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The Iceman goeth
The Iceman goeth
Monday, 6th Aug 2012 23:07 by Clive Whittingham

With a minimum of fuss and publicity, QPR last week allowed their top scorer for the 2011/12 season, Heidar Helguson, to join Championship side Cardiff City . LFW laments a lack of credit for the Icelandic striker's achievements at Loftus Road .

I can't imagine Cardiff City fans, already somewhat down in the dumps about their enforced switch to a red kit at the behest of a man on the other side of the world and reeling from yet another play-off disaster last season, are overly thrilled about their latest signing from Queens Park Rangers.

Sure, Heidar Helguson has a very decent record in English football with Watford and QPR, and he scored eight goals in the Premier League last season in a struggling team, but at 34 (nearly 35) it's hardly a signing that smacks of long term ambition. Indeed a trawl of the City forums quickly turned up one fan wishing they'd bought Jay Bothroyd from QPR instead, and another wondering why they'd allowed everybody's favourite pub footballer Jon Parkin to leave if Helguson was the limit of their ambition. Most seemed reasonably pleased but one called it an "awful" signing and another "pathetic."

And so the latest chapter in the saga of Heidar The Great Unappreciated Striker begins.

I'm sure the Icelandic target man is taking the lukewarm reception in South Wales in his stride, as he has done everything else through his career. After all, three years ago life didn't exactly start well for him at Loftus Road either.

The DVD extras for The Four Year Plan documentary feature a scene in Gianni Paladini's office that would be alarming for QPR fans if they weren't already oh so painfully aware of the way the club went about its business in those days and the results of that on the pitch. It's entitled 'The Striker' and it's a long scene from the cutting room floor of Paladini trying to add firepower to the QPR squad.

Now the method for such a quest at Loftus Road used to involve Ian Holloway getting out chief scout Mel Johnson's extra large file of players he'd been to see multiple times in various God forsaken reserve matches and picking one of his recommendations. Decent scouting is an amazing thing in football, and increasingly ignored by clubs who prefer to deal instead with favoured agents. Up in the North East Newcastle have climbed a division and qualified for Europe while vastly reducing their annual wage budget, acquiring what is now some of Europe's most sought after talent, and making a profit on transfer fees through the scouting operation run by Graham Carr. At QPR, Johnson's tireless trawling of the British motorways yielded previously unheralded stars for a cash strapped club, often in times of desperate need – Martin Rowlands, Lee Cook, Lee Camp, Danny Shittu and so on.

But presumably Paladini's opinion of scouts was much the same as his opinion of CEOs, which he expressed upon the ousting of Mark Devlin from that position: "freeloaders", "leaches."

In need of a striker for a team under the caretaker management of Gareth Ainsworth and shortly to be taken over by Paulo Sousa, Paladini picked up his mobile phone to his friends and contacts in the game. The stipulation was "desperate for a striker,” though this was later narrowed down slightly to "no, no he has to be fit." Thankfully Mel Johnson is still with us, or he'd have turned in his grave.

But in amongst the colossal amounts of tat that arrived at the club while Paladini was involved – some of which is only now being shifted on and almost none of which is having much luck finding another club as gullible as QPR – Rangers actually struck lucky in their quest for a 'striker who is fit'.

I've always had a soft spot for Heidar Helguson because prior to his signing I wrote a piece for LoftforWords detailing five strikers I felt we could sign who would make a difference to us, of which he was one. Well, I'm not right often so I've got to hark back to the rare successes when I can.

Luckily whoever Gianni was on the phone to thought Helguson was a "striker who is fit" as well. That wasn't quite the end of things though. Shortly after the confirmation that Sousa would be the manager the club announced it had agreed a loan deal with Bolton for Helguson and he was in line to make his debut that Saturday against his former club Watford. That Saturday at Vicarage Road Rangers were hammered 3-0 with Helguson nowhere to be seen.

Three days later Sousa took charge for the first time for a home match with Charlton in which Helguson played no part. In fact, Helguson hadn't signed at all and although the club remained silent on the issue they actually came very close to an embarrassing situation where a player QPR said they had signed on the Friday actually turned out against them for Charlton on the Tuesday. Luckily the deal with the Addicks never went through either, and Rangers were able to finally complete the signing at the end of the week – confirming as much with an interview on the official site recorded as if he'd been there all along.

An inauspicious start then and things would get worse before they got better. On debut, as a late substitute in a draw at Crystal Palace, Helguson was presented with the ball on the edge of the area by an uncharacteristic mistake from Eagles goalkeeper Julian Speroni who was left stranded away from his goal and had almost certainly cost his team the match in the final minute. Helguson sidefooted wide of the gaping target.

