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Nardi first arrival, epitomising QPR’s about face – Signing
Tuesday, 2nd Jul 2024 18:59 by Clive Whittingham and Greg Spires

French goalkeeper Paul Nardi is the first signing of QPR’s 2024 close season, a clear indication the club is moving in a whole different direction from 12 months ago.

Facts

Paul Nardi is a 30-year-old goalkeeper from Vesoul, in Eastern France (pork, pate, pork etc.)

Spotted playing for his local youth team by Ligue 2 side AS Nancy (stop it), he made his first team debut at that level in September 2013 against mighty US Créteil-Lusitanos. A year later Proper Football Club Monaco had seen enough to spend €2.5m on him, though he spent the 2014/15 season back on loan from whence he came. He was capped by France from U17 to U21 level and won the best goalkeeper award at the 2014 Toulon Tournament.

After a couple of appearances in the Principality, he embarked on a nomadic existence as a permanent loan keeper. First with Rennes, a one-year deal cut short in January so he could join Cercle Brugge, where he then spent two-and-a-half years without ever signing permanently. Finally, in 2019, a chunky four-year deal with Leyton Orient’s more garlicky cousin Lorient.

He’s spent the last two seasons back in the top flight in Belgium, keeping 19 clean sheets in 49 appearances for Gent, although his most recent season there was curtailed after 15 appearances (three in the Europa Conference League) by what the French press described as an “open fracture of the ankle” last winter. Sounds like an Oakland A already.

He had been linked with another Belgian side, KV Kortrijk, this summer, and former club Lorient had been in touch, before QPR swooped in. Nardi has, as per his agent in the French press, signed a two-year contract with an option for a third on the club’s side. The deal is subject to international clearance.

Analysis - @Greg_Spires

Nardi has a wiry frame and stands at roughly 6’2 – allowing him to use his wingspan to spread himself and make some impressive saves. He has a habit of getting low down and saving with his feet or body, which he did extremely successfully in the few appearances he had last season.

His tendency to go down and save with his feet has an obvious trade off that he may be susceptible to conceding against shots high into the goal or struck with power from range. This may be a worry going forward and hopefully, with his return from injury, he can continue to build his confidence and iron out a few of these potential flaws in his game.

Alongside being able to save well with his feet and save with his body when in close quarters, he has very active feet and is able to reset his position swiftly. His feet at the point of take-off for a save are quite solid & he’s able to spring to make diving saves with relative ease.

It’s extremely difficult to take an isolated incident and assume that it’s the player’s usual ability or show their play style. When reviewing all the games he played last year, Nardi had the athletic ability to make reaction saves down low, however this wasn’t a skill he performed to an outstanding level consistently. There were a couple of goals conceded last season that were deflected slightly or came through bodies that he didn’t have the fastest reactions to. It’s understandable that it’s difficult & reactions are a skill that need consistent work to maintain – hopefully, his athleticism might mask some of the reactive ability that he showed at times.

When looking at the areas where his goals were conceded in his short-lived 23/24 campaign, there’s a cluster to Nardi’s left-hand side. When reviewing the footage there were a few goals in that corner that were extremely well taken and there was little that Nardi could do to prevent those strikes from close range, with venom into the corner. Take it with a pinch of salt I guess. If we look back to his last ‘full-season’ in 22/23 – he had the complete opposite problem where he conceded a lot more goals to his right-hand side.

In what I have seen of his 22/23 season on film, but there seems to be some improvement on his ability to save down to his right-hand side. Admittedly, he faced fewer shots on that side but he saved a couple of shots to his right that other goalkeepers perhaps wouldn’t have. When you look at his basic statistics, his shot-stopping has steadily improved in the past 2-3 years – confirming Nardi’s comments about his own game on signing day. Self-awareness is key and the Frenchman seems to have it.

In possession…

Admittedly, there wasn’t an awful lot of footage of him in-possession and the one clip there was, he hit a long diagonal that was intercepted, and the opposition scored straight away. Welcome to Loftus Road, we’ve all seen that one before. Ignoring this, I’ve had to rely on some of the stats to highlight his ability on the ball. Here’s a brief comparison of Nardi & Begovic’s ball-playing capabilities:

It looks as if Nardi is rarely on the ball but is often looking or attempting to play shorter passes to maintain possession & start an attacking phase. His statistics from 22/23 season suggest that he is the ‘attack minded’ goalkeeper that Martí mentioned in the club’s signing announcement. Being confident & competent to play short is key and the long ball outlet should be a last resort, as we saw more of from QPR since the start of the calendar year.

