Michael Beale – Patreon
Wednesday, 13th Jul 2022 08:05 by Clive Whittingham, Patreon
New QPR manager Michael Beale goes in depth on the squad he has inherited, last season’s collapse, signings made and signings to come, the youth players that have caught his eye, and weaponizing Loftus Road.
LFW has been conducting written interviews with figures from QPR’s past and present for 19 years and publishing them free-to-view. Now, to help support both this website and the iconic AKUTRs fanzine, 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 full interview via our Patreon by clicking here or read for free below…
When did QPR’s interest become apparent? Take us through the process and how you’ve ended up with the job this summer.
It became apparent just at the end of the season. I was going on holiday and the day I was travelling I got the first inkling there was interest. The club made contact with Aston Villa, I had quite a sizeable buy-out from the contract there so I knew the interest was serious. We had an initial conversation and things moved quickly from there. I wanted things to move quickly and so did the club, firstly because I was in a good job with really good people and I wanted to be honest with them, and also because there was interest from a League One club and another Championship club that was serious as well. My eyes were very much on QPR because of a few players, and I’m a London boy so I know the club, what it can be, where it has been. I wouldn’t say I watched intensely last season but I saw enough of the team to be intrigued and look into it a bit more. When I did and I spoke to the owners I was enthused by what everybody had to say. It was a big decision because I was with good people at a good club but it wasn’t a difficult one to make.
Take us inside those conversations, because I presume there has been interest before, what did you ask of QPR and what did they say to you that convinced you this was the right opportunity to take that step?
The first thing is I listened to what the club wanted, what the owners want from their club, and where they felt the wanted to go, moving to Heston, the environment they wanted to create for the players and staff. Then it was important that I presented my ideas. There weren’t really questions from me at that stage, these things when managers get hired are like speed dating - I think you know when you sit down with somebody whether you’re interested. It was 'this is the way I work, these are the things I believe in, does that align with what you want? What exactly is it you want?' If we get to the next stage then we can get down to the nitty gritty. A big thing for me was to talk about the current players, the opportunities to improve them and the areas I felt the club might benefit from my work and my staff’s work, before you start talking about budgets. If you go into a club and start asking about how much you’ve got to spend then it’s clear you’re not thinking about working with the people who are there. In the Championship at the moment there are very few clubs with the finances to go out and buy, and buy, and buy. After Covid, clubs that haven’t been in the Premier League for the last five years have to have a really clean eye for how they’re going to play with the current playing squad and then bring in two or three people on perhaps lower fees who you think have a higher future potential. That’s what I believe in anyway. It was the remit at Rangers and at Aston Villa to buy people with their best days in front of them – that’s the way every club needs to recruit at the moment.
So, the conversations were really good. You’re listening to owners who are really engaged with their club, they’re financially backing the club as much as they can. When you listen to what they want for their club you ask are you aligned with that, do you believe in that and can you give that to them. They were the key things. I’ve listened to other owners who didn’t have a plan. The difference is QPR have got a plan and it’s just maybe fine tuning it and maximising it.
What is that plan? Premier League ASAP please or more nuanced than that?
I think the first thing is every club needs to be sustainable so the owners aren’t having to constantly fund it. Sustainable comes in a number of ways and yes the easiest way would be to go to the Premier League wouldn’t it? Go there, the riches that are there, and stay there. The other way to become sustainable is having players in the building, Ebere Eze a prime example, that you develop and give a platform to and they either take you to the Premier League or they go there and you start the conveyer belt. Every club in the Championship is trying to do one of those two things. Me, as a coach, naturally I want to go there with this team rather than have your best players leave from time to time but I am realistic. If I look to the past I’ve always been a development coach in clubs that are trying to push players to the first team, so I’m used to players leaving me. At Rangers and Aston Villa, there are bigger fish so if a boy does well he’ll move. At Rangers it was about giving players a platform with a very similar budget to the one we’ve got here in 2018 and buying interesting players like Glen Kamara for £50k, Calvin Bassey at £200k, Joe Aribo £200k and then playing a way and having a model that kicks them on. My ambition as a head coach is to manage in the Premier League, not be an assistant there, that’s why I’ve come to take this job. Is there easier jobs in world football? Yeh. Every Championship job is a difficult one. But I really believe in myself.
Anything so far that wasn’t in the brochure? Any skeletons come tumbling out of closets?