Rangers were in the midst of a run without a goal away from home that would eventually stretch to a record breaking 14 hours. After Damion Stewart's headed winner in the cup at Aston Villa the R's had travelled to Birmingham, Swansea, Reading , Ipswich, Manchester United, Watford and now Palace without scoring a goal. A week later they lost 1-0 at Sheffield Wednesday to extend the record still further – Martin Rowlands' penalty miss surpassed only in farce by Helguson's glaring horror from a yard out with the keeper laid flat on the floor.

Helguson rallied. He was superb in a home win against Preston, scoring twice, and netted that elusive away goal in a 1-1 draw at Plymouth. But his fitness was an issue, and he was in and out of the team. Sousa was eventually sacked after speaking to supporters outside the ground about the club singing the Icelandic striker and winger Lee Cook despite concerns about their knees. A year later, with Flavio Briatore's grand plan for QPR falling apart around his ears and a team managed by Mick Harford facing relegation to League One, the R's took to the field for a 1-0 defeat at bottom placed Peterborough with a strike force of Marcus Bent and Tamas Priskin who were both on loan. Helguson was thought of so highly by Rangers at this time they had loaned him out to Watford, one of their relegation rivals.

Nobody seemed that bothered by that. There were occasional mumblings of discontent whenever he scored for Watford – which he did 11 times in 2009/10, which would have made him QPR's top scorer of the season – but by and large the QPR fans didn’t rate him, didn't think he was fit enough, and weren't that sorry to see him loaned out. A stupidly small number of people questioned the logic of having a striker of that quality at Vicarage Road while we pissed around with Tamas Priskin.

Then Neil Warnock arrived.

Neil Warnock likes strikers. His judgement is often hit and miss – for every Jamie Mackie there's a Leon Clarke – but he likes strikers, he likes to have lots of them, and he enjoys signing them. Given the rack and stack nature of the way he put his Sheffield United attack together it's no surprise to know that he had tried to sign Helguson before, but it was still a fairly certain indication that the barrel chested forward wouldn't be spending 2010/11 on loan at Watford.

Helguson was magnificent for QPR in their promotion season. Again he lived up to his reputation of being underappreciated – with the plaudits mainly going the way of Paddy Kenny and Adel Taarabt – but Helguson was just as key to that title winning team as anybody else. There was much talk of the work of Shaun Derry behind Taarabt, clearing up the Moroccan's various tangles and keeping him in check, but, on the other side of Adel, Heidar was taking the brunt of the centre back abuse away from him. His hold up and lay game was second to none in the division and his ability to bring a ball down and use it intelligently to bring others into play was outstanding. The defenders couldn't leave Helguson alone, and couldn't defeat his muscular presence in 50/50 (or even 30/70) competitions so he was able to constantly get the ball under control in dangerous areas and then feed strike players like Taarabt and Wayne Routledge to do the damage. For good measure, Helguson scored 12 times for Rangers and twice for Iceland that campaign with a thumping header in a 3-0 win at Middlesbrough particularly memorable. His penalty technique terrified supporters, but never faltered.

He then became the victim of a series of mistakes made by Neil Warnock upon promotion. Admittedly working under impossible conditions thanks to Flavio Briatore's return to the forefront of the club's boardroom activity, Warnock was far too quick to abandon the players that had worked so hard to get the club promoted. Kaspars Gorkss was replaced by Danny Gabbidon, Adel Taarabt was soon left out altogether, and Helguson found his place taken by Jay Bothroyd.

To the Cardiff fan who asks if they wouldn't be better off signing Bothroyd instead of Helguson I say no. Unless, that is, you're into your club signing vastly inferior players both in ability and attitude.

He came back into the team at the beginning of October for a home match with Blackburn and gave QPR the lead after 15 minutes with a well flighted chip. Even then he hadn’t been scheduled to play and only got the nod late in the day when DJ Campbell, who had been slated to start, pulled up injured. He didn't look back though, following the Blackburn goal with a brace that included another bullet header in a 3-2 win at Stoke and a famous penalty winner at home to Chelsea . By January, when he rescued an undeserved FA Cup replay from a disastrous outing at MK Dons, his tally stood at nine.

Sadly it didn't move from there, derailed prematurely by injury. Helguson, sadly, always has had a knack of picking up a short term injury and turning it into a long term problem – it's always a strain or a pull or a small tear, it's always initially diagnosed as a month-long problem at most, and it's not unusual not to see him again for three times that length of time or more.

That's a trait, among many others, he shares with Paul Furlong – another striker who endured difficult early days at QPR before winning the fans over in a blaze of glory. Ian Holloway described Furlong as a Rolls Royce centre forward – beautiful, graceful, stylish – and Helguson has been exactly the same for Rangers when given the chance.