I’ve only had time to review footage of Nardi’s most recent season where he appeared 10 times in the league. QPR’s scouts have clearly seen more of him than I have and have clearly noted his ability to be comfortable on the ball and competency playing in and around the edge of the box to begin attacks. From the footage, this was evident in short spells but wasn’t a consistent theme. There was evidence of him being unconvincing, where he stuck to his six-yard-box or waited too long to rush out to attackers. Here are two examples of Nardi showing hesitation or sticking to his line that show that it wasn’t just an isolated incident:

To circle back to my point about taking one clip as reality, there were several occasions where he commanded his area well and looked confident in the ‘sweeper-keeper’ type role – patrolling the area and gobbling up anything that came through. So, don’t take the above videos as gospel – but he doesn’t seem as strong or commanding at claiming crosses and high-balls as Dieng or Begovic were, from what I can see.

Conclusion…

Looks to be a good shot stopper and someone who is capable of making fantastic saves, however, his reflexes and reactions could be more consistent. His ball-playing ability is evident from a couple of seasons ago and I sincerely hope he returns to that form following his leg injury last season. Free transfer, experienced goalkeeper, seems willing and able to learn & improve – a nice addition to start the summer.

Reaction

“I have followed a lot of the Premier League and the Championship since I was young so when I heard QPR had a big interest in me, it was an easy choice for me. In the last three or four years I feel my goalkeeping is the best it has been. But now moving to a new division, I have to work a lot every day to be the best.” -Paul Nardi

“Paul is a 'keeper who is at a very good age in terms of the ability to develop while already performing at a very high level. He has already accumulated big experience in two important leagues in Belgium and France. He showed a big desire to join us and we hope he can contribute with his quality to the way we want to play. He is an attack-minded 'keeper. He tends to play high up the pitch so he can help us to cover a high defensive line if needed because he is aggressive in his positioning. He can also help the team in our build-up, so hopefully this will help us to become a better team.” - Marti Cifuentes

“I am delighted we have been able to add Paul to the existing group of goalkeepers at the football club. Aside from his experience playing in different game models, I have been especially impressed by his hunger for continuous technical and physical improvement.” -ChatGP Nourry

Context

For the second successive summer Queens Park Rangers have told you a lot about their direction of travel with an early goalkeeper signing.

A year ago, the bleak pragmatics and practicalities of the club’s self-inflicted situation were laid plain and bare by their movement in this position.

Out went Seny Dieng, exactly the sort of development prospect the club has craved, for whatever they could get for him out of Middlesbrough – this a player that had previously attracted significant interest from Everton and others while Rangers were too busy working themselves into a financial hole again.

In his place came Asmir Begovic. Gareth Ainsworth had rightly identified and prioritised experienced leaders and big voices for a dressing room that had collapsed in on itself the previous season, knowing full well the nine months coming would be even tougher still with the budget he was working to. Amongst the hail of justified criticism that continues to go the way of Ainsworth’s shambolic time in charge, it is worth saying that some of those signings (Steve Cook, Jack Colback) were key to the team’s eventual Championship salvation.

Sadly, Begovic had rather the opposite effect. Leaden-footed, glued to his line, his lack of ability to distribute was a significant handicap once Marti Cifuentes took over, and there were rudimentary mistakes for goals at Leicester, Plymouth and elsewhere. Such was his lack of footwork, if the shot was further away than the length of his body as he fell, it was a goal. Jake Livermore scored twice in ten minutes after once in five years, both from 30 yards out. There has been a growing trend in recent times for goalkeepers to accept a pension top up as a third-choice bench sitter at Premier League clubs – Rob Green, Richard Wright, Lee Grant, Carlo Cudicini, Andy Lonergan – but not many of those have then been invited to return to regular first team football. There’s a reason for that, and it was writ large across Begovic’s frightening winter.

This did, sadly, continue QPR’s poor recent record in recruiting and retaining goalkeepers. Dieng, whose case was pushed by goalkeeper coach Gavin Ward, is the exception that proves the rule. Jordan Archer has collected three years of Championship wage despite never being close to Championship standard – on the rare occasions he was required he immediately injured himself. Dillon Barnes contributed even less for another three years of coin – when Mark Warburton faced an unprecedented five injuries to senior keepers in 2021/22 it turned out Barnes wasn’t even in the 25-man squad. He’s now at Harringay Borough. Joe Lumley was, kindly put, accident prone, and yet having shifted him on there have often been rumours Rangers were half-minded to try and bring him back. Whenever we’ve asked managers, or head of recruitment Andy Belk, who’s responsible for the litany of dodgy keepers, they’ve passed the buck saying Ward handled that. Begovic’s signing was born from a conversation between Ward and Lonergan, who’d played with the Bosnian at Everton.

