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Santos, Morrison double dip again highlights new direction – Signing
Monday, 8th Jul 2024 17:42 by Clive Whittingham and Greg Spires

On Friday, long after the deals had been tied up, QPR finally got round to announcing the arrivals of Hevertton Santos and Liam Morrison to bolster Marti Cifuentes’ squad ahead of the new season.

Facts

Hevertton Santos is a 23-year-old from São Mateus in Brazil (boobs, beach volleyball, boobs) who can play anywhere up the right side of the team. Ostensibly a right back, he was used as a high, right sided attacker in Marti Cifuentes’ system during the second half of the first friendly of the summer on Friday afternoon.

Rather aptly, he joins QPR from Estrela da Amadora in Portugal. Having helped them win promotion via the play-offs he then played one full season in the Portuguese top flight and helped guide them to safety in fourteenth, three places north of the relegation zone. He made 23 starts and six sub appearances in the Primeira Liga.

Santos, whose family moved to Portugal when he was young, was picked up out of the youth system at Libson-based CIF by nearby giants Sporting Lisbon where he progressed through their academy as far as making 34 appearances and scoring two goals for their B Team between 2020 and 2022.

Liam Morrison is a 21-year-old centre back from Scotland (haggis, cholesterol, Lorraine Kelly) who arrives at QPR through the eclectic route of Bayern Munich via Wigan.

As a junior he was an unusual example of somebody who played for both Rangers and Celtic. While at the latter, the analytics bods over in Germany caught onto him and after a prolonged chase by Hoffenheim he was eventually pinched by Bayern Munich before Celtic could tie him down to fully professional terms. He was capped by Scotland at U16, U17, U19 and U21 level.

Named in The Guardian’s countdown of the 60-best youth prospects in world football in 2019, he captained Scotland at U21 level and played regularly for Bayern’s B Team. He spent last season on loan at League One Wigan, making 26 starts and nine sub appearances, with goals against Carlisle at home in the league and Stockport at home in the FL Trophy.

You mere peasants are not permitted to know if a transfer fee has been paid for Morrison, let alone how much it might be, nor how long either contract is. But do keep rolling up and buying replica shirts please.

Analysis @Greg_Spires

Hevertton Santos…

Hevertton Santos joins the R’s after spell at CF Estrela in the Portuguese top flight and the 23 year old will provide some strong competition at right-back for QPR. The Brazilian played as a RM in a 3-5-2 or RCB in the back three, a role he is unlikely to be tasked with playing under Cifuentes. With this in mind, let’s investigate what he’s like as a player and what to expect from our latest addition…

Attacking & In-Possession

Hevertton is a player that will hug the touchline, when deployed at full-back, which provides all sorts of creative attacking shapes & combinations. In the modern football manager’s arsenal it’s integral to have the ability to create overloads and numerical advantages in certain areas of the pitch. Hevertton allows QPR to do that by maintaining width and getting high, drawing in wide midfielders and creating space elsewhere. Chris Willock, sign the contract and you’ll be feasting in the half-spaces and central areas all season.


An example of how QPR usually set up when the ball is with Chair on the left-flank, alongside one showing how Hevertton can keep the width & Willock, or his replacement, can occupy more central areas and draw in the opposition’s LCB, LB and CM.


Would you like to cut inside, son? No father, only wing. Hevertton’s heatmap showcasing his ability to hug the touchline and maintain width in attacking shape.

His ability to stay wide and high up the pitch saw him enjoy freedom on the right-hand side, giving him time to make good decisions about whether to cross, dribble, pass etc. He had success with a few low crosses last season, forcing a defender to turn into his own net and netting himself two assists too. He showed good control of his body & was well-balanced when he struck his crosses, allowing him to hit the ball with pace and accuracy the majority of the time.

I’d expect his attacking qualities to be at the forefront of Cifuentes’ plans and will certainly focus on the width he can provide and what that would allow Willock (or whomever is playing RM) to do in terms of combination play & creating triangles in the final third. If stats are your thing, then he produced 0.9 xG and 3.1 xA (expected assists) this season, yet registered zero goals and one assist. The attacking potential seems to be there, however I think a new manager with some fresh ideas might be able to unlock some more of that and help him realise his potential – it’s certainly a way of justifying his signing anyway.

