Analytics' fav Paal caps busy weekend for Rangers – Signing
Sunday, 19th Jun 2022 17:23 by Clive Whittingham
Dutch left back Kenneth Paal has become the second QPR signing in three days after joining from PEC Zwolle in his homeland.
Kenneth Paal is a 24-year-old, five-foot-nine-inch left back born in Arnhem in the Netherlands and of Surinamese descent – just like QPR legend Sammy Koejoe.
He started his career at Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven having started off in the youth team at rival NEC, making four starts and one sub appearance for their senior team in the 2017/18 season. Prior to that he clocked up 88 appearances and five goals for Jong PSV, effectively the club’s B team which plays in the second tier of Dutch football but cannot be promoted from it.
He spent the 2018/19 season on loan at PEC Zwolle, another Dutch top flight outfit, where he made 29 appearances. At the expiry of his PSV contract that summer he moved to Zwolle permanently and signed a contract which has just come to a mutual end following Zwolle’s relegation to the Dutch second tier allowing QPR to pick him up on a free transfer. He clocked up 90 starts and ten sub appearances over his four seasons there, scoring three times in quick succession against Venlo, Utrecht and Vitesse Arnhem in the 2019/20 campaign.
He has 13 caps for the Netherlands at U17 level and joins QPR on a three-year contract after his contract was terminated by mutual consent and the R’s fended off interest in him from Bristol City. He was chased by Celtic and Barnsley last summer with a £650k fee mentioned and said at the time: “I've always said that I want to play in England. That's where I get the most out of my game. The Championship... is a great competition. I would like to experience that one day.”
“The intensity of the Championship will be something we will prepare him for during pre-season,” Michael Beale said today. So he can look forward to a few weeks of some YT cannonballing size five balls at his head (why on earth did we release Dom Ball?) and then he’ll be good to go.
“I am very excited and can’t wait to work with the group. I don’t know how it is to play outside of the Netherlands so I am looking forward to the competition, the stadiums and the big games. I am almost 25 and I feel my body is ready to play outside the Netherlands. I always said I wanted to do this. The manager followed me for a long time, he knows where I came from and my qualities, but also the things I have to improve. When I spoke to him I told him, ‘I want this and I will fight for you.” -Kenneth Paal
“I am so happy that we have Kenneth at our club. He is a player that gives us lots of quality and versatility on the left side of the pitch. He comes with an excellent CV and, importantly, with a huge desire to play for our club and to push his career onwards. I first saw him playing for a young PSV side at a tournament in Turkey. I was coaching a team including Jake Clarke-Salter and remember looking at the other teams to see who were the best talents. Kenneth was playing as a wide forward and immediately I liked his personality and his ability to carry the ball. He is a very versatile player who has played as a left back, left wingback and also as a number eight in midfield.” -Michael Beale
I talk a lot on LFW about ‘what manger wants manager gets’ but it probably bears repeating exactly what I mean, and why I think it’s particularly bad and dangerous for a club like Queens Park Rangers. Plus, I thought Kenneth Paal was that geezer Peter Bleksley has been hunting down so it’s probably best the opinions on him specifically are left to the analytics boys – who love him, which is a very good thing, as I’ll come onto as part of this ramble.
It seems counter intuitive, while managers are being judged ever more sternly over decreasingly harsh periods of time for their players’ output, that they shouldn’t be allowed to pick the players themselves. But it’s that ongoing erosion of the average tenure of a football manager that makes the traditional model of them signings the players an issue. On average you get 772 days as a Premier League boss, which is more than the 628 in the Bundesliga, 617 days in La Liga, and of course 384 days in the notoriously sack-happy Italian Serie A – I’m amazed that average is more than a year to be honest. In the 2019/20 season 75 managerial sackings were registered across the 92 Football League clubs, a new high/low for British football. The average tenure across the four leagues hovers just above 400 days. The Championship’s longest serving managers are Paul Warne at Rotherham and Mark Robins at Coventry who are well past five years now, but it’s worth pointing out that Michael O’Neill at Stoke and Carlos Corberan at Huddersfield are already in the top six, and Mark Warburton was third in the division when we binned him after just three seasons. At the dawn of the Premier League in 1992/93 the average manager tenure was over three years, and just 25 bosses were sacked that season.
The effect I believe this has had on the way managers conduct transfers when they’re allowed to is very damaging for a club like QPR that has a budget limited by revenues, historic mistakes and the league’s rules on how much money you can lose over a rolling three-year period. QPR have to develop players to sell for big money, but they cannot spend money on players unless they do that. So, to begin the cycle, and get the cogs turning, you have to turn up a few rough diamonds for polishing. Not all will go well, most won’t, all will make mistakes early on, but if you can grow a few of them into Ebere Eze-style sales then you can reinvest that money in better prospects next time, and the more Eze-style sales you get the more you can pay and the better your prospects get. Painful as it is, Brentford traded their way out of this parachute payment-dominated league by doing exactly that, getting £8m-type fees for Konsa, Mepham, Hogan, which allowed them to invest in Maupay and Benrahma who were £20m+ players which allowed them to pay Pontus Jansson and Ivan Toney types who got them promoted. It’s the only way, as far as I can see, to do the Championship now for clubs like us.
