The Beale and end all? Column
Wednesday, 1st Jun 2022 17:02 by Clive Whittingham
QPR have a new manager, as Aston Villa’s highly rated for Rangers, Liverpool, Chelsea and Sao Paulo coach Michael Beale takes the big step into his first number one gig at Loftus Road.
Pit stop there? At £1.95 a litre?
On the morning(ish) of one sunny Sunday in late April 2015 I dragged whatever state of hangover I was in that day out of my pit, scratched my bum and began the task of making myself look professionally presentable enough for an afternoon covering fifth-placed Tottenham’s ultimately doomed attempt to keep things interesting by closing down a multi-point gap to Manchester United in fourth, away to fifteenth-placed Newcastle’s ultimately doomed attempt to keep things interesting by closing down a multi-point gap to Hull City in eighteenth.
While categorising shirt scents between “passable” and “absolutely not” I clocked, with no little degree of terror, the first message on my phone that morning, from that day’s online sports editor at The Telegraph, telling me that actually nobody gave a flying fuck about fifth-placed Tottenham’s ultimately doomed attempt to keep things interesting by closing down a multi-point gap to Manchester United in fourth, away to fifteenth-placed Newcastle’s ultimately doomed attempt to keep things interesting by closing down a multi-point gap to Hull City in eighteenth, and they would instead like me to spend the afternoon live blogging… The Bahrain Grand Prix, about which I knew then, and know now, precisely one fact – it is in Bahrain.
To make matters scarier still, the comedic fall-back of just admitting I didn’t know enough about the topic to fill the back of a postage stamp with a thick pen, then spending the afternoon trotting out hilarious “the thing about F1 is what comes around goes around” witticisms about not wanting to stop for petrol at motorway prices, had been cut off. Earlier in the week Ben Bloom, a far better sports journo than I ever will be, had gone viral after being posted to live coverage of Jurgen Klopp’s departure press conference at Borussia Dortmund only to find it all in German, which he didn’t speak. While the paper had enjoyed the traffic and the attention and the megalolz from that, the editors were keen to avoid a repeat in such a short period of time because in journalism coming out and saying “I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about” and then talking about it anyway is funny once, but twice or more and you’re just Neil Oliver projectile vomiting obvious nonsense into the GBeebies void.
Anyway if you want to read where 45 minutes of cramming on the Northern Line (and, seven years on, I think I’m safe to admit, no small amount of copying and pasting everything LFW’s unsalaried HR officer/F1 superfan Jas Sandals Whatsapped me straight onto the Telegraph’s website) got me then it’s here. Otherwise let’s crack on with the important task of ‘analysing’ the arrival of QPR’s new head coach Michael Beale, on a three-year contract, about whom, full disclosure, a fortnight ago I’d basically have been able to narrow down to either that bloke who follows Steven Gerrard around, or something to do with the café on Eastenders.
What follows is the bits I like about the appointment based on what we do know about the current situation at QPR, the bits we’ve learned about Beale by swatting up and asking around since his name first cropped up publicly a fortnight or so back, and the challenges we know he’ll face here in his first senior number one position. I’m sure there’ll be Rangers fans dropping by keen to chip in with a typically calm and measured “total fucking bollocks”, like that Scottish guy who loiters around the till specifically to shout “that’s legal tender” at any school leaving cashier who hesitates at the sight of a Scottish bank note, but as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink used to tell us – it is what it is.
Michael Beale's set piece routines are numerous in amount. One thing he likes is zonal marking. Or, as the French call it, zonale.
Firstly, I like the principal and the coherence behind the appointment. If we’d spent the last few years talking about the importance of style of play, ethos, developing players to sell, and then ignored Wycombe’s murderball tactics to appoint Gareth Ainsworth because the fans adore him here then I’d have found that a bit of an eye-roll. Likewise, if we’d just binned off Mark Warburton because he’d gone too far away from the development and youth remit and too far towards the short-term signings, 30+-year-olds with no re-sale value and loans to try and get you results immediately, and then just appointed one of the old Championship soaks who feature among the shorter odds for every job that comes up in this division. Carlos Carvalhal is doing the rounds this summer – lost when heavy favourites in one play-off final, and Sheff Wed will be paying for the obscene amount of money he spent doing that for ten years. Rightly or wrongly the club wants to continue to build an attractive and attacking playing style, they desperately need to accelerate the development of our younger players for big-money sales, and they want a tighter and more integrated grip on the transfers so you don’t end up coming out the other side of three years of Lee Wallace, Todd Kane and Moses Odubajo without a single Championship standard full back or wing back on their staff eight weeks out from the new season. This appointment speaks to all of that.
