Warbs talks lockdown form, signings, contracts and defence – Interview
Wednesday, 9th Sep 2020 09:56 by Clive Whittingham
LFW sat down with first team manager Mark Warburton on Tuesday to look ahead to the new season, with chat about new signings, out of contract players, our form so far in lockdown, and the ongoing issues with the defence.
LFW has been conducting written interviews with figures from QPR’s past and present for 16 years and publishing them free-to-view. This year, in addition for the first time, we’re also making the audio from these interviews available to all three tiers of our Patreon subscribers as podcasts as a thank you for your support. Listen to the interview via our Patreon by clicking here or read it for free below…
First question, how’s the knee? Has the curse of the ACL struck QPR once again?
Knee is getting there. It was a replacement so quite a big operation but I’m being looked after by the medical team. Two ACLs from many years ago reaping their havoc now but had the operation six weeks ago, trying to find the right time to do it. I’m in good hands with the medical team here.
Last time we started a season with a manager on crutches we got promoted so it might be an omen.
Hopefully a good sign. Let’s see where we are in May.
Second question, how’s Lyndon Dykes? We saw him score last night for Scotland which is great, but also come off injured which is less so…
He’s ok. It was an impact. We spoke to him last night. The medical team will get straight in touch with the player and talk to them, they liaised with the Scottish medical team. All of this goes on and fans are probably unaware of the level of communication that goes on. He’s fine. He’ll be back with us and with confidence very high given the way he performed in both games.
So ok for Saturday?
When you look back at your first season as QPR manager do you see it as a success or a failure?
In a non-arrogant way I think it was a positive. We were one of the favourites for relegation, I heard from everyone we were going to go down. We had one of the smaller budgets, we lost a lot of players on higher wages, we had a huge turnover with 14 out and 15 in or vice versa. We had to take risks, we had no strikers at one stage and had to move very quickly. All of that, and I’m very keen on how we play so staff getting used to how I want things and me getting used to how they work – I know John Eustace very well and Neil Banfield, but it’s new ideas, new philosophies. All of these things going on and we had to play a style of football that fans enjoy watching. I’m acutely aware that fans on a Saturday afternoon have a choice – they can go to rugby, football, take their kids here, do something on the iPad, they can do whatever they want to do. For them to come and support their team, which is very expensive, you’ve got to make sure they enjoy doing it. We’ll have good days and not so good days but I hope very much that that side of it was positive.
What pleased you most?
The way young players took on board new ideas. The way senior players bedded in with the younger players and the impact they had – the likes of Angel, Geoff, Pughey, Lee Wallace. Some were playing, some were injured and not playing, but the impact they had on the young players was really positive. The togetherness was really good and the young players dealing with the Championship. I hear comments about team performance… the Championship is a ruthless division and if you’re slightly below your best or you’re missing one or two players, or young players have an off day, you can get so badly hurt so very easily. They bought into a number of new ideas and embraced those ideas as well.
What were the bigger disappointments?
That we conceded too many goals - soft goals that were avoidable. I’ve never got a problem if you’re playing a Barcelona team and they come and rip you apart and score a wonderful goal that you have to applaud. But too many times we were masters of our own downfall. Cardiff away, we were excellent for 95% of the game: 27 chances, 75% of the possession, their captain saying we’re the best team they’ve seen there for a couple of years, and we lose 3-0 to two set piece goals, which we knew about.
Physically, and taking it further financially, if you’re looking at the 6ft 3in guy in the centre of midfield who can do a, b and c then he’s great, I’d love him, but he’s on £70,000 a week in the Premier League somewhere. You’re going to have deficiencies in certain areas, with all the players and staff, because of financial restrictions. So if we go for that skill factor, to move the ball and create chances, we might have to accept the fact that when we play certain teams the physicality aspect is very high. Cardiff was a prime example. Bristol City at home, Diedhiou scores a ninth minute goal with his head, then we batter them for 81 minutes, hit every part of the woodwork, and didn’t score. It reads 1-0 home defeat. That ruthless side, and not giving away soft goals, was a bugbear and one we have to work on and keep working on to improve.
Expectations were low at the start of the season and by those expectations we did well. When you look back with hindsight, given we had Nahki Wells, Jordan Hugill who are good strikers, Ebere Eze a once in a lifetime type player, could we have done better?
I think after the lockdown we were coming back in on a run unbeaten in six. Everybody said it’s an easy run in and I said at the time there’s no easy games, the fact we’re playing teams below us means they’re fighting for their lives. I think we let ourselves down post lockdown for four or five games and that for me was not dealing with the empty stadiums. It wasn’t a game of football. We went to Charlton and we’re changing in a bar at the top of the stand, going down four flights of stairs in studs, trying to wind our way through a corridor to find a training area… it just wasn’t football and we didn’t deal with it well. Other teams dealt with it better. A goal goes in and there’s no sound. It was bizarre. It’s not the game we love. But we let ourselves down for those four or five games when we could have easily have pushed on into the top half of the table.
