I’m sure the feeling isn’t mutual, but I will miss him.
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When Monday Comes #37 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes and we reach the end of a topsy-turvy season, much of which hasn’t been that much fun if I’m honest, though latterly considerably improved under Wayne Brown. If I can, I always like to do the first and last game of the season, but sadly a trip to Hartlepool just wasn’t on the cards, not if I actually wanted to get home again tonight, so I had to console myself with a pretty enjoyable trip to the JobServe last weekend – not quite the victory the U’s deserved over Walsall, but a great day out anyway. I know it’ll be too late for the Player of the Year awards, but wouldn’t it be nice to see a Freddie Sears hat-trick this afternoon to round off the season.
When Saturday Comes #36 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes tomorrow, and I will be on a train heading over to God’s own county for my last U’s game of the season. That should have been last Friday’s trip to the Principality, but as posted elsewhere I was more than happy to be pre-booked to dog-sit Emma’s collie Reggie that night and had to be content with one of Nadine’s ‘downstreams’ on iFollow. Given both the performance and the result, whilst I was sorry to miss it in person, I was more than happy with how Friday night turned out in the end. Tomorrow will be a gathering of the clans for us, with at the last count at least 8, possibly more, of the family gathering for the match. Ironically, I’ll see them all again on Bank Holiday Monday for a family birthday, but I’ll be driving over for that one.
When Saturday Comes #35 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes and the U’s have already given us a fantastic start to the weekend, with a stirring and well-deserved 2-1 victory at promotion-chasing Newport County. Yes, the Exiles had lost the previous three at home and are looking like they are going to bottle their chance for the play-offs, and yes with the U’s now safe technically we had little to play for, but don’t take anything away from this performance. If Wayne Brown is still being ‘interviewed’ for the full-time role as Colchester United manager, then last night was the equivalent of having an excellent incisive question of your own lined up for the interview panel.
When Saturday Comes #34 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes and our Easter Bank Holiday programme is already underway, following a dismal 2-0 defeat at St James’ Park yesterday. It’s not so much the result that galls, in truth deep down I suspect we all thought it was going to be a difficult trip to get anything out of, it was the manner of that defeat. To say the U’s were lacklustre is a massive understatement – and it wasn’t as if it was down to Exeter City simply outplaying us, I didn’t think they were all that to be honest. I can cope with defeat, heaven knows the U’s have given me enough practice in recent years, but to go down without a whimper, relying on Man of the Match Sham to keep it from becoming a cricket score against an average Exeter City, was just dreadful.
When Saturday Comes #33 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes and there was a time, not too long ago, when today’s game against the charmless Steve Evans and Stevenage was looking like it might be a relegation 6-pointer. Whilst we’re not out of the woods quite yet, back-to-back victories over Tranmere Rovers and Harrogate mean we go into this game knowing even if we were to slip up against Stevenage, we’ll still be 8pts plus goal difference ahead of them, and only five games left to play. Still, let’s not dwell on negatives, because three wins on the bounce will be the confidence-booster we’ll need ahead of the tough trip on Good Friday to St James’ Park.
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