Defending & Physicality

From what I could tell by watching his highlights, he’s not the strongest defender. There were several occasions where he was caught out positionally when in defensive transition and was several yards behind the play as the opposition scored – however, I’ll refer you back to the fact he played RM in a 3-5-2 if you want to let off the new lad. He lacked an obvious hustle and desire to get back and defend at times & his record for being substituted between 45 and 75 minutes is a little worrying.

Furthermore, his ability to be effective aerially was a concern. There were several occasions where he was beaten in the air and looked like he barely broke sweat in the process. CF Estrela deployed an incredibly ineffective zonal marking system which made Hevertton look positionally lost & doesn’t help us get a really clear picture of how good he is aerially in his own box.

On the positive side, he is quick to get his body position set and is able to adjust quickly and be reactive when in a 1v1 situation, showing good acceleration and agility to keep up with attackers. I wish he showed a bit more of this agility & ability to react quickly when defending the box aerially, but we can’t have it all (and if Hevertton did, he’d be nowhere near W12 as we always say).

He was substituted off an awful lot between the 46th and 75th minute and there were some comments from CF Estrela fans (in and amongst all the QPR fans pestering them about his ability) that he gets burnt out quickly. Fingers crossed that the staff at the club can build his stamina and physicality up because he’ll certainly need it in a brutal 46 game Championship season.

In conclusion, he’s a young wing-back with relatively few first team appearances at a competitive level similar to the Championship. However, it feels low-risk on a free transfer and provides good competition with Dunne & Cannon – especially with Hevertton offering a new profile into that mix of RB options.

Liam Morrison

Morrison has the exact profile that I would’ve wanted QPR to sign this summer. Under 23, central defender, leadership potential, low transfer fee/financial commitment, technically strong. While it looks great on paper, let’s dig into him a little more as a player…

Defending

Morrison has strong defensive instincts, often looking to get into the optimal position within the box to cover crosses or block the most direct route to goal. He dropped back to defend the line on several occasions too, making some important defensive blocks. He showed bravery at times, looking to go towards the danger and try to put his tall frame in the way of shots. Additionally, Morrison looked excellent when defending 1v1 as he’s superb at readjusting his positioning, changing direction in order to match the direction of the shot/cross. He regularly jockeys and maintains a side on position to allow him to press off and cut off passes, win headers or track back if required.

He showed great anticipation and reaction to be able to recover in defensive transitions and make sure he was positioned well to intercept crosses into the centre of the box. Having spent time at clubs like Celtic & Bayern Munich, he’s bound to have had exceptional coaching in defensive positioning that have built up his sub-conscious and instincts.

Physicality & Mentality

Morrison isn’t a bulky, physical defender but on many occasions, he had the height and sturdiness to move attackers around and win duels in the air. The young Scot likes to get physical with attackers, which plays to his strengths of being able to force them backwards & away from goal.

Morrison isn’t blessed with pace and lacked the explosiveness and spring to get up and win some headers, example given below vs Derby. He shows the ability to adjust his body position but cannot burst into space or spring out to get ahead of attackers to a high level. Don’t expect him to covering wide areas and be catching up with runners in-behind, but his other qualities are clear to see and even watching him, you can tell that his time at Wigan and his pairing with Charlie Hughes played to his strengths.

While he lacks the straight-line speed and ability to keep pace with the quickest attackers in the league, he still showcased great leadership and communication at the back. Plenty of gesticulating and talking with Hughes and his other defenders allowed them to play out of the press at times and also stay nice and compact when under pressure. Having captained Scotland’s youth teams on several occasions, it’s clear to see that he’s being earmarked as a mentee to Steve Cook.

In-Possession

There were a few instances where Morrison showed his comfort in bringing the ball out from the back when invited into the space further forwards. He got his head up nicely and threaded some nice passes into feet of midfielders or into space behind opposition defenders too. His range of passing looked relatively limited, although anyone who was playing alongside Charlie Hughes would struggle to have the most impressive passing range.

Composure on the ball is an absolute must for modern players and thankfully, his football education & experience has given Morrison this quality. He looked level-headed and was consistently looking up the pitch in hope of picking out a pass to feet, showcasing why QPR were keen to sign him as it’s a skill that’s highly beneficial, if not essential, under Martí Cifuentes. The young defender looked comfortable playing short passes and was more than capable of passing & receiving off both feet, although his right foot is his preferred one.