Some teams did well in lockdown, Barnsley for example, and others didn’t, Birmingham were every bit as bad as we were. Have you sat back and considered why we were so bad in lockdown? You mention empty stadiums but everybody played in empty stadiums…
Yes, but everybody is different. We beat Leeds at home 1-0 and other teams get smashed by Leeds, you could dissect every single result. Fans jump on the fact we were awful but we finished thirteenth, you expected us to finish where? The empty stadiums are surreal. You see managers who usually wear collar and tie sitting in shorts and flip flops. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t the game we know. The preparation was so difficult. The players had to turn up here and have Covid tests, no breakfast, no showers. The whole thing was park football but with an elite professional outcome and we didn’t deal with it. I wouldn’t blame the players, it was hard for everybody and that was one thing we found particularly difficult. Then we go to West Brom, pick up a draw, do what we do and finish the season strongly. The players deserve credit for that and have to learn from it because we’re going to play in empty stadiums now for at least the next few weeks. It was a difficult few weeks that’s for sure.
What did you learn from it, because we’re coming back to empty stadiums now why won’t it happen again?
Who knows, we’ll find out in a few weeks’ time. More and more things are getting back to normal, like a pre-match meal and things you can and can’t do. We can use the analysis room for half the squad now for the first time since March. You may not think that’s important but it is it’s where we analyse games and prepare for games. Again, players were doing analysis on a screen outside in the sunshine squinting to try and see important information. Things are starting to come back. We can have lunch together now with social distancing, it’s not ideal but starting to get back towards normality. Some teams have found it equally as hard, there were some bizarre results after lockdown all over the top and bottom of the league, I think many teams struggled with it.
It was a unique situation which you could never have anticipated, you did what you thought was best at the time. Now with the benefit of that experience if it did happen again what would you do differently?
I don’t know, I can’t comment on that. We use the word unprecedented, but then we start going ‘could have done this, should have done this’. It was unprecedented. You can’t use that adjective if you don’t believe in it. The fact is we had no idea what was going on. We didn’t know if the league was going to finish. Some leagues didn’t finish. All of this uncertainty. Then you come back and people are discussing player transfer values – we had players like Ebere and Brighty with all the talk and chatter, supposed targets we were looking at. All of this uncertainty, nobody really knew what was going on. Hindsight is a marvellous thing. We worked hard, we trained hard, our data was good.
We lost 3-2 on Saturday at Plymouth. We created numerous chances and ran more than in any game last season. Some will say ‘we got beat again’, but we covered more distance than in any Championship game last season, by a fair distance. Players are working hard and there’s chance creation, but put the ball in the back of the net. We say it after games numerous times but that’s the art, that’s what players get paid big money for. As long as we are creating chances as a team we’ll be ok. What we have to do is make sure we have a ruthless, clinical edge to get the rewards for good play. If we can keep on creating good chances we’ll be ok.
You and Lee Hoos came out very strongly against the return date which only gave you three weeks to prepare. Why were you angry about it and why did you decide to go public with that anger?
Think of the first few questions you’ve asked – why didn’t we do better after lockdown? Why didn’t we do this? Why didn’t we do that? You’re asking professional athletes who are being taken out of their normal training environment to run on roads, use body weights at home, try and find a bike from somewhere, try and maintain fitness as best you possibly can. The players came back in and, all credit to them, I think every club in the league reported better running stats than when they left in March. But running stats are not football stats. The football team environment they train in, like today working hard as a team unit, you cannot replicate that. You’re saying ‘the fans are desperate for football to come back’, ‘the Championship is back’ all over Sky and the rest of it, but the boys have only had three weeks of preparation.
QPR financially have got one of the smallest budgets, we cannot carry 28-30-35 players. Look at some of the other teams and the players they carry. If, after three weeks we try and get fit and lose two or three players then we’re screwed. Your first question was ‘how’s Lyndon?’ If he wasn’t well, thankfully he is, but if he wasn’t then what do I do? We can’t afford to go and buy two or three centre forwards. I look at the embarrassment of riches of some teams, that’s not feeling sorry for ourselves, but the fact is that’s the world we live in. Some teams can have a budget of x, and QPR have been in that position, five or six years ago of having players on £xk a week. We’re not in that position at the moment. A lot of work is being done by Lee and the team to get the club on a firm, healthy, financial footing for the foreseeable future. It’s not a problem, we deal with it, but we can’t carry those players. So if you give us three weeks to get fit and we lose two or three to injury…
We got George Thomas. You saw George against Wimbledon, plays well, tweaks a quad, ten days. Here’s me sweating if he’s available for selection at the weekend, to get him back into the group to train because he can’t just come from two weeks out and go straight onto the bench. If we lose players we’re struggling, and we’re playing really young guys. People love seeing the young guys thrown in, but you don’t go from U18 football to playing this. Look at Forest our opponents this weekend for example, and the quality in the ranks that they’ve got. Young Ody, Joe Gubbins, Faysal is a bit older and has done great, they’re young and it’s invaluable experience, but the Championship is a level. If we lose a player, who are we putting in? Three weeks, for us, we wanted them to give the players a chance to get fit. At least get some levels so our fans can watch our team perform at the right level of performance.