Secondly, I like that it’s taken a little bit of time. With pre-season testing starting on June 18, and an earlier-than-ever start to the season proper due just eight weeks from now, it’s understandable that QPR fans have been getting twitchy as we entered week four since Mark Warburton left. QPR have made zero additions to a squad short in key areas, and the future of several out-of-contract players has, publicly at least, been left hanging at “conversation are ongoing” since the first week of May. However, the worst managerial appointments under the Tune Group ownership have been the quick, populist, chairman’s-choice, coronations – Mark Hughes, Harry Redknapp, Ian Holloway, Steve McClaren. They moved us wildly from one playing and managerial style to another, and back again. They resulted in repeated overhauls of the squad, team and style of play, resulting in dozens of players being discarded to the side, picking up big money while never playing. At one point we had a squad of players signed by more than half a dozen different managers, for different ideals, different systems, different styles.
A good, thorough, interview process, conducted by the people who run the club day to day, with a very clear idea and end game for the type of ideal candidate they’re looking for, is a big improvement. The recruitment and analytics folks have been involved this time too - a world away from "Tony Fernandes needed to get Steve McClaren out of his system". It might take a bit of time, it still might not yield the right result, and those people doing the deciding are on shaky ground with the supporters so need this to go well, but it’s certainly got a lot more chance than ‘Tony plays Fifa with him’ or ‘his agent’s a top lad’.
There’s been some suggestion the delay has been people refusing to come and work under the director of football system with Les Ferdinand. Again, this feels like something that’s been said on Twitter, and then just become true. It started around the time interest in Liam Manning seemed to cool – Liam Manning, whose success at MK Dons is based at least in part on the work of the director of football there, Liam Sweeting. I think we can all question whether or not Les Ferdinand is doing the job well enough, but almost every club in the country operates with some form of director of football system now and the idea it would put managers off doesn’t wash. Beale himself moved back to youth football at Liverpool rather than take senior first team manager jobs he’d been offered in the EFL post his Sao Paulo adventure because he “sat in front of people who didn’t know what they wanted their football club to be” so the fact he’s taken the plunge here suggests this whole theory is bollocks.
In fact, if a manager doesn’t want to come because they feel they won’t have the control they want under the DOF system, that’s a really good reason not to appoint that guy. Every manager that’s worked under Les Ferdinand has been able to bring their own players in – do you think they got Lee Wallace of Wycout? – so when I hear ‘more control’ I immediately smell ‘wants to get fingers and thumbs in the transfer deals themselves’. That is a very dangerous thing for this club - because we need to be making signings with future development and sell-on in mind not just somebody who will stop the manager getting the sack in the next month or somebody bought as a mutually beneficial favour to one of his agent chums - particularly with this ownership, as we saw under Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp. A club with our owners needs a director of football system desperately, be that Les or somebody else, and managers who are put off by it are worth avoiding.
And thirdly, it’s a bit outside the box. It may well be QPR getting all hot and horny for a flavour of the month who doesn’t turn out to be all he’s cracked up to be – Paul Clement, similar character, similar background, was the “dream manager” for us and several others for a while there – but this is the direction football is heading. If you could still get results out of footballers by screaming at them and smashing the crockery up then Peter Reid would still be getting jobs and people would still listen to what Richard Keys has to say. I was listening to both Steve Cooper and Carlos Corberan talk prior to Sunday’s play-off final, both saying very similar things about how modern, young, footballers want to be engaged, want to learn, want to develop, want to see a pathway for their own career, want to be challenged, want to be excited by new ideas, want to buy into a system and a clear identity and way of playing. They don’t want to belt it into the channel while Tony Pulis yawps “GO ON JON” at them. You’ve got to sell your club as a brilliant place to come, play exciting football and develop your career prospects. In addition, if our club, with its FFP constraints, and its budget, still tries to do that old-school Harry Redknapp “football’s about good players, you got good players you win football matches” shrug then we’ve got no chance. Even most of the Championship can outspend us on transfer fees and wages now, so we’re not going to be anywhere near the front of the line for the good, proven, known footballers. It’s the Moneyball thing – think like the Yankees in here, lose to the Yankees out there.