In every football club there’s skeletons and things to come out of the closet. When you enter into a relationship from outside you don’t really know the players. You have an idea of where you think you can take someone and then you get in and maybe there’s a reason why one or two haven’t kicked on; one or two might jump out at you; you’re forming relationships with members of staff; you’re going into a club with its own culture and environment that might be positive or there might be areas you think need to really improve. We’re moving across to Heston and we’re in a temporary facility, which is better than the facility we had at Harlington but there’s still an element of moving in and getting ready for the season. Now I’m in the job the realism is there. I’ve got to say first three weeks I’ve found very smooth, no issues, we’ve done a bit of business with three players coming in who fit the changing room and the ambition and type of player I want to work with. A manager will always say we could do with four or five more of them, six or seven more. But at the moment I’m really positive on everything, but likewise I want more. Once the players set a level, I want more. Once we bring one or two players in who have made us better, I want three or four more. That’s just the way I am. Demanding. It’s the way a manager should be with a board, at times they’ll tell you ‘no’ and others they’ll support you as much as they can.
I know you spent your holiday watching the last 20 games of our last season, we all extend our sympathies to you for that, what were your key takeaways as an outsider?
It’s very difficult. You could be deemed as talking across the last manager, and that would be unfair because I wasn’t living in his shoes. Mark steadied the ship, brought some good players into the club and the team did well in that period.
What did I think watching those games back… and speaking to the players about it… Early in the season I think they really impressed themselves. They also won some games where they probably looked at each other and thought ‘we shouldn’t have won that, but we did, ok’. They might have addressed a few things in that time, spoke to each other a bit more, because you fix the roof while the sun is shining. You can be performance happy or result happy and sometimes the players felt they were result happy rather than performance. There were injuries at key times, losing five goalkeepers at once is not ideal, losing Chris Willock is not ideal because it puts a lot more pressure on Ilias, so it’s about rounding out the squad a bit more and having more of the right ingredients.
My takeaway is we can beat anybody, and we have players here that would get into most other teams. Not everyone, but other managers would look at our squad and think 'he could play for us, he could play for us, he’s dangerous, he’s a good player'. They’re key positives, we can beat anyone. There’s no guarantee in the Championship so we need to fight more, we need solid foundations, we some grit to get through difficult moments, we need to improve on defensive set plays – though that might have been linked to goalkeepers changing and back fours changing.
We need some flexibility in shape, because over the course of a season, the way you want to play, those boys might not be available. You have to be able to play maybe two or three systems. You need variety in the squad, different types of forwards for example rather than three of the same type. If you have wide players who play inside the pitch it might be today they need to play outside, so you just need to round your squad off more. Do I think we’ll have that squad complete at the end of this window? Probably not. It’ll take me longer to get the right players into the squad for budgetary reasons. Every manager in the Championship will tell you that.
So, without cutting across what anybody did here last season the team was excellent for two thirds and then potentially mentally overloaded themselves towards the end and ended up falling apart with injuries and what not. I would like to see us peak at the right time, around March, rather than fall apart around March. It’s important not to look too far ahead with a young changing room, we have to fight and scrap for every point this season. In the Premier League, La Liga and around the world you generally finish where your budget tells you to – that can be a worrying thing as a coach or a manager that we’re a little bit overrated. But… Luton, Huddersfield came out of nowhere last year and I would rather QPR have been Luton and Huddersfield, peaking at the right time. We will learn from that. We have to learn from it, not be scarred by it, learn and grow from it. If we’re in the same position this year we’ll be excited that we can learn and kick on. I can relate to that from my first two years at Glasgow Rangers which were very similar.
You’ve brought three new lads in already - tell us about them and what you hope they will bring to your team.
Well, I’ve got a bit of a leftie bias, because I’m a left-footer myself, and lefties just move and look a bit more slicker in football in general.
Jake comes in to replace Yoann. Nearly ten years younger. Former England U21 captain. Six or seven loans, played a lot of football, but needs a home now. If you’re a very talented young player but you keep getting sent on loan you don’t have the same sports scientists, coaches, changing room, can’t live in the same house. He’s a young father. He can get settled and focus on his football with a bit of a football dad in myself who has known him since he was nine years of age. He’s an exciting player for us to have. Immediately a big asset, brought in on a free and with a high load in terms of the future.