By going public with that anger about the restart did it come across as defeatist or giving the players an excuse?
Far from it. We don’t give our players excuses. Anybody who knows how we work knows that’s the last thing we talk about. The fact is you have to defend your players as well. You’re asking them to come back here and get fit to perform in three weeks. The only gift they gave us was saying ‘we’ll cancel the first Wednesday game so you can go Saturday-Saturday first week’, then after that it’s bang, bang, bang, bang. You’re asking them to come back, play a game every three days, after three weeks of training, having been out for 11 or 12 weeks. What are we doing? What are we doing here? That’s why we felt strongly about it and if we do feel strongly about it why should we be quiet? Why shouldn’t we come out and say what we think as a club because we want to defend our players and also defend the good of the game? After 10-12 weeks of no football you want the best level of football possible for the fans to enjoy. If you’ve got players who are not fit or carrying an injury, it’s not right.
Lyndon Dykes is obviously the headline acquisition, what do you like about him?
He’s a player we were very well aware of in Scotland. I like the fact he’s had no academy education so he’s raw. I think five years ago he was playing for the Queensland Surfers or something…
Surfers Paradise Apollo. We’re all applying for season tickets.
No disrespect but it’s not the Championship, Scottish football or international football. I like the fact that he’s hungry, he’s come on very quickly, he’s embraced new ideas. He’s hungry to learn, really hungry to learn, there’s so much more to come from him. If you speak to Steve Clarke and the team he’s been the same with the Scotland squad as he’s been at QPR, he arrived and within 24 hours it feels like he’s been here for ages and everybody likes him. His personality is laid back but committed, he works so tirelessly as I’m sure the QPR fans will see. Like all strikers he’ll have good days and not so good days but I think he’s got a really, really bright future.
Is he similar to Jordan Hugill or will we have to change slightly?
Yes and no. Different type of player. Physically, yes, they run tirelessly, they work channels, their link play is good, but every player is different. I hope very much the QPR fans will enjoy how Lyndon Dykes performs for the team and gets better over the coming weeks and months, and what value he can bring to the club on and off the pitch.
There’s a lot of talk and mystique about how QPR identify signings and go about making them, can we take Lyndon as a specific example. How long has he been on the radar, who sees him first, how many times do we see him…
We have a contact in Scotland who called. I immediately made Les and the team aware and we started doing our work. I’m sitting there with the knee elevated in a bag of ice looking at the player on Wyscout. Everybody, the recruitment guys, Les, will be watching players but we don’t just go ‘what about him? What about him?’ Do your homework first. Make sure you do due diligence. With Lyndon we could see a really hungry player. I learnt many things from the Brentford owner, mathematically, and he always spoke about players who are performing well in the underperforming teams. Respectfully, he was scoring goals at one of the smaller clubs, with the smallest budget, against the likes of Celtic and Rangers. When you watched him against the Old Firm he caused them a lot of trouble, he caused some very good players a lot of problems. For me that’s all sorts of bells going off in my head, that’s a real positive. What we’re seeing now is somebody who is fearless without an arrogance, works really hard but really enjoys what he’s doing. He’s enjoying being here, he can’t wait for the Forets game, he’s looking forward to the experience. He showed no nerves last night and the feedback from the Scottish lads was really positive. We’ve got our process, the agent looked after him, Les and the team worked with the agent, and the deal was done and it worked really well.
Who gets final say?
I’m the manager so I get final say on who I want in the team. With a director of football it’s about working together. We work with Les and his team, the coaching team, identifying what we think will add value, what don’t we currently have, what fits our budget parameters. You can’t talk about Covid-19 and then go and splash £10m on a player. I find that amazing, digressing slightly, how it all seems to be forgotten. There are many clubs in deep financial trouble, we’ve got to be financially prudent. If he ticks those boxes then we can move forward. You’re going to make mistakes, if you get seven out of ten right you’re in a good position.
You’ll know Luke Amos is somebody who copped criticism from supporters last season, what do you like about him?
I’d like to say something on the first part of that question. Are they genuinely supporters? Social media for me is filled with a lot of people who are not genuinely supporters. Some of the abuse I see handed out to players, and staff although the staff are old enough an ugly enough not to be bothered, but some of the comments I see I think are appalling and I question whether they are genuine QPR supporters. I mean that really sincerely. They can be keyboard warriors who hide behind that and would never have the balls to say it to people’s faces. They’re a waste of time.