If you’ve got money to spend then fine, but we haven’t. Again, not because we don’t have rich owners, but because the club loses £1.8m a month and at that rate is right on the cusp of another breach of the league’s rules. The clubs at our level, on our sort of budgets, that are punching above their weight, are not the ones appointing the same old soaks off the Championship merry-go-round. They’re the ones doing clever things in coaching, player development, recruitment, scouting, managerial appointments – not the ones taking Andre Gray on loan. It’s the managers like Neil Critchley at Blackpool, Graham Potter at first Swansea and then Brighton, Carlos Corberan at Huddersfield, Nathan Jones at Luton, Liam Manning at MK Dons, Russell Martin at MK Dons and then Swansea, Ryan Lowe at Plymouth and now Preston, Kieran McKenna at Ipswich who are coming through with new, exciting, innovative ideas to solving the problem of ‘they’ve got £x and we’ve got £y’ other than “we’ll have to get a loan in”. There are also people like Mark Robins from a very traditional background, doing absolute wonders at Coventry on no money at all – but it’s with a forward-thinking style, system and player philosophy. I’m surprised Robins doesn’t get linked with other jobs by the way. But often now it’s the folk from less traditional routes, sometimes without much a playing history of their own at all, who have committed to coaching instead, often with a development background. This is the trend to be on the right side of, not giving chance number umpteen to the Pards Pardews of this world.
Beale himself says: “In Germany, they are investing in their own and are willing to give their B team coaches a first-team manager’s job. But the Premier league is the world’s league and if you want to work in the world’s league, there are hints for you. Tuchel and Guardiola both did their interviews after the Champions League final in English and then Tuchel went off and did an interview with German TV and probably a French one as well; the same with Guardiola. They’re really high-skilled people, not just football coaches. With English coaches, we can’t be standing outside moaning about opportunities if we don’t upskill ourselves. That’s one of the reasons I chose to go and work abroad, to learn a second language and I continue to work with languages. You’re going to end up in a multi-national changing room, very diverse, so you need to understand different cultures, different people, and be able to communicate with people in their language. I’ll just talk about the coaches I worked with at Liverpool Academy: Steve Cooper and Mike Marsh at Swansea, who have been given an opportunity and within two years have implemented a lovely playing style around young players and probably overachieved; and Neil Critchley and Mike Garritty going to Blackpool in the first year of management, breaking some club records and getting promoted. Just like the young English players are taking Europe a little bit by storm, the next wave could be English coaches.”
This is a first real stab at that sort of an appointment from QPR. While it may well not work, for some of the reasons I’ll come onto and I’m sure plenty more that haven’t occurred to me yet (and, you know, it’s QPR, so if we can fuck it up we will), this was the first name from the list that got me moderately excited, and I am invigorated to see us at least have a go at something like this.
So, here’s a list of facts, quotes (which are all from Beale unless otherwise states) and other bits and pieces we’ve gleaned from reading around, listening around, watching around, chatting to people at his former clubs. I’ll intersperse it with some videos and podcasts that we’ve used to put it together, but this from the Heart and Hand Rangers website is very much worth your time as a kick off, and subscribers to our Patreon can catch a bonus audio with Adam Thornton from Heart and Hand who has a book on the Gerrard/Beale revolution at Rangers coming out in August. Would also recommend either the transcript or the podcast from this brilliant Training Ground Guru session with him. And if you’ve got a sub, and can stand to wade through the tidal wave of spunk that engulfed the place after Nottingham Forest’s controversial win at the weekend, this piece in The Athletic.
- Beale was a left footed winger at Charlton in the same formidable youth team as Scott Parker, Jermain Defoe, Paul Konchesky and Jonathan Fortune but was released at 21 and after a succession of failed trials decided to use money he’d accumulated at The Valley to buy into a franchise of Brazilian soccer/futsal schools run by Simon Clifford – who you may remember as the guy who went in with Clive Woodward to Southampton, and later got Socrates to play for Garforth Town. Just three children turned up to the first session in Bromley. From there he picked up a coaching job working with the U6s-8s at his boyhood club Chelsea (o-oh) in 2003 and progressed through the age groups to a full-time role in 2007, ending up as youth development officer. Joined Liverpool in 2012 initially as head of the U16s and 15s programme, and progressed to managing the reserves, U23s and U21s. Left to join Brazil’s Sao Paulo as assistant manager in 2017 when the incumbent manager and the club’s legendary former goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni (scored 132 career goals as a keeper as a dead ball specialist) was impressed with a meeting the pair had while he was touring England looking at different coaching methods. Then returned after eight months to head up the 7s-11s programme at Liverpool. Was taken to Rangers as first team coach by Steven Gerrard where they of course broke Celtic’s decade-long hold on the SPL, going unbeaten for the whole league season and conceding just 13 goals in the process, combined with a run into the round of 16 in the Europa League. Then onto Aston Villa with the former Liverpool skipper where they finished fourteenth this season. This career path means he’s worked with Mourinho, Ancelotti, Hiddink, Rodgers, Klopp and more, and the list of now household names he’s coached as kids litter this article.