The decision to allow him to leave this summer makes sense. Helguson, at 34, was never going to be ahead of the likes of Djibril Cisse, Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora in the QPR pecking order and won't want to spend his final months as a professional knocking around with our reserve team. But his importance to QPR since he arrived here should be underestimated no longer. He overcame fitness problems, advancing years, a farcical managerial merry-go-round and more besides to lead our promotion side and then score the goals that kept us in the Premier League. He did it all in the same classy style, with the same fixed facial expression.

Heidar Helguson is a damn fine player, and it’s no surprise to see the best manager outside the Premier League ignoring his age and snapping him up.

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loftboy added 23:24 - Aug 6
The best target man I have seen at Rangers for years, and a thoroughly nice person as well. Good luck HH

Cornish_oooRRRR added 23:38 - Aug 6
You would think he was 6'6 the way he dominates in the air. And there'll always be that penalty against our lovely neighbours.

Thanks HH

SomersetHoops added 23:49 - Aug 6
Clive, Its not often I agree with every word of anything, but this is spot-on. I wish HH the best of luck and freedom from injury QPR have a lot to thank him for.

MelakaRanger added 00:08 - Aug 7
Good luck to HH in the twilight of his career and thanks for his invaluable goals these past two years.


lebonj_ccfc added 00:23 - Aug 7
Cardiff City fan here. Personally I think it's a cracking signing for us, much rather him over Bothroyd.

Have a good season lads. All the best.

qprmick added 01:09 - Aug 7
Thanks lebonj. If Heidar can play eve 50% of your games you will be right in the hunt for promotion. Much better than Bothroyd. A good player we owe him a lot and I wish him all the best for the rest of his career.
Good luck to you lebonj, may you have an enjoyable season.

Roller added 06:32 - Aug 7
Great piece as ever Clive.

Heidar’s elevation from the player that most of us would have driven to the airport to the player we were all praying was fit was remarkable. He somehow seemed to raise his game in the top flight, many Premier League central defenders will be sleeping a little easier as they won’t be continually beaten in the air by a player significantly shorter than them.

Personally I’d have loved to see him play with Cisse, but with his age and increasing recovery time from injury counting against him it is hard to argue against him leaving. I think we will miss him off the field as well as on the field, others players at the club would do well to copy his thoroughly professional attitude.

Thanks Heidar and good luck.

silky added 07:27 - Aug 7
I would like to add to whats been said already, HH was an outstanding player, and extremely underrated, I'll will really miss him, but he is getting on a bit and the Injuries as Clive rightly said takes its toll on him, but when we needed that little bit of sparkle in what was a dire time before the promotion season HH was on hand to deliver when needed.
Great servant under all that crap from the old board and countless managers, The very best of luck to him and wish him all the best.

Thanks HH

JB007007 added 07:41 - Aug 7
Great tribute Clive.
Heidar's ability to time his leaps and hang in the air is awesome. He gets battered every game, gives it back cleverly and never rolls around like some Drogba woofda. The game that I will always remember him with was Stoke away last season. The guy practically smashed hs cheek bone apart after a couple of minutes, got up and scored two fabulous goals to win that game.

rodneeranger added 07:51 - Aug 7
A perfect write-up. The year before our Championship triumph, he was awful. So many open goals missed. Yet we didn't offload him and thank The Lord we didn't. Since that 'annus horribilus' he has been a great servant for QPR and I wish him all the best at Cardiff. Maybe past his best for the Premier now (age and injuries), but will do a great job I'm sure in the Championship.

AgedR added 07:51 - Aug 7
I really don't think I can remember him losing a header last season. So many times he had me shouting "go on Heider!" in admiration of another challenge won.

The jury is out on whether Zamora is a higher class replacement, I certainly saw enough quality from him at Fulham to think it possible. But, of all the recent departures, I think it's HH I'll miss the most.

Good luck Iceman and thanks.

hoops_legend added 07:54 - Aug 7
To me there have been 3 incidents with HH that really typify his approach to the game:

1) That header against palace - he had no right to get his head to that ball. It was too high for him however he planted an inch perfect header just before speroni got his hands on the ball

2) The aston villa own goal - when he came on for us vs villa, people were moaning but his great attitude meant he got to that ball, put in a dangerous cross and secured us a draw! Brilliant

3) The mk goal - never before (aside from all our previous fa cup games) have I seen such a spinless performance by qpr, faurlin also breaks down and warnock looks like he's getting the sack.. Untill HH comes in and scores a goal which never looked like happening with macheda on ( a player half his age!)