For the genuine QPR supporters who are being critical, which is right they’re they fans, I think Luke is a player who came through the disappointment of a cruciate when he was playing for Mauricio Pochettino in the Premier League. He played for Spurs against Newcastle as a young starlet coming through the ranks at a top class club, he’s had that devastating injury and had to come back. He’s seen people under him in the pecking order at Spurs suddenly go past him, the likes of Oliver Skipp for example move on, play for Mauricio, play in huge European nights in Madrid, get a new contract, and Luke will naturally think that could have been him. The first year after an injury you’re building confidence, stamina, belief in your ability, getting used to decision making and speed of thought, a lot of things fans probably don’t realise at this level of football. Some of the comments about ‘couldn’t play in my park team’, they have no idea. It’s so naïve and ignorant it’s beyond belief, said respectfully. At this level he has to get his touch back, and his speed of thought back, and decision making back.
We’ll see a better Luke Amos this year. He’s very good at pressing and closing people down with an intensity that very few can match. Sometimes we ask him to play in the ‘ten’ role because he’s somebody who can close down on an opposing controller - a number four looking to dictate their play - he’s the one in their face, winning the ball high and providing it to the likes of Ilias, Bright, Ebs and our forward players. He deserves enormous credit. He’s come back off a horrific injury, when people criticise - genuine supporters are entitled to their opinion – I just get irritated by the keyboard warriors who hide and make appalling comments.
Joe Lumley. I make a change as a manager, take Joe out after a certain number of games because I thought it was the right thing to do and I know it was the right thing to do, but the amount of abuse the lad received. He’s a professional, I appreciate that, but can you imagine if half these people got a fraction of the abuse they willingly dish out and think there’s no consequence to it?
Is it just the press and the energy or are there other specific things you can point to with Luke?
He’s a very competent player. He sees space. You don’t play for Spurs in the Premier League and at the levels he’s played at without being a very talented young player. Great character, desire to learn, respectful, and brings so much to QPR on and off the pitch. The likes of Luke and Dom Ball, these type of players want to be here. They want to be here. They’re giving everything for the club. They’re desperate for success for the club. These comments about wanting to push up the league, wanting to make sure the supporters enjoy watching the team play, these comments come from within the players. If our genuine supporters could hear that I’m sure they’d be really heartened. Some of the other individuals, I don’t care what happens they’ll always find a negative because they live their lives with a half empty glass.
If his output is the same this season as last will you see that as a success, or have you bought him because you think he’ll be better this season?
Luke made 34 appearances last year. For a young player to make 34, I don’t know how many QPR players the year before made more than 30 appearances. Dom Ball was 35, Luke Amos was 34. Ilias, Ebs, Bright, all of sudden these young guys are suddenly making 30, 35, 40+ appearances and nobody comments on that. Here’s a guy people are critical of making 34 appearances the year after a cruciate injury. I think that’s outstanding. Outstanding. If he makes 34 appearances for QPR this season out of 46, with a competitive squad, and a games programme that demands one every three days, he’s doing well. Players fall to niggly injuries, suspensions, lunge for a ball and get a red. People don’t look at that fact, the year before we didn’t have too many making more than 30 appearances, it’s another stat we changed quite significantly.
Is it him and Tom Carroll, or him or Tom Carroll, and if they both play do we lack physicality at this level?
I don’t mind if it’s Geoff and Tom, Dom and Tom, Luke and Geoff, Luke and Tom. We have to have depth. I’d still like one more, given the choice, an attacking midfielder to go with another wide player and an attacker. The demands of this season, if we lose a couple of players, any team would be in trouble. Look at some of the teams who have four attackers, five number tens. Injury and suspension will play a big part on the outcome of this season we have to make sure we have strength in depth. Geoff has done an outstanding job for us but is 35, it may be Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday is too much on certain weeks. We have to have players to come in.
Physicality is a great point. You can buy the 6ft 6in centre back who can’t pass, or buy the 5ft 11in guy who’s outstanding on the ball but loses every header at the near post. If you get the combination they’re playing in the Premier League. You have to give and take a little bit. Rob Dickie is a very competent ball performer, can dominate the ball, 6ft 4.5in, stepping up with a bright future. We’ve looked to get good quality, add value to the balance sheet going forward, but also confront that issue that we do need physicality. Lyndon likewise. We could have gone for a 5ft 8in type but we’ve gone for physicality because you need to defend your goal.
Are we physical and big enough as a team now or is there more to do?
There’s probably one more to do if we can do it. But you can’t have financial parameters and boundaries and then go ‘yeh but smash it just to get this guy in’. You’ve got to have financial discipline. If we can get one more then great.
Osman Kakay is 6ft, Luke is 6ft, sometimes they’ve got to mark a guy who is 6ft 3in. Do the job, simple as that. Sometimes though we will concede if a 6ft 4in guy powers in. Plymouth on Saturday we set it up: great delivery, great timing, 1-0 after a minute. You can’t defend Steven Gerrard whipping a ball in for John Terry to attack, that’s football. Sometimes we’ll concede. But we have to create the chances and be ruthless. You saw last season we created a lot of chances but need to be more ruthless because we’re aware there is a weakness in physicality sometimes. Make sure we punish people at the other end.