- Original career aim was to be a manager or head of youth outside the UK by the time of his fortieth birthday (now 41) having been inspired by Channel 4’s Gazzetta and Football Italia coverage as a child, and developed an obsession with Johan Cruyff who he describes as the “most important man in football”. “Bobby Robson was my idol because he went and coached Barcelona, Porto, PSV and Sporting Lisbon – a British coach working outside, learning other languages. I’ve always been fascinated by foreign football: Johan Cruyff and Holland, Serie A because of Gazzetta. I’m fascinated by the way other cultures see the game and that’s been my driver. I said by 40 I wanted to be a manager or head of youth outside the UK, that was my dream. It was hard to leave Liverpool for Sao Paulo but it was because of these goals I set myself at 21 and the goals I strive for.”
- “My vision comes from when I first started playing football. I love high energy and attacking football. I want football that’s exciting to play in first, and then I think exciting to watch. But it’s about players because every squad is unique and it’s about the unique qualities they bring. From there it’s simplicity. Four key areas for every game in my philosophy: how do we own the pitch; how do we own the ball; how can we win in both penalty boxes; what’s the mentality and character we’re going to adopt. I work with principles first, people second and then finding a system to fit.”
- He written books. 140 Overload Games and Finishing Practices, for instance. 140? I was going to do 150 but 140’s alright. 100 Defending Practices and Small Sided Games. Modern Combination Play. Training Creative Goalscorers.
- “When you arrive in a new club you have you and your staff and a lovely set of preferences on how you want to work and see the game. However, you arrive inside a club already with a culture and history in place. Unless you’re very fortunate you’re likely to arrive in a club that’s not doing so well and the manager has lost his job, so it’s how you combine those two things. Then it’s about building the game, how you’re going to play in and out of possession, and the transition both positive and negative.”
- In an interview with Rangers’ Hand and Heart Podcast, Beale revealed that one ice-breaker he had for young players moving away from parents into the city for the first time when they joined the academy was a Come Dine With Me challenge where they would have to host, and cook a three course meal, for Beale and the other coaches.
- “When it comes to older age groups – U18s, U23s and first team – I think your first contact with a player is really important. You have to sit them down and understand them – why they play the game, what their aims are. Obviously they’re talented that’s why they’re there and you can build focus with them but the motivation has to come from them. It’s their dream and you’ve got to manage their pathway. It comes from that first conversation and understanding where he wants to go, that enables you to plan sessions for that player. Obviously a group of centre forwards need to work on finishing, but I really do believe that 80% of your coaching is the stuff you do off the pitch. How they arrive to training, how they feel about their development, how focused they are, and how they feel about you and how you’re helping them on that journey. You’ve got to give them a ‘you vs yourself’ mentality, and that starts with where they want to go and working back from there.”
- “When young kids get out of mum and dad’s car and run to the pitch to star training, if after 15 minutes they don’t have the same energy that’s you as the adult that has got it wrong. It’s very much the same for a professional, senior player. They train every day, and how you meet them with your personality, the practises you select for them, and how personal those practises are for their development is really important. One thing I would say for coaches making that step as I have is when you work in the academy and have a relationship with a young player there is an always an element of doubt in their mind – you say work on x, y and z and in the back of their mind whether they agree or disagree they think ‘I haven’t made it yet so maybe Mick is right’. When working with first team with millionaires who have the car, the house, the family, the status, it comes down to their drive and ambition. Now you’re making a suggestion to a player, maybe an established player, maybe an international. That’s a different relationship, they won’t jump as high as the pre-first team group. Then there’s another group who have maybe just made a debut and it’s about keeping that look in their eye, that motivation, that drive to achieve more. The unique one in that for me is Trent Alexander-Arnold who for me still has the same look in his eye as he did when he left the U18s to come to me in the U23s and then the firsts. The first team debut was the start, he had targets he set himself to reach after that, he recently played a 100th Liverpool game at 21 and I smile at things like that because I know he’s ticking that off and that’s his drive.”
- “The best coaches in the world have that ability to keep people on that 'you versus yourself' journey and sell a vision that’s exciting. That’s the one thing I would say about all the coaches I’ve seen, be it Jurgen Klopp, Brendan Rodgers, that ability to inspire people with your personality and vision and Steven has that. We came in with a huge responsibility to the club in terms of implementing a model and a vision and having some real positivity around it. We’re all really positive people and that’s important, because it’s easy in a season to get negative. We’re good at zapping each other out of it. We knew there would be bumps in the road, because we were going in and there needed to be some changes in terms of standards and an identity in how you play. We knew we didn’t have a lot of money to recruit, so we had to be clever with our loans and free transfers. That doesn’t mean you’re always going to get it right, but when I look back at our recruitment, in the main, it’s been very strong.”