Kenneth Paal is a boy I played against quite extensively in his youth career at PSV. Same age as Jake, used to play against him with Jake’s team. Followed him quite a lot when I was at Liverpool. He can play left back, left wing back, left eight. A lot of variety down that side and again replaces Lee Wallace going out, ten years younger again with a big upsell. They’re the sort of moves the club needs to be making.
Tyler Roberts is 23, remember always he’s a year younger than Ilias and Chris, but with more than 50 Premier League games, 20 internationals and a Championship winner. He’s such a lovely kid and a willing worker, runner and team player that has hurt him and hindered him because he’s played so many positions. This gives him a chance to be a hybrid forward for us. In style he’s close to Kemar Roofe or Firminio – is he a striker? Is he a ten? I really like that type, I really like that type of forward he gives me a lot of options in the squad.
When you’re building a squad with a competitive but limited budget, money isn’t readily available, it’s important people come in with hybrid qualities who can fulfil two or three roles. Those three have been excellent. I’m hoping we can go and do three or four more very similar profile to them. I need to look at a changing room and feel that every player has got a lot of ambition, drive and motivation. I’ll feed off that. I’ve got that as a manager so I want my team to be a reflection of me. These three bring that and join a host of others in our dressing room of similar age with similar aims.
It's quite exciting. They lack a few grey hairs but how many Championship games do you have to play to be classed as ‘experienced’? Jimmy Dunne played 40 games last year. Does he need 40 more to know how to play in the Championship, or does he know now? If I bring somebody, another Yoann, in to hold his hand and Rob’s hand, yeh we’ve got experience, but when do I let these kids grow up? As a father when do you let go of your kid’s hand to allow them to grow up with a bit of independence. That’s what I’m emphasising to the players.
Three or four more… where are we on that? With the budget, without a player sale, are we going to be able to do three or four more this window?
We need one or two more, we needed one or two more… like… yesterday. Everyone is aware of that, we’re doing the work on that, we’re talking to players. Naturally I want good players, but if you’re a good player the coach who’s got you now doesn’t want to let you go. We have to be very strong when negotiating. It has to fit our financial model. We’re very close on one or two, the people in the background are supporting me 100% - I want everybody outside to understand that, I feel the real strength of the backing of everybody to get the deals done.
At the moment the window has been eerily quiet in terms of people paying for players. Even with loans, with the Premier League starting a week later they’ve all gone on tour and won’t return until the week our season is starting so most of the interesting players are still being assessed by their managers because their internationals are not in yet. My preference is to do permanents and not loans. If I can avoid loans I will. For our club, where we are, we need players who want to be at QPR, not escape in 15 games time because the water’s a bit hot and the heat is too much for them in the Championship. I want people who want to be here to grow.
I don’t want to put a number on it. We could overdo our number. The bare minimum is we need one or two in over the next couple of weeks and I can tell you I’m getting the full support for that and it’s just a matter of one or two things falling into place.
There was a perception that you’d be popping back to Villa and cherry-picking their best young talent on loan, is that a lazy assumption people have made?
I know a lot of young players. We’ve had a lot of phone calls from a lot of very good young players, I can’t tell you every name but if I could you’d be really surprised, oh wow, they want to come and play here. We can’t afford everything and it would be wrong for me to bring some of those players here because they’d cut right across our own. You won’t put people in front of the players here that we’re developing, that are our boys, that the fans love. You have to weight that up. It’s fair to say Aston Villa do have very good players and I have good links with Aston Villa, likewise with Liverpool. The key is I know those players, outside is he ready, and then inside is he ready to play in our team and our environment. They’re busy, they’re away on their tour to Australia where I’ve heard it’s raining there so I’m winning here in the sun in Germany. We’ll see, they’ve got players who need loans but there will be a lot of people after their players and you don’t want to get into a bidding war for any loan player. Some Premier League clubs, speaking generally not about Aston Villa specifically, are demanding £1m loan fees. We won’t be going for those players. You can imagine who they are, and all the clubs are after them.
We have seven games before the window closes, and it’s a tough start fixture wise, are you concerned about that – deals being done later in the window when we’re already seven games deep?