With the transfer window closing late do you think our team will look significantly different by mid-October than it will on Saturday against Forest?
Not significantly different. Slightly different. Hopefully one or two new ones coming in. One or two of the young ones who are doing really well need to go and play so they can keep developing and come back to QPR as better players. I’m really fearful of losing players as well. My big worry is coming up to October 5, last minute, saying thank you very much, then what do we do? If the right price is met then it’s very difficult in the financial landscape to turn it down. As a manager I’m really fearful of that. It can work the other way, you get a bargain when a deal falls through and he needs to go and play so we hope that’s the case. I have to be honest and say I’m fearful clubs will lose players at the last minute to clubs with bigger wallets.
The Ryan Manning and Bright Osayi-Samuel situation, where are we with those two?
Bright is slightly different in terms of the bid being turned down. I’m very hopeful of securing all of our young players. That’s what we want, players we look after and who are totally committed to the club. You want players who want to be here. You want players absolutely committed to improving themselves at QPR and taking the club forward. That’s what I want. What we can’t afford to do is have players sit there, run down their contracts, sign a pre-contract somewhere else in January, stroll through the last four or five months and then head off with a cigar on to pastures new and a bigger pay cheque. That’s not going to happen. It’s not right for QPR. Too many players have left here with no income for the club. It’s not going to happen. If players don’t want to commit to the club then I have to commit to players who are committed to it. Simple as that. I know Les and the team are doing fantastic work to secure a number of things, but if people don’t want to be here, no problem, but I’ll play people who do. That’s no disrespect, they’re all great guys, I’d like to have all of them here. But we have to be really clear, we cannot afford to have people swan through a final year and leave for nothing.
If they haven’t signed a contract by the end of September will we look to get what we can for them in the first weeks of October?
We’ll just make an offer. I’ll do what I can, I speak to Lee, Les and the board about my intentions. I believe we have to be consistent, we have to be disciplined, we have to have players here who want to wear the shirt week in week out. I don’t want to sound like a cliched old man but we have to make sure that’s what QPR stands for. If player A, whoever that may be, doesn’t want to sign then no problem, I’ll play a young one. Simple as that. I’ll play a young one and go to the supporters before they’re critical and explain we’re doing the right thing by QPR and it might be short term pain for long term gain. But buy into it. If you want to buy into it I can’t do any more than tell the truth. People can’t moan about lack of communication from the club when we’re telling them. We’re telling them we want people who want to be here, the club has made a fair offer, if people sign it then great because I want them here to take the club forward. If they don’t, then I wish them well, but we’re not going to let you sit here and see out the year then walk off with that cigar it’s not going to happen.
You know what happens to managers when they lose five or six in a row regardless of circumstance. Those two players I’ve referred to were very influential in the team last season would it not be cutting off your nose to spite your face not picking them because they won’t sign deals?
No. I’m not talking about Bright and Ryan, let me be really clear. Ryan and Bright are two guys who played a lot of football for me last year and I think the world of them. I’m not talking about those two individuals. But no. The clubs that sack their managers are four or five defeats are the clubs that are still languishing down the bottom. Look at some of the clubs who churn and churn and churn and churn and look at the clubs that don’t. If a club is so short sighted they keep going bang, bang, bang and constantly change then good luck to them. Managers have to be this way now, if you start changing what you believe in you’ve got no chance. What I’m saying to supporters is we want people who want to be here. If you want to be here and perform for QPR we have to make sure all parts of the puzzle fit: a good contract offer, you want to be here, sign, commit to the club, we’re a platform to move forward either to the Premier League with us if all goes well, or if not Ebere style you move on and everybody wins from that deal. But you have to want to be here, and if a manager starts changing his beliefs to that extent you don’t deserve to be in the game.
Are we in a position to offer better contracts than we could two months ago because of Ebere?
No. We have to have a financial discipline to what we do. The owners are still writing cheques. There’s no revenue coming in during a pandemic. There’s a wage bill. I’m amazed when people say we have £20m to spend. They have no idea how football works. Say a player goes for £10m, it could be £7m with £3m add ons, and of that £7m it’s £3m this year and then £2m and £2m over coming years, so actually £3m comes in now. And there are bits and pieces to pay. You haven’t got £10m to spend. This is a media perception. It never works that way for clubs. The owner is still writing cheques and without him writing cheques there is no QPR. All Ebere means is a lesser cheque being written. That’s been made clear to me, I know exactly where we stood, we’ve got to work as best we can to field a really competitive team under the financial restrictions, playing in a way the fans enjoy that hopefully brings us success.
That’s not how it works on Football Manager, of Fifa.