Goalkeeping analytics lags behind that of outfield players in the modern game. And, who knows, maybe I’m hopelessly naïve and the goalkeeper coach does the goalkeeper recruitment at lots of clubs. But, even without the sickening fawning over how fortunate we were that the great Asmir Begovic was willing to grace us with his presence, signing a bench-sitting 37-year-old based on a chance conversation between two old mates doesn’t suggest a lot of scouting and strategy going on, does it?

The events of the last week are therefore welcome, and come as no surprise. Christian Nourry may succeed, or he may fail. Running QPR is a tough job for anybody, even before he effectively amalgamated the director of football and CEO roles into one. What he’s not going to do, it seems, is die wondering. There’s already been a long overdue blitz at the top of the academy, with Chris Ramsey and Manisha Tailor departing. Paul Hall has gone today after ten years with the club. It’s house cleaning time. This week Begovic, Archer and Ward have all been bade farewell, and between the sticks this year will be Frenchman Paul Nardi – exactly the sort of leftfield, data-driven signing you’re going to be seeing more and more of with Nourry and Belk now firmly in control on this side of things.

It also speaks to Marti Cifuentes’ intentions. We’ve spent the summer so far musing over whether this self-confessed Cruyffian acolyte has simply come to realise the Championship is an awkward beast that requires aggressive, physical pragmatism, or whether wacky ideas like Jimmy Dunne Right Back were just temporary solutions to mounting problems destined to be cast aside as soon as Cifuentes gets a transfer window and full pre-season to guard some culture of his own.

Those stats and numbers don’t quite back up the club’s assertion that Nardi is a front-foot, David Raya-a-like who’s going to be playing sweeper keeper and terrorising the “gerrit forward” crusties of F Block. Nevertheless, he certainly looks, at first glance, vastly more progressive and better with his feet than the lump he replaces. Begovic’s poor ball play was a big part of the reason Dunne ended up at right back in the first place – to give him an aerial out when the build out from the back stuff inevitably, frequently, terrifyingly failed. As Cifuentes looks to build a team in his image, somebody between the sticks who can actually play a bit was a very obvious priority for this summer - along with better strikers.

Absolutely no surprise to see it’s the first thing they’ve moved to address this transfer window, and now in the pantheon of QPR goalkeepers from foreign climes we just pray this is more Jan Stejskal than Juergen Sommer.

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The Twitter @loftforwords, @greg_spires

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Myke added 11:59 - Jul 3
Clive you were full of praise for Joe Walsh in your Coventry match report. Why do you think that Marti feels he is not ready? Nardi is a bit of a gamble given his recent injury problems and bound to be on a decent wage that may have been better utilised elsewhere. Also do you think Walsh would benefit from going out on loan now or do you expect him to be number 2 for the season?
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Northernr added 15:30 - Jul 4
I was impressed with Walsh at Coventry, though how much that was just noticing what a difference it made having a front foot goalkeeper after eight months of Begovic I don't know. Either way, he's played 17 games of senior professional football in his life, it would be a hell of a punt to hand him the gloves and say go on then you're our first choice keeper for 48 games of Championship.
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Myke added 16:59 - Jul 4
So not ready, fair enough. But he is not going to become more experienced sitting on the bench and playing (2) cup games. Yet sending him out on loan creates problems should Nardi get injured. Bit of a dilemma for Marti and co
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Northernr added 20:10 - Jul 4
Yeh, it's about balance isn't it. Doesn't help really that the 1-2-3 month loans are gone now, and you have to loan out for half a season or not at all (albeit goalkeeper emergency loans are a thing).

I'd personally like to see Walsh play League Cup at Cambridge, hopefully round two (lol) before the end of August, then go out on loan. One thing that really doesn't help our goalkeeper development is just how few cup ties we play.

The other two are capable of bench sitting. If Nardi does get injured... well sht happens.
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Loft1979 added 22:27 - Jul 10
In my view, I can see Walsh getting a realistic look as a #1, spelling Nardi when necessary. My question is will we have a #3 keeper (experienced) to back Walsh and Nardi in case of injury etc.
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