No, I’m not concerned by it. We’ve had Jake, Kenneth and Tyler coming in. In terms of main starters, we lost Yoann and Lee Wallace. That’s who we lost. Everybody else is in the building. I don’t think we should be worried about that. What we do need is getting our main players on the pitch more often than what we did in the second half of last season. I wasn’t here, I don’t know why, we picked up so many injuries, all I can hope is all our injuries were loaded last year. At the moment I think we have a core of 13-14 and we’ll have two or three more by the time we kick off against Blackburn. That’s the aim. We’ll assess it after the first six games. I’m aware people might assess me after those six games, that’s fine, that’s the nature of the business. There’s always the long term but you have to take care of today and tomorrow as well.
I don’t think the teams we’re playing at the start of the season want to play us either. When we look at it, we’re biased, we look at it through QPR eyes. If you look at it through Jon Dahl Tomasson’s eyes that’s a tough first home game. Their season and our season last year, you may as well mirror them. If you’re Chris Wilder, you’re not over the moon that your first away game is at Loftus Road are you? It’s fine. The league is very competitive. Let’s see. My big, big positive here is we’ve got an 11 we can pick tomorrow that we know can beat any team in the division. I think that’s what we should focus on. Yoann isn’t here, Jake Clarke-Salter steps in, that’s perception outside who’s a stronger player? If Lee Wallace and Sam McCallum aren’t here but Kenneth Paal is, perception. Charlie Austin and Andre Gray aren’t here, Tyler Roberts steps in – perception. Who’s stronger? The rest of the team is in place.
How is that recruitment being managed? Age old question at QPR, we have a director of football, head of recruitment, manager. You worked with Jake before, knew Kenneth since he was eight, who’s identifying targets and getting final say?
It’s a management decision for everybody. In any football club if you’re all aligned in the way you want to play then it’s easy to recruit. Look at the three players we’ve brought in – age, profile, clubs they’ve played for – you can clearly see it’s aligned in terms of youthful, best days in front of them, come from big clubs, have the potential to do more in their career. You’ll get agents ringing the club, me and my staff have our own list, you look at what we can afford. At the moment the three players who have come in have been identified by myself. We weren’t aware Tyler was available, that’s a nice one that came to us, Jake and Kenneth identified by myself. The nice thing was the club had 20-25 reports on both already from Andy Belk, his staff and Les. When I came in I said ‘I’d like to bring Jake Clarke-Salter in as the first signing, like, now’ and they said ‘brilliant, he’s on our radar as well, do you think we can get him?’ We met with the player, presented where we thought he was in his career, what we expect from him, where we see him aligning with us and the boy either likes us or doesn’t.
We’ve had three or four Zooms with other players who wanted to come, very good players who will play Championship this year, but couldn’t agree terms. Financially we’re in a certain area and we don’t want to take the club back to a position where we’re falling in line. I have to listen to that as well. Naturally I want the best players here tomorrow to help the ones we’ve got succeed. The people above who are managing, safeguarding the wellbeing of the club explain things to me and I’m managing that as well. It’s a big message to get out there that everybody here is managing this club very carefully and with astute eyes to make QPR stronger, not destroy it.
That old chestnut
What’s a successful season?
I want to get to March in the shake-up. Then you can come back on in March and ask me then. Everything before that doesn’t matter. That’s about building to get to the international break in March with a chance of doing something. That’s a successful season. Another part of it is fans going to the stadium and being happy with their team and the way the team is going. Also having a harmony in the club between the first team staff, the U23 staff, and the board. So we feel like we’re moving.
At the end of the season it’s either being in the shakeup to go to the Premier League direct or through the play-offs. Or having people come and take our players and be sustainable in that way. That’s where we are as a club. My job is to lead that ship in front of the media and on a touchline on Saturday.
Purely the team, where do I want the team, I want to have a chance in March. Last March we had a chance and didn’t succeed. I think if we are there again we’ll be better for last year’s experience. Before that I can’t predict, it’s an impossible league to predict and if I do make a prediction you’re going to hold me to it aren’t you Clive?
Would a season where QPR finish fifteenth but get five or six U23s into the team and get a dozen games into them, be more successful than finishing eighth but doing it with loans and less player development?
I think we should be looking for top half doing both. Minimum. Minimum. I haven’t come here to finish just above relegation and develop some young players.