- Beale says he’s been strongly influenced by coaching regimes in the NFL, where an enormous squad of 50+ players with just 16 regular season games in a year to play for is separated off and handled by department heads under an overall head coach. He then explained to Training Ground Guru how he worked that into our form of football at Rangers. “To manage that you have to have coaching lieutenants. I plan maybe the team session content, liaising with everyone - from Jordan (Milsom) the sport scientist to Tom to Scott (Mason) the analyst to Gary to Steven - and I’ll get the rough template and then we’ll delegate who’s leading where. When the session is actually going on, Gary will be looking at the midfielders, I’ll be looking more at the forwards, Tom’s looking at the defenders and the manager is looking at the whole pie. We all have opportunities to work with players in different units to try and improve them. This is something I’ve been working on since I was U23s coach at Liverpool - different coaches overseeing the development of different players; every coach looking at five or six players. And when the boys go for a drink you might be popping into your individual players and talking to them. That then leads into your conversations off the pitch, your analysis of the game, your match day. I call it watering the grass - getting around the group, talking to everyone. You have a squad of 25 to get you through a season, but every three days you only pick 11, so it’s important to keep watering the grass and get around the group.”
- “I haven’t had the luxury of retiring early from the game or not being a player, in terms of having that pitch time to really become a coach for the past 20 years like a Brendan Rodgers, a Mourinho or a Michael Beale. It would take me 15/20 years to become as good as Michael Beale as an on-pitch coach, delivering sessions on a daily basis – so I let Mick be Mick Beale, because he’s the expert.” - Steven Gerrard
- “The longer I was there I started to realise, Michael Beale, I think he’s the man behind it. No disrespect to Steven Gerrard, who I think is an amazing manager… but Michael Beale is behind the scenes and I think he’s the brains behind it. Tactically he’s amazing. I think he could step up to be manager, because he’s that good.” - Kyle Lafferty
- “A lot of people won’t have a clue what Michael Beale does on the training pitch, but what he does is really quite special. I remember he was giving me sessions to take down because I was doing the reserves; he wanted us to copy it. I was loving it. I actually wanted to take part in the training. He's so on the ball. He's so good at what he does. The players love it. His preparation for each game is fantastic to watch, and Gerrard is very lucky to have him." Peter Lovenkrands (former Rangers coach)
- “I’ve been in coaching now for 30 years and I’ve never met someone with the breadth of experience that he’s had. I wrote a book in 1998 about football coaching. He has written eight now and they are some of the most well-received in coaching, all covering different topics. I got the impression from the off with Michael that he loved coaching and learning about how people develop. I always remember how he was taking everything in like a sponge. He was very inquiring and massively enthusiastic. He wouldn’t just accept that something was done this way, he would ask why. I don’t think there is anyone like him in world coaching. He understands the process and the journey the players have been on. If I was looking for someone to work with players — even first-team players — I don’t think it’s helpful to only work with men. It’s like building a car. You need to know all the component parts.” -Simon Clifford (paywall)
- “He’s the new generation of coach in England where it’s about technique, getting out of difficult situations, one-v-ones and using your body He was like a foreign coach from back in the day. He said things to me which are still in my mind five years on. One was that he used to constantly talk about the ‘Pedro runs’ based on what he had done at Barcelona, where you ran in diagonally from wide in between the full-back and the centre-half. You might make seven of them and only get the ball once but when you did, you’d be one-on-one with the keeper. You see Raheem Sterling doing that perfectly and that was preached at Liverpool. We would do training games where one team would have to pick a pressing victim but they weren’t allowed to say who. As soon as he got the ball, the whole team would press them so they gave it away. It was ruthless.” -Liverpool academy grad Ryan McLaughlin (paywall)
Hic sunt dracones
There are some really good things Beale is inheriting here at QPR. Seny Dieng, Rob Dickie, Jimmy Dunne, Sam Field, Luke Amos, Ilias Chair and Chris Willock is a really sound, talented, young crop of players to build a team around, and they’re right down the centre of the field. When you hear Jermain Defoe say: “I’ve worked with some top managers and top coaches and he is up there. His attention to detail and how he puts his points across for people to understand. When Alfredo [Morelos] got suspended, Mick came to me and said, ‘JD, I’m going to tweak the system so it’s better for you’. He said, ‘I’m going to bring in two number tens in the middle so they’re close to you, so it’s easier for you’. We’ve not looked back, it’s unbelievable, the fact he had that idea, and he did that, it’s genius man.” - that just screams Illy and Willy to me and any manager who likes to play football the way Beale says he does would love to have those two in their team at this level. Beale talks about having a strong and dependable core through defence (almost always a four) and midfield, but then the ability to “become an unpredictable opponent” which comes in the final third. “Utopia for me is finding a group of players that have freedom to rotate in the final third.” The squad already has this to a degree because of the way they’ve put it together. It won’t need a total re-write. If I was Illy or Willy I’d be very excited by this.