Exactly, and fans play that, and ask ‘why didn’t you buy him?’ Because he’s £5m and on £60,000 a week, that’s why. I’d love to have him here. I’m really sorry we can’t bring him. We can’t get anywhere near those levels. ‘What about him?’ He’s on £30,000 a week. These wages are long, long gone from QPR. We’re on fractions of those levels. We have to adhere to it and be honest with people. We’ll never give financial details to fans, specific contracts and wages, that would be inappropriate, but we are trying to tell you now, trust us, we’re not going to go and spend £5m on a player and we’re not going to put that player on £40,000 a week. Some of the strikers we’ve been linked to we simply cannot afford. Would I like to have them here? God yes. I’d walk to where they are and piggyback them here with a bad leg. But it’s not going to happen.
Why do we concede so many goals?
Naivety. A softness at times. A failure to do our jobs, the players won’t mind me saying that because they’ve just spoken about it in there – if your job is to mark a man, and he scores against you, you haven’t done your job. The physical side of things comes into it. Use the Bristol City game again, Diedhiou scored a header at 6ft 5ins, we battered them from a football point of view and the team was applauded off the pitch for playing well for 80 minutes.
But we have to stop giving away soft and avoidable goals, that’s the key for me. Swansea at home, 1-0 down, better team by far, get back to 1-1, only one team going to win, we give away a soft penalty. Brentford, Grant Hall equalises, the referee gives a shocking decision which won ‘dive of the week’ on Soccer AM. These things hurt. Giving away soft and avoidable goals we have to cut out. There’s no getting away from the fact we concede too many goals. But at the same time we were third most chances created in the league, with a really young attacking team. Lots of positives, had we been more ruthless in both boxes we’d have been in a really good position.
People will look at the goal we conceded at Oxford off a corner, and the three we conceded at Plymouth, and say they looked a lot like the goals we conceded a year back. What are we actually doing specifically to stop that?
I’ll be pretty blunt, do fans think we don’t do work? I hear somebody say ‘can you work on the defence please?’ Don’t be an arse. What do you think we do every week, every game. We work on set pieces. Thursday we’ll introduce the 11 v 11s and then Friday we’ll sit and do specific offensive and defensive set pieces, our roles, first contacts, squeeze up, catch them offside. The Oxford game you mention, two players went for the same ball. There’s the responsibility, they put their hands up, a mistake has been made. Was it Conor’s ball or Geoff’s ball? Could Ryan have squeezed? All these type of things are what we practice time and time and time again. To think and suggest we don’t is ludicrous.
The Plymouth goals, three ridiculous goals to give away. Losing possession where we did, not tracking runners. Letting a guy come infield onto a favoured right foot after being warned twice in the first half and having to make blocks. Again, giving a ball away and not tracking a runner. I’m never going to criticise players, we’ll talk about it privately, they work so hard. We also did analysis on the chances and we should have been out of sight. More spotlight is put on the defence when we don’t take the chances but I think we had 15 examples of where we should have scored and didn’t.
Not to labour the point but why is it still happening?
Because they’re human. We’ve adjusted it, lost Grant Hall, Toni Leistner moved on, Rob Dickie has come in so we are making moves to correct it and improve our defensive record. We’re very aware of it. Please don’t suggest we don’t work on it and understand the responsibility.
I won’t give away too many details but there is a bonus schedule whereby when we score from a set piece there’s an incentive, and when we concede from a set piece it comes out. They’re hit as a group of players financially when they concede a set piece goal. That tells you there is a consequence to it, even if it’s just financial let alone everything else, the league position and blah blah. The boys know their responsibility, they are professional sportsmen who want to correct that. Everything in the meeting today was about being more ruthless in both boxes, which is what we have to be.
Their overdrafts must look like mine. (Oh Clive, such a smartarase little twat, I knew I was in trouble from the moment I said this…)
Without being rude you’re being derogatory there. You want me to give you an honest interview, then be fair. These guys are not on £25k-£30k a week and they’re playing against guys on £25k-£30k-£40k a week. I saw a comment about Cairney at Fulham outplaying our boy, well our boy is on a fraction of his wage. So get your head in order and understand the implications of what you’re talking about. When he’s on £40k, £50k, £60k a week and our guy is on a tenth of that will you still make the same comment? That’s the ignorance I’m referring to Clive. You just made a derogatory comment and I’ll always fight that.
And that’s fair enough. You obviously prefer an attacking style, the full backs pushed high up the field, is the conceding of goals just a necessary evil of that and we get more good than bad from the system?