Future proofing at the centre-back position, with a player who has a relatively high technical & defensive ability already, ticks a lot of boxes for me. Hopefully he can continue to develop and learn from JCS and Steve Cook this year and continue to develop into a quality player at this level. His potential is definitely there and, for the first time in a long time, I feel that Rangers have the personnel & resources to get the best out of young talent.

Reaction

“This is a very historical club with a huge story. I am really excited to be with the fans at Loftus Road and to feel their passion. I like this type of challenge. Life is made of opportunities and this is a big one for me. I like to be active on the attacks, I like to do assists and goals, create plays for the team. I have pace, and in defence I am strong in the duels and one-v-ones. I enjoy both sides of the game. In modern football, you have to be complete and that is what I am looking to be - that complete player. It was always my dream to play in England because I love the way you think about football here, the way you play football here. When you compare with other countries, it is like another sport.” -Hevertton Santos

“I’m delighted. It has been something that has been in the works for the last couple of weeks and I am really looking forward to getting started. League One is also a demanding league, a very physical league. There are a lot of games, like the Championship. I know the Championship is a step up but I am confident I will be able to handle that step. The way QPR are aiming to progress in the future is something that suits me and the way they love to play football is also my style of football, so for me to take the next step in my career, this was a no brainer. I am a typical, Scottish defender – you throw your body in front of the ball to make sure it doesn’t go in the goal. I am comfortable with the ball at my feet, a lot of my game is about playing out from the back, and I have good leadership qualities so hopefully I can bring that to the team.” -Liam Morrison

Context

Since Queens Park Rangers torched its most recent, and potentially last ever, chance to re-establish itself as a Premier League club, how signings are identified and made, and by whom, has been at the forefront of mind for the older, more world-weary demographic among its support.

That opportunity to become a big name in the British game once more was blown, not once but twice, by handing the keys to the safe and a blank cheque book over to a couple of notorious managers and associated hangers on then going all out for names the chairman knew from playing Fifa or collecting old sticker books. QPR’s ‘analytics’ stretched only as far as finding out who your agent was and how amenable he was to sharing the wealth around.

There will always be that social media-based group of support at any club for whom any signing is great news and something to get excited about, and the more signings you make the better you’re doing, and QPR certainly have their fair share of those. But for many, burned by oh so many Jose Bosingwa and Julio Cesar farces, exactly how we’re identifying players to spend our money on has become a matter of intrigue and no little angst.

The club said they’d learned their lesson after those ruinously heady early Tony Fernandes days. They brought in a much-needed director of football model, to oversee long term strategy and make sure that benevolent but idiotic ownership could not be led into spending £60,000 a week on Sandro because chancer manager thinks he’s a “triffic lad” ever again.

Nevertheless, under Les Ferdinand’s reign, the club still flip flopped all over the place in its recruitment. You went from trying to pick up European bargains for Chris Ramsey and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Borysiuk, Ngbakoto, Polter, Sylla) to letting Gary Penrice bring in Josh Scowen, David Wheeler and Luke Freeman types from the EFL. With Holloway actually successfully integrating a number of the club’s development prospects like Paul Smyth, Ryan Manning, Bright Osayi-Samuel and Ebere Eze, they then flopped again to Steve McClaren who was allowed to tear up the summer transfer plans at the last minute, lose the first four matches of the season including a seven goal humiliation at West Brom, and then get handed four big name loans to get him out of the shit. Mark Warburton did a very decent job of mopping up the mess that hurricane of piss left behind, but during his reign it was still a mix of signings identified by Andy Belk and the data and analytics department (Rob Dickie, Chris Willock, Andre Dozzell) and people like Dom Ball and Moses Odubajo who Warburton had worked with before and liked. That was the case again under Mick Beale, with disastrous consequences.

It’s been, frequently, incoherent. You’ve been able at any one time to run your finger down a squad list of 30 players on the back of the programme and pick out players who are here because Warburton liked them, because Beale liked them, because Ainsworth liked them, because Ramsey liked them, because Ferdinand liked them, and because Belk liked them. There are too many chefs here, and it’s spoiling the product.