But there are plenty of problems with the squad as well. For a start, Beale talks in his coaching philosophies about “fast”, attacking football, and there’s zero pace here at all. We have two senior strikers, Lyndon Dykes and Macauley Bonne, and some very inexperienced Charlie Kelman and Sinclair Armstrong-type back ups, but it’s not exactly screaming GOALS. We are also, apparently, on the cusp of releasing our best left-sided defender, and best ball-playing defender, on a free transfer.
A bigger problem still, is nobody currently contracted for next season remotely capable of being the starting full back or wing back for a Championship club. Adam Thornton, who wrote Gerrard's Blueprint: The Tactical Philosophy Behind Rangers 55th Title Triumph which is coming out in August told our Patreon this morning: “The full backs are the single most important part of Gerrard and Beale’s teams. That is going to need to be a hugely important area to address. You’ve seen the impact Lucas Digne has had at Aston Villa down the left side, that was their main priority for the January window. He had huge success up here with James Tavernier, Borna Barisic and Calvin Bassey- they have been huge parts of how Rangers have played for the last few years so I would be stunned if there wasn’t a focus on getting full backs in who can be the main, chief creators in the team because that’s a big part of how he plays.”
All of these problems will need solving one way or another on a very limited budget. There may well need to be a sale of one of the players you’d ideally want to build around, and having pushed the boat out last summer to push for the top six there will be nowhere near that level of transfer fee or wage available this time around to ‘go again’. Having north of £20k-per-week of that budget tied up for the next two years in the waning Stefan Johansen will hamper that further and we’re only eight weeks out from the season.
Don’t forget as well, QPR are no longer Harlington based. The switch to Heston has begun already. Now, that could be incredibly exciting for a new coach of this ilk wanting to come in and build something long term, but it’s going to be a challenge to begin with. The pitches are down, laid, looking great by all accounts, but they’ll be working around the building of the new facility. Lee Hoos has always enthusiastically said “I’ll have them in portacabins if I have to, the pitches are the priority and they have to be right” which sounds great, but the little worry gremlin in my head feels like you’ve be better off sticking with sub standard Harlington until the new gaff is ready. It’s an additional challenge a new manager in his first number one job probably doesn’t need.
But there was another line that jumped out of all the Michael Beale content I’ve waded through over the last few weeks that made my blood run, if not cold, then certainly chillier than I would usually care for. See if you can spot why…
“I’ve not had many set backs in my career, I’ve always chosen the moment when to move from one club or job to the other and have had quite a smooth journey in my coaching. One period that was disappointing was my last month in Sao Paulo. I’d given up a lot to go there, it was a fantastic journey, my first experience of first team football and it came to an end very quickly. Maybe when a board of directors and coaching team are not aligned… we’d lost a lot of players that we sold… and it ended very quickly and I came away really disappointed and it took me a good few months to get over that.”
Mark Warburton lost his job here because the aim for the season, for the financial outlay, was the top six, and his team went from pushing second in February to eleventh by the end of April, three wins in 18 games, disastrous defeats to Peterborough and Barnsley. He may have survived even that, however, had the relationships above and around him been sound. Put it down to the goalkeeper situation, the injuries, bad luck, a thin squad, suck it up, start again. His problem was he and we had once more veered too far back towards ‘what manager wants manager gets’, with a number of short term additions made at hefty expense, a number of his decisions backed that didn’t pay off, players the club wants to develop sidelined. Conversations and relations with Chris Ramsey, Paul Hall and that side of the business had ceased altogether – they feeling he was operating separately of an integrated system and refusing to give them or their players the time of day, him wondering what a few of their jobs actually were, doubting whether their players were good enough, and annoyed they wouldn’t match up with the first team’s back three style and shape.
There’s a lazy assumption been made that this all means what Les Ferdinand wants is a yes man, to do what he says, pick Osman and Nico every week, which is why we’ve gone for a head coach. The long contracts given to sub-par full backs Osman Kakay and Nico Hamailainen is increasingly becoming a stick to beat Ferdinand with. It bears repeating, QPR and Les Ferdinand don’t have to develop players because it’s a nice thing to do, they have to do it because if we don’t start getting serious transfer fees for our players on a regular basis soon the club will definitely breach FFP again, and cease to be a going concern. While results were going well and promotion was a possibility, that issue was ignored. As soon as results died, so did Warburton’s employment prospects because we cannot afford to do a summer of no outs, nine ins, Stefan Johansen, Charlie Austin, Andre Gray, transfer fees for Dozzell and Dunne, loan fees for McCallum, and then not go up.