And then we have that touch of class to throw in as well with the chip vs burnley. The most sexaul goal of qprs camaign last season (alongside a number of taarabts and also routledge)

Neil_SI added 08:22 - Aug 7
I've always liked him, way before he signed for QPR. A good solid player, who is not an out and out goal scorer, but can certainly chip in with the goals when needed and is never scared to keep putting himself in the mix.

Never phased by misses - an important trait, but his all round play was excellent and his experience vast. The perfect example to any youngster in learning how to play to your strengths and there aren't too many out there in his mould, especially at this level.

A fine servant to the club too - thank you and good luck!

ozexile added 08:41 - Aug 7
Wonderful article. Be nice to think he might get a chance to read it to know how appreciated he was.

QPRski added 08:55 - Aug 7
HH really won me over with his style of play, effectiveness and goals.
But I still have a heart attack when I think of his ice cool penalty sytle.

He was truely understated performer and was a great servant to the club.

Thanks for all your goals and assists. You played a massive part in our promotion and in our survival last season. Very much appreciated.

KevinPR added 09:01 - Aug 7
That last minute goal against Palarse is his most memorable for me. Summed him up.

boobishabang added 09:24 - Aug 7
Last season at Stoke he was a different class, got absolutely thrashed by Huth and the meatheads, with his bruised face after an early knee he still dominated in the air and scored a bullet header, HH you sir were a different class, good luck.

TacticalR added 10:37 - Aug 7
Thanks for your review of Helguson's time at QPR. He's another of our players who it's been easy to underestimate. At one point, when he went back to Watford it looked like he would be one of those players that played well for Watford, but would just never play well for QPR. But gradually he made his mark.

He was like a boxer who seemed over the hill, only able to take a lot of punishment, but then would suddenly show his class by delivering a knockout blow against his opponent.

As JB007007 said his prodigious leaps and ability to hang in the air were incredible.

As he showed against Chelsea, he knew when to go down in the penalty area, and scored the resultant penalty in that cauldron of a match.

Another one of the heroes who got us up to the Premiership and helped us stay there.

QPunkR added 10:56 - Aug 7
He was a mixture of Sir Les for his massive leap and Kevin Gallen for his lay-offs, along with an excellent, excellent penalty style which as said above scared the hell out of any QPR fan!

You won me over Heidar, a good servant to QPR. Best of luck Iceman

robith added 11:13 - Aug 7
Agree wholeheartedly.

While it's probably the best decision to let him go, both in the promotion season and last year he was absolutely wonderful for us.

Last year especially - he was a rare picture of spine in those early days when all Warnocks "proven" Premiership players ran out of bluster post takeover.

I'm not surprised by his penchant for injury - the punishment that guy takes every game. Quite something when you compare most Prem striker rolling around in faux agony.

All the best Heidar, and thanks for some wonderful memories

newgolddream added 15:47 - Aug 7
All the best Heidar and thanks for the memories and ending Chelsea's league title hopes last October.

BrianMcCarthy added 17:10 - Aug 7
Clive, I think that's the finest piece you've written. You got the facts right, but you also got the essence of the man.

A fitting tribute to one of the best players in our recent history.

quickpassrotter added 23:10 - Aug 7
Great piece Clive. Always was praying that he was on the team sheet over the past 2 seasons - with all the injuries and that. What a player - great intelligence, really brave - and knew how to bring everyone in to play. I think that all those hard earned caps playing alone upfront on his own for one of the minnows as Iceland are at international level honed his game. He came up against a lot of classy international defenders at that level and gave them all a tough time. A bloody nightmare for any defender - with the perfect attitude. A nice Iceman with an unnerving hardness on the pitch. He will be missed - thanks Heidar, I'm sure that you will do the business in south Wales. Good luck to you.

tribalr added 16:51 - Aug 8
Possibly QPRs best ever penalty taker.

BQPR added 15:15 - Aug 9
HH deserves every glowing tribute. Sad to see him go.

His leap and 'hang' were prodigious. Tough as nails, he frustrated much bigger opponents who couldn't deal with him.

Stoke away is a great memory - nearly decapitated by Huth in the first 5 minutes, he went on to score 2 goals, one a spectacular bullet header from distance in to the top corner.

Another favourite memory - Barnsley away in the Championship promotion season. Stereotypical Tuesday night up north. Barnsley player on the halfway touchline. Heidar charges in for the ball but is blocked. HH literally goes flying head-first in to the dugout, completely disappearing from view. Damn, he must be seriously injured. A few seconds later Heidar emerges, brushing himself down, blood running down his legs, and calmly gets on with the game.

What an admirable professional.

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