No. One full back goes, one is on the cover. Not to give away our tactics but it may be that you have the two, and the two controllers, provide a block of four, with the relevant full back tucking in, so if Ryan Manning does down the left, Osman Kakay just tucks in to provide a fifth man if needed. Now, young guys get caught up in the style of play, and maybe push on too high and you saw for example on Saturday there were occasions when Ryan and Oz were too high, Ryan had gone and Oz could have been on the cover or vice versa, but it’s just young guys who are keen to push on get bodies forward while we’re dominating the ball. Our discipline has to be intact. Even if you do get a five v four overload it’s still hard to score so we have to make sure we maintain our discipline and shape and not get carried away. It’s young players learning. If you get a £60k a week Premier League player his judgement will be right, but these guys are learning. Some, like Ryan Manning, you tell me, might have had four QPR managers with different demands, styles, philosophies. It’s a young player constantly being asked for different things. If I said ‘Clive here’s your job, now could you change it, now could you change it again’, you’re going to make mistakes, be confused, refer back. They’re human. The guys are human. They understand responsibility and accountability. I want fans to, before launching a volley of abuse, understand what they are. The Cairney comment killed me. Tom Cairney is a top class player, our lad was on a tenth of his wage. I’ve got players on fractions of it. Sheff Wed at home, they brought on Jordan Rhodes and Conor Wickham, we brought on academy boys. That’s the financial reality right now.
Toni Leistner, can you explain why he didn’t fit with what you wanted to do?
I can’t give away details as I’m sure you appreciate. We asked for certain things. Toni gave good service to the club before I was here and was captain so I’ll never be rude about a player. There are certain things I look for in a player and it didn’t work for both of us. Toni is moving on, he’s shown he can play at a high level in Germany, it was my decision, my opinion, I stand by it and I wish him well.
Goalkeeping situation, three keepers of similar ages, two had mixed fortunes last year and something of a clamour from people to see more of Seny Dieng, what’s the situation with those three?
One guy has come down from Scotland and we’ve paid £50,000, not exactly smashing the bank. He’s come down and played 19, 20 games for QPR in the Championship. People go, ‘oh a bit mixed’. First year in the Championship, I’d love to see a positive comment. But it’s all ‘he was mixed and Joe made loads of mistakes’. One played 19-20 games, the other played 25-30 games, they split between them.
I turned round to a fan at a previous club and said ‘imagine that was your son on the end of the abuse you’re giving out’. Some of the stuff Joe Lumley received was outrageous. It was totally wrong. The genuine supporters should rear up against that.
Instead of saying that the question could have been: ‘two young guys, really tasty, Joe’s had more experience, Liam’s first time and had time to settle in, what are you looking for this season?’ But it’s always ‘well, they were mixed…’ It seems to be a negativity towards certain young players. They’re young, they’re going to make mistakes. If you want to go and buy the finished article you have to pay the money for it and we’re not in that position. Liam and Joe have done great for us, Seny had an outstanding season on loan at Doncaster and did everything asked of him, but that’s the division below. Now you’ve got to prove yourself at the level Liam and Joe did last year which was the Championship, it’s another league up and we know how hard it is to step up these levels.
It’s a nice position to be in with three number ones who are all pushing. It will be an interesting situation. I’m pleased with young players developing in the league. Joe will have come back stronger from that. Liam played the six games up to lockdown unbeaten, did really well, really positive comments. Then I felt his distribution dipped a bit which is a really strong suit of his hence I made the change. I explained it to the players, I changed Joe twice and Liam came in. You can’t just change a goalkeeper on one bad error because it’s a different position. If a centre half lost a header you can’t just go ‘well you’re out’. You don’t do that. So you give them a chance. We’ve got three very talented young goalkeepers, who will be good balance sheet value for the club, and I hope they continue their development.
Seny won’t be going out on loan again?
I don’t know what will happen. Three number ones don’t want to sit on the bench. Only one can sit on the bench so the other is really peed off. You look at the situation, they’re hungry athletes, they’re really competitive, sometimes players go out to develop, other times to keep on moving forwards. They’re young. In goalkeeping terms they’re babies at 23, 24, 25. You’d hope they’re playing to 38-39, so they’re young and learning all the time. The club is in a good position with regards to goalkeepers. We have to get the balance right and we’ll find out what that is soon I’m sure.
What constitutes a successful season this year?
I hope we finish higher than last. I never set targets because you don’t know what will happen but I hope very much to build on last year. If you’re in the top ten then you’re normally a win away from the top six. Brentford proved that when I was there and we were competing with Derby, beat Wigan 3-0 and got into the play-offs, nearly into the Premier League. If you’re in the top ten you’re within tasting distance of the top six so if we can keep that position.
The meeting we’ve just had was really pleasing because the players know what we have to do and what is required to move us to the next level and they’re hungry for it, young and old they all feel the same about where we want the club to go to. I want the fans to hear it. I want them to hear how hungry the players are, not just Geoff and Lee and Yoann but Ilias and Brighty and Faisal and Joe Gubbins, Dom Ball and Luke Amos. They’re hungry to take the club forward. A positive spin helps drive the club forward. It’s easy to sit there and write derogatory, derisory notes – media in general, not you. It’s far better to be positive, they feed off it, they read the notes. They read it. As young players, I’ll refer to Joe Lumley again, it was appalling. Be positive about them. Is he making mistakes on purpose? Does a manager pick a team to lose? Of course not.