The manager doesn’t care about this. That’s a sweeping statement, probably a bit too broad brush stroke, but generally speaking, he doesn’t. The manager knows that if he loses the next six matches he loses his job, more often than not, and in the Championship you can lose six matches in little under three weeks. He wants a player who’s going to get him a result this Saturday. Given the choice between a 33-year-old left back who’s been there, seen it, done it, kicked it up in the air, won the player of the season award at Glasgow Rangers (magnificent football club) or a 19-year-old with 30 senior appearances to his name who is inevitably going to do silly things and make daft mistakes on his way to either making it or not, he’s going to go with the 33-year-old every time. Fuck your three/four/five year plan, because lose this week and next and he probably won’t even be here three/four/five months from now. Allow the managers to make the signings, while also replacing the manager frequently, and you end up with the sort of disjointed squad, chock full of unwanted players acquired by different people for different reasons, that QPR carried for years. It takes a brave board, and a tolerant support base, who say ‘do it this way, and even if it doesn’t go well, you won’t lose your job’.
QPR aren’t there yet. We initially went all in with the trademarked experienced managers. Mark Hughes with Kia Koorabchian, Harry Redknapp with Willie Mckay, they’re the experts, they know what they’re doing, give them the keys to the safe and the good cheque book with the fountain pen and they’ll see us right. They won’t, and didn’t, because not only do managers sign players they think will help in the immediate short term and bollocks to the medium and long, they also appreciate they (unlike the players) could get the sack tomorrow and have to go to Bradford City for their next job so you also sign players from favoured agents, players you’ve worked with before, so that, shall we say, everybody gets looked after. Short career, gotta make hay while the sun shines guys.
This is where it’s particularly dangerous at QPR. We have well-meaning, rich owners who have paid for their many mistakes, but to say they were led down the garden path by Hughes and Redknapp isn’t entirely true. They wanted big names. They wanted press conferences at the top of sky scrapers with the artist formerly known as Ji-Sung Park in his Air Asia baseball cap. What the club was desperate for, for a long time, was a director of football system to sit between a board you could kindly describe as excitable and naïve, and the managers who’d seen a prize pig coming to market, and apply some sort of strategy and balance and check to it all. Whatever you think of the job Les Ferdinand has done, it infuriates me when I see people saying QPR are too small, or too skint, for a director of football, and don’t need one. This club, with this ownership, of this size with this budget, needs one more than almost any other.
Even with that system in place, however, the squad is still an intriguing mix of players being signed from three different sources. You have your Chris Ramsey/Paul Hall camp on the one side, pushing their youth players, desperate to see more chances given and better pathways – Hamalainen and Kakay yes hammer them with that if you like, but also Chair, Eze. You have Andy Belk and his analytics team (Willock, Dickie, Field, Dunne but also Bonne, Dykes, Thomas, Smyth), which I personally think is the club’s real strong suit at the moment and where we should be putting most, if not all, of our eggs. All the smart clubs making progress past us on our budget or less are doing it that way. And then you have the manager, who is still allowed to bring in his own players. Much of the chatter leaking out of the club since Mark Warburton’s departure has been about how relations had broken down between him and the Hall/Ramsey side of the business but I wonder if there was tension with the other faction as well. I cannot imagine any data or analytics supporting the signings of Lee Wallace and Moses Odubajo, for instance. They were Warbs’ boys, worked with before, loved and trusted.
The problem of letting the manager bring in his lads like that is laid bare by the state of our squad in both full back positions this summer. Fundamentally, a month out from the season start, we have nobody capable of playing the position at Championship level on either side, and with budget spent last summer on a semi-promotion push there’s now limited funds to put that right. George Cox, who I’m deeply in love with, got so close to signing last summer that he even toured the training ground, and instead Lee Wallace got another year which, even allowing for his burst of availability and form in the back half of 2020/21, always looked a bridge too far for a player who arrived injured and rarely ascended above that status, however good he was in the dressing room. We should now be a year into Cox’s development at Championship level, two years and one option left to go on his deal, looking forward to him really powering into season two with an eye to a big sale next summer. Good, quality, attacking, full backs and wing backs, along with ball playing centre backs, are golden in this market because you can buy them cheap relative to strikers and goalscoring midfielders, and the returns are enormous if you get a good one – Bristol City turned Ipswich’s Adam Webster round from a £3.5m buy into a £20m sale in 13 months. Instead we’ve persisted with Todd Kane, Odubajo, Wallace – all Warburton picks and favourites (until he wasn’t) – and are now here scrabbling around.
Kenneth Paal is as good as you’ll get in that scrabble. I’ll leave the analytics chaps to outline way for you in a series of embedded Tweets below, but for me it’s more the model of the signing and who’s making it that wins for me. Much is being made of Beale’s persuasive powers, and how long ago he knew Clarke-Salter and Paal, because we need to big up our new, risky managerial appointment. But these are analytics-based signings, that part of our club has been tracking Paal and Cox for some time, and the more players we bring in that way the better value we will get and the more prospects we will acquire.
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Pictures – Action Images
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