This quote from Beale rang a lot better than Warburton’s “with respect, they’ve got to be better than Lee Wallace, Moses Odubajo, Charlie Austin…” whenever asked about a young player’s prospects. Beale eventually became disheartened at Chelsea’s notorious puppy farm because “You need to put yourself in the position of the parent… I reached a point where, when it came to recruitment, maybe I wasn’t believing what I was saying to parents anymore. After all, they see what we see – players not getting through”.
“You have to manage the pathway. Young players now fall into a black hole if they don’t believe in their pathway – if they haven’t made it to the first team by 18 or 19. In my time I only saw one player take the lift from U18s to first team and that was Trent Alexander-Arnold. Everybody else had to take the stairs, a lot of loans, like Reuben Loftus-Cheek, Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Harry Wilson. You have to help the players understand their pathway, what it took the players in the first team to get ready to play for the first team at that club, and how many of them were ready at 18. After that it’s about self-awareness – what does it look like when you’re at your best? What do you do, what do the coaches say about you, what do you feel? And what do you do about that every day, what are your rituals? How does that fit within the team, how do you become selectable, how do you play with different teammates, who’s serving you and who are you serving? Then it’s relationship management, which is where a lot of young players fail. How are you perceived, how do you perceive other people? How do you communicate with the staff? Would your teammates pick you? What do the people around the building think of you? Your car, your clothes, your social media, the fans perspective of you.”
What we need now with Michael Beale is absolutely everybody to be on the same page, and I think the fact he’s come here when he’s previously turned down EFL jobs to stay in youth football when he didn’t think that was the case bodes well. Interesting though that he puts some of the Rangers success down to the way Gerrard and his team used their budget and were canny with free transfers in the first summer, when again the perhaps lazy assumption is ‘Les wants to do all that’ and the head coach just be exactly that. Assuming they’re all aligned, then that page has to be communicated effectively to the fan base.
I suspect the aim this year is midtable, I reckon they’d kill you now for eleventh again; with at least one, significant, multi-million pound sale; with two or three new academy graduates featuring semi-regularly at first team level; with development and progress towards being the next big sale seen in people like Dunne, Dozzell and Dickie; with a sprinkling of new prospects from Andy Belk’s recruitment team stepping in as Field, Willock and Dunne have; with the wage bill cut, and older players without re-sale value moved on. Do all of that, I think they’d see it as a success. Does Beale? Is that what he’s coming here for? Do the fans? Because to finish 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th in the Championship there are going to be periods of poor form as well as good – does the section of the crowd expecting us to “go again” appreciate that? How will they react? How will the club react when they react? I think this season, more than possibly any other since 2014/15 when there was a conscious decision not to just put all the chips back on red for an immediate Premier League return, a really clear, coherent public relations strategy to set fans expectations while still inspiring people to want to support the team and back the club is necessary. At Rangers Beale engaged fans online in discussion about the team’s tactical set up and the reasons they’d chosen it, responding to questions. Would that work as a first team manager? Would it work at QPR? Would it work on QPR Twitter?
And, hey, never mind the fans, how will that board react? If we lose four or five in a row, but Aaron Drewe and a few others like him have got five Championship games under their belt, is everybody on the same page that this is part of the process? Or will Tony/Reuben be getting itchy trigger finger about that again? Richard Reilly, the new American investor, hasn’t just forked over £10m for a 10% stake in a loss-making Championship club because he likes the kit has he? What direction of travel is acceptable to him? We’ve blamed/scapegoated players, managers, CEOs and DOFs over the last decade, the owners have largely escaped because they keep writing that £1.8m cheque to keep us going each month and have paid for their mistakes so the attitude seems to be ‘better the devil you know’ – but they are the one constant in this club’s failure.
We talked in the end about Mark Warburton perhaps failing in some ways to ‘manage up’. This a man with decades of experience in different high-powered, ego-driven industries. A man who’d managed other complex clubs like Rangers and Forest, and one at Brentford where the owner’s word is lore. Here we have a coach, in his first number one job, clearly very adept at coaching players and managing relationships with them, but never before with all the other politics and media side of things to deal with. And he’s coming into a club where you’ve got a whole clutch of youth coaches, one of whom is a national team manager in his own right and harbours strong ambitions to be a number one soon, who need their players progressing to the first team for their CVs, led by somebody else who needs the same and has also already been the manager here once before. You’ve got a director of football between you and them, and above that an ownership group who may have thankfully backed away from sticking their mood swings out in public, but were absolutely livid in that Luton-Forest-Peterborough week and continue to be high maintenance – while writing a cheque for £1.8m a month to keep us going that’s their prerogative, but it doesn’t make a manager’s job easy. It’s a lot of egos, a lot of people looking to justify their jobs, and their spend.