A 24-year-old is young, but when does a 24-year-old become a man then if Rob Dickie at 25-26 is young, Jimmy Dunne at 24-25 is young, Ilias Chair… When are they going to lead? They’re in the middle of their careers now, they’re looking to kick on. I’ve not come here to finish in the bottom half. I’ve come here to be really positive and move forwards. I’m aware where we are budget wise, budget wise it tells you you’re going to finish there, but that’s not the aim. The aim is to make a really strong QPR, that’s competitive, and impress ourselves.
Last season we did it, we proved to ourselves we’ve got good players, we can play against anyone, and for some reason that fell apart. Maybe that was squad depth and maybe that will bite us on the backside again this season if we’re unlucky with that again. Experience, I need to get that out of the way, we’ve got players who’ve played 40, 50, 60, 80 Championship games. They’re not young any more. Come on. If we bring in 30+ players to hold their hand, or players on loan from other clubs for six months, how does that kick QPR forwards? I’m not ruling those things out, I’m saying that for the wellbeing and welfare of the club it’s important we develop our own and go onwards and upwards.
I’m not accepting fifteenth, sixteenth. I haven’t come to QPR to finish fifteenth, sixteenth. I’m going for the top half as a bare minimum, and kick on, and do all the things you’ve asked. I want all the cake, and I want to eat it. Probably similar to my diet, which I need to change at some stage.
The general perception among the support base, which may be totally unfair, you mentioned squad depth, is there a push from the club, probably through necessity, to get the U18s and U21s into the first team more, but that quite a few of them aren’t good enough for the Championship and the previous manager wouldn’t pick them. What do you think of that assertion? What have you made of the kids who have been in first team training so far, who has impressed? Where are you on that because it feels like a critical point where relationships broke down last season.
Ok, well, I can’t speak about the past, it would be unfair. I can only talk about now. There’s a difference between training with the first team, having an option of training with the first team, the first team management looking and being open minded, than just closing the door to it. I’m under no to pressure to play anybody who’s not good enough for QPR because that’s mismanaging. Nobody is asking me to mismanage the football club. They’re asking me to try and make it better. With everybody’s help. The important thing is, is there an opportunity for the young boys to come across? Is there an opportunity for the academy staff to come and talk and share ideas? Is there that one-club philosophy? If we’re not bringing a player across what is his next challenge? U23s? Loan? What are we doing for Chris Willock, Rob Dickie, Jimme Dunne, Jake Clarke-Salter now, Sam Field? What are we doing for Luke Amos, Andre Dozzell to help them fulfil their potential? Not just Monday to Friday at the training ground, what are we doing to prepare them and push them on? Media training. Sleep. Diet. Preparation. Recovery. Mental focus. We’re talking about being an elite club in the way we do things and a lot of it doesn’t cost money, it’s just expertise and going the extra mile.
In terms of this tour I’ll give you two names that have done very well that I didn’t bring, but there are reasons I didn’t bring them and people have to understand. Sinclair Armstrong isn’t here because he missed a few days and his body was telling me he needed a bit more time – if I bring him here and he doesn’t play minutes in the game that’s holding him back, so the idea is he goes to Budapest with the U23s, trains hard, plays a couple of games and he will be with the first team from next week when we’re back home for the foreseeable future. Definitely until the last week of the window because I think he has a chance. How big a chance? I won’t know yet, I’ve only worked with him five or six sessions. Arkell-Boyd has done absolutely the same thing. He came with us, I love him as a boy, I love his enthusiasm, the way he carries himself. There are areas of his game that have to improve, but already that boy will be with the first team for the majority of this season training on a daily basis so I can assess where he’s at with my expertise and that of Neil Banfield, Damien Matthew and Chris Ramsey – four ex heads of youth at big clubs. One or two others are on this camp because they need the feedback from me quicker – they’re a little bit older and we’ve got teams knocking down the door to take them on loan. This camp gives me a chance to assess whether they go. That’s me taking Arkell and young Sinclair, if I bring them here and they don’t play as many minutes in these games I’m holding them back. They need a good pre-season to set them up for the season ahead. They’re two young players, along with Joe Gubbins, who won’t be going on loan any time soon because I want them in and around the first team. One or two more I’ve still to make my mind up but I’ve already made my mind up that those three are staying in house. They will be in the extended first team squad this season because I think they have potential to compete and they need time, care and guidance from me and my staff. One or two had that under the last management and now it’s about them going out and knocking out league games. That’s an example of how we’re managing the relationship between the first team and U23s.