So far this summer, I believe we’re three for three on Andy Belk/analytics-based signings. He, it appears to me, has been given the keys to the kingdom. CEO Christian Nourry has spoken about “building a next-generation football project” at QPR, driven by data, analytics and AI and not whose agent Gary Penrice knows. Nardi, Santos and Morrison are clearly and obviously names emerging from such a model. Danish midfielder Stefan Teitur Thordarson would have been four for four, although having beaten Derby to that signature it looks like we’ve now been gazumped ourselves by Preston who, for all their other failings, do often shop well in Scandi as well as Ireland. The sort of players and names beloved of the rapidly growing online analytics community of influencers – our own Greg Spires identified Thordarson in his run down of potential QPR signings for this summer.

As I’ve sat here banging on about ‘what manager wants manager gets doesn’t work at QPR’ for a long time, I’m pleased to see the club moving into the 21st century. And pursuing one, clear, coherent strategy, rather than veering about all over the road trying to keep everybody happy. I don’t see a future for us trying to outbid other clubs at our level for obvious targets when we don’t have parachute payments, and despite a depressed post-Covid market it’s difficult to see another way out of our situation other than selling a few players for big money. Morrison in particular looks like an absolute classic development prospect – first class schooling, reasonable amount of first team football already, loads of growth potential, playing in a position that tends to attract big money and interest if you get it right (the Brighton brainiacs love a big, ball-playing centre back).

It can potentially create tension with your manager though. As long as everybody is on the same page - understanding the manager is essentially the head coach to deal with whatever signings the number crunchers at the club pull from their OnlyBallers subscription - then you’re good to go. If he’s expecting/wanting to be able to make a few more Lucas Anderson type additions of his own, though, then you potentially run into the sort of problems that have occurred up at Sunderland where arguments and fractures occur, and it’s difficult to find managers who want to take the job on if they know they’re going to have no control over signings and be presented with a series of inexperienced players from Europe thrown out by an algorithm for a heavy duty Championship season. (QPR, of course, do fortunately have a solid base of experienced second tier pros to build around). Cifuentes arrived as a little-known manager from Scandi looking for an opportunity in the UK, but his stock has risen sharply since then, with plenty of heads turned by the televised demolition of Leeds (as the repeated summer links with Sunderland show). He's an ambitious guy with an active agent (as the occasional summer links with Burnley, whose star-fucker owners have likely never heard of him, show). So, it’s a relationship that will need careful managing if we are indeed going to be a strict ‘computer says no’ organisation from here on in.

On a different point, and without wishing to finish on a moan (oh, go on then) it’ll have to be explained to me what anybody gets out of hiding these two signings away until an hour before the first friendly, refusing to produce a squad list for a pre-season tour you’ve already locked the fans out of, carefully publishing pictures without them in (having to quickly delete ones where they’ve snuck into the background) and so on. Lack of international clearance may be the answer here and if so then fair enough, but everybody knows they’ve been here for weeks – Santos’ wife’s Instagram was pretty unequivocal, Morrison’s signing pictures were taken at bloody Heston for goodness sake. I said the refusal to reveal the contract lengths was being clever for clever’s sake – everybody in football can find out how long Paul Nardis’ contract is if they’re that desperate, they’ll just ring his agent – but I do at least see some tiny semblance of logic behind it. This… it just looks over-controlling to me. We’re in charge, you’re just the little people, you’ll know only what we want you to know, when we want you to know it.

The fans really stuck by this club, in remarkable numbers and good humour, over the last two years which were fucking dreadful by and large because the people running the club got recruitment and retention decisions appallingly wrong. Rewarding the supporters for that by going out of your way to hide as much information as you can about those decisions in future is poor. They should be going for more openness and transparency, not less.

Don’t burn off credit with supporters like this during your honeymoon period, you’ll need it later on when the club inevitably has one of its meltdowns.

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The Twitter @loftforwords, @greg_spires

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Myke added 23:07 - Jul 9
Cheers Greg, excellent analysis and just enough anecdotes and humour to keep an analytical phobic like me on side.
So basically Santos is a "modern' defender who can't actually (or want to) defend. You mention how his desire to hug the touchline would be a real benefit for Willock (if he's around) but with the latter's lack of interest in tracking back would that not leave us very exposed down our right flank? Would Marti not be better off deploying Santos as an out and out winger INSTEAD of Willock and putting either Dunne or Cannon behind him?
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Northernr added 07:20 - Jul 10
Well, yes, my suspicion is he'll play the Willock role on the right of the forwards, not as a right back where we've already got Dunne and Cannon. That's where he played in Friday's friendly as well.
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