You could also say that having been first in the Chelsea puppy farm, then the Liverpool academy, then one of the biggest clubs in Brazil and then one of the biggest clubs in Scotland, this is not only his first managerial job but also his first experience of being more of an underdog, without as much expectation sure, but also without the resource to just go and smash the opposition up. There was another quote in the research that gave me hope. Beale said: “In terms of agreeing on the vision the first thing is what identity are we adapting as a club? Are we a survivor who’s just been promoted? Are you the underdog punching upwards, or are you the big club that’s expected to take initiative with the ball and kick on? Because then your game model and recruitment should be in line with that. You have to create an elite environment as a staff. It’s nice to build a pathway and maybe just influence the second team in the academy, not all the way down. And you have to promote that and control the narrative. I’m talking about alignment. You have to align the ownership, the team management, the team, the players and the fans. If you get that in line you’re strong.” That’s exactly the job here, to the letter.
Still, a lot of cooks around the pot, a lot of masters to satisfy, a lot of egos, a lot of issues with the squad, a small budget to solve them with, pressure to pick players from a youth system that is not getting results, a significant gap between what is realistic this season and what a lot of these people (and the fans) might be expecting, and just eight weeks to the new season… That’s a difficult job for a rookie, even one that does understand what’s required.
As ever, I just want to wish you good luck, we’re all counting on you.
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When Monday Comes #37 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes and we reach the end of a topsy-turvy season, much of which hasn’t been that much fun if I’m honest, though latterly considerably improved under Wayne Brown. If I can, I always like to do the first and last game of the season, but sadly a trip to Hartlepool just wasn’t on the cards, not if I actually wanted to get home again tonight, so I had to console myself with a pretty enjoyable trip to the JobServe last weekend – not quite the victory the U’s deserved over Walsall, but a great day out anyway. I know it’ll be too late for the Player of the Year awards, but wouldn’t it be nice to see a Freddie Sears hat-trick this afternoon to round off the season.
When Saturday Comes #36 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes tomorrow, and I will be on a train heading over to God’s own county for my last U’s game of the season. That should have been last Friday’s trip to the Principality, but as posted elsewhere I was more than happy to be pre-booked to dog-sit Emma’s collie Reggie that night and had to be content with one of Nadine’s ‘downstreams’ on iFollow. Given both the performance and the result, whilst I was sorry to miss it in person, I was more than happy with how Friday night turned out in the end. Tomorrow will be a gathering of the clans for us, with at the last count at least 8, possibly more, of the family gathering for the match. Ironically, I’ll see them all again on Bank Holiday Monday for a family birthday, but I’ll be driving over for that one.
When Saturday Comes #35 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes and the U’s have already given us a fantastic start to the weekend, with a stirring and well-deserved 2-1 victory at promotion-chasing Newport County. Yes, the Exiles had lost the previous three at home and are looking like they are going to bottle their chance for the play-offs, and yes with the U’s now safe technically we had little to play for, but don’t take anything away from this performance. If Wayne Brown is still being ‘interviewed’ for the full-time role as Colchester United manager, then last night was the equivalent of having an excellent incisive question of your own lined up for the interview panel.
When Saturday Comes #34 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes and our Easter Bank Holiday programme is already underway, following a dismal 2-0 defeat at St James’ Park yesterday. It’s not so much the result that galls, in truth deep down I suspect we all thought it was going to be a difficult trip to get anything out of, it was the manner of that defeat. To say the U’s were lacklustre is a massive understatement – and it wasn’t as if it was down to Exeter City simply outplaying us, I didn’t think they were all that to be honest. I can cope with defeat, heaven knows the U’s have given me enough practice in recent years, but to go down without a whimper, relying on Man of the Match Sham to keep it from becoming a cricket score against an average Exeter City, was just dreadful.
When Saturday Comes #33 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes and there was a time, not too long ago, when today’s game against the charmless Steve Evans and Stevenage was looking like it might be a relegation 6-pointer. Whilst we’re not out of the woods quite yet, back-to-back victories over Tranmere Rovers and Harrogate mean we go into this game knowing even if we were to slip up against Stevenage, we’ll still be 8pts plus goal difference ahead of them, and only five games left to play. Still, let’s not dwell on negatives, because three wins on the bounce will be the confidence-booster we’ll need ahead of the tough trip on Good Friday to St James’ Park.
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