A good friend of mine came into my office at Rangers once, an ardent Blue Nose, and said ‘why aren’t you picking him?’. I said go on, pick the team. He starts going through it, ‘he’s got to play, he’s got to play, can’t drop Tav, Kenny Miller has to play, got to play him, Niko has to play’. He named 13. I said ‘great, we’re playing 5-4-3 are we?’ As football fans, I just want them to think a bit Clive. And the more we can give the QPR fans in terms of communication and information, of course they won’t be happy all the time and their opinion will come through and quite rightly sometimes we deserve criticism. But just give a bit more thought, the guy is 20, or 22… Ryan Manning, third goal Saturday, could he have done more? Maybe. Has he done it on purpose? Of course not. If people could give a bit more thought, be a bit more positive than glass half empty, the team will benefit from that. One hundred per cent.
You were asked at a fans forum earlier this year you were asked for a money-no-object Championship signing and you said Romaine Sawyers. As he’s now no longer a Championship player I wondered if I could trouble you for another one, as it struck me as an interesting insight into what you thought we needed.
It’s a good question.
Bearing in mind what we’ve done in the transfer market so far it would have to be a second striker because we have an awful lot of responsibility on Lyndon. You’d love to go and get a second striker to feed off Lyndon and start taking the chances we create.
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Letters from Wiltshire #26 by wessex_exile
Well, after a piss-poor Xmas period so far for the U’s, culminating in the Roots Hall horror show on Boxing Day, let’s hope the U’s have burned off those festive calories and are raring to go. They’ll certainly have to be at their best against a Cheltenham side aiming to force their way into the automatic promotion places. In other news, we now finally have confirmation that there will be a trade deal in place with the EU once Brexit arrives in 2021. It remains to be seen whether it’s a good deal or not, and more to the point, who for, but at least it’s not the economic uncertainty of no-deal.
Letters from Wiltshire #25 by wessex_exile
A little earlier than usual, but as we approach the end of what has been a most difficult year for everyone, I’ll keep the introductory editorial brief, as I’m sure you will all be very busy in the coming days rescuing what you can from this pandemic-ravaged festive period. I simply wish you all peace on earth, goodwill to all (yes, even our South Essex cousins), and here’s to a happy, prosperous and most importantly healthy 2021 for us all.
Letters from Wiltshire #24 by wessex_exile
Welcome to our last match before Christmas. With South Essex going into Tier 3, by the time we take to the pitch at Roots Hall, it’ll be another behind-closed-doors match. With the Tier 3 boundary creeping inexorably closer, one wonders how long the JobServe will hold out and still be able to allow fans to attend. Robbie is doing all he can to make it possible for supporters to attend, and I confess I’m seriously considering our January 2nd match against Tranmere. In other news, I’m relieved to read that the FA will not take disciplinary action against Colchester United after a shameful minority chose to boo players and officials taking the knee, in the words of the EFL “as they highlight the inequality and injustice experienced by the Black Community”. I noticed a tiny minority chose to boo at our mid-week match at the Abbey Stadium, but I was pleased to hear they were immediately drowned out by the remainder of the 2,000 cheering and applauding. I admit I’m a little anxious about today…
Letters from Wiltshire #23 by wessex_exile
As I’ve been providing updates on the ongoing US presidential election, it is worth mentioning that the Electoral College votes have now been cast, which formally confirms Biden as the new President-elect. Normally a formality, as the losing candidate has usually long-since conceded defeat, but these are far from normal times, and America has far from a normal lame-duck President. Still, at least the threat of members of the Electoral College ignoring the popular vote in favour of an outcome demanded by Trump has failed to materialise. In the UK, new Covid tiers were announced this week, with London going into Tier 3. Colchester stays in Tier 2, but only just, with as far north east as Maldon, Braintree and Chelmsford also moving into Tier 3 – and as if you need reminding, Tier 3 means no supporters at matches.
Letters from Wiltshire #22 by wessex_exile
Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat…hence I’m a bit late today, following the inevitable Christmas tree hunt – the decorating will have to wait until later I reckon. In the news, despite my confident assurance several weeks ago that Trump appeared to be grudgingly starting to accept that he had lost the US presidency election, he’s since doubled-down on his baseless accusations of election fraud – without obviously providing a single shred of evidence to back it up (and how could he, there isn’t any). His latest apoplectic tirade, just today, follows the Supreme Court telling Texas just where they can stick their egregious lawsuit demanding that Biden’s victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia be thrown out in favour of Trump. From a global perspective, it is deeply troubling that no less than 126 republican congressional representatives signed an amicus brief supporting the challenge. Trump will leave the White House in January, but they will stay at the heart of the US government, and I don’t think that’s good news for democracy, nor even the rest of the world. Ho hum…
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