Having been on the category A side of the academy fence at some of the biggest clubs in the country, and now at QPR who have a category B in an incredibly competitive city, how realistic is it to think we can bring players through that way with the EPPP laws the way they are?
No doubt the rules make it difficult for some clubs, but what I would say is London is such a diverse city now with so much talent in it. The new training ground will certainly help us when we’re altogether – when the new facility opens in my opinion it’s a Premier League facility. That will give QPR something they’ve not had since before even I was young and used to play against QPR youth teams. It’s a really big thing, it was a big part of me coming as well, the excitement of that. You have to be realistic, Chelsea and Liverpool don’t bring all their players from U9 to first team, there’s an element of recruitment of players 14-18 and then 18-19 who come in. What we have to do is have foundations in place, people want to come, an elite environment. That’s what the owners are providing the club right now. The expertise of the staff as well. I think that’s what the club has made changes for. A lot of things don’t cost money it’s about getting the right people in the building, the right mentality, the right work ethic, knowledge and skillset.
Ebere Eze was let go by a few people, were they bad judges or did he just fit our club more? We helped him go to the next level, got a good fee, saw a boy fulfil his dream in the Premier League. There are loads of ways of developing. We had that at Liverpool, Kevin Stewart, released by Spurs came up and played for us, sold to Hull for £8m. Ovie Ejaria, doing well at Reading, released by Arsenal at 15, came to Liverpool, played games, went to Rangers on loan, goes to Reading for £3.5m. There’s lot of talent, it’s what fits your club. It’s not who they were let go by, it’s what fits now. If the philosophy of the first team is so unaligned to the academy it’s very hard. Has the first team got a way of playing that’s universally looked at as being appealing? Then it’s easier to develop players out of the academy and to recruit for it.
We saw the team for the first time at Crawley, a back four as opposed to a back three of last season, a ‘Christmas tree’ some have described the formation as, are we wedded to that?
Now Tyler is in the building, Chris isn’t fit, you have Ilias, Albert, Macauley, Lyndon… Mide did well at the weekend. I think we can play three tens behind a nine. Two tens behind a nine. Two wingers and a nine. We played two in midfield and three at the back last year so I know I’ve got that in the locker, I’m not working on that right now but it’s something to go to. I think each game I need the best eleven players available for that game, but with very, very clear principals. That’s what we’ve worked on for the last three weeks – very, very, very clear principals. It gives the players clarity, I think they need clarity in their role in the squad, they need to buy into that, and they need clarity in the way the team is going to play. It gives you peace of mind and enables you to perform. I’m really open. We did play with two quite closed number tens at the weekend, or at least that’s how it was perceived, I thought it was a 4-3-3 so it just shows you how people look at it with different eyes.
I haven’t had all the best players available yet. I need players to determine the formation for me within the principals. If Tyler, Lyndon, Ilias and Chris are all fit and firing, and Macauley is firing, then I’ve got a problem. I want problems. I think last year Mark didn’t have problems like that at times, and that’s what I’m talking about when I talk about trying to round off the squad.
We’ve had a lot of players leave. I’ve seen a lot written about that and said about that, I’m not blind, I do see what fans say… ‘oh we’ve had 13 players leave’ and so on. How many of them were on the pitch? Was it the right thing some of them naturally left? How many were important to last season? How many of them were really important to moving forwards? What I will say is the people who took the decisions on those players before I came really care for this football club. They are here 24/7, they’re here every day, they’re trying to make good decisions for QPR. Of the 13 that left, how many would you say were essential to playing against Blackburn on July 30? I only want players coming in who can make a big impact on this team moving forwards.
I’ll never make a short term decision. I will always make decisions on the longevity of QPR. It won’t be selfish decisions for me to gain things in the short term. That’s where I’m at. It’s important for me to share that outwards. We’re completely aligned. I think you’d be able to tell from my face, my energy, my communication, as time moves on, if we’re ever not aligned.
Sounds like you’ve met QPR social media. You were very active in that sphere, ran a really interesting blog, in previous jobs. Will you knock that on the head as a manager?
I will interact with the QPR fans because it’s the right thing to do. In the right forums, like this, it’s important that I interact with you guys. It’s your club, it’ll be your club long after me, you’ve seen a lot of people. I don’t see anything wrong in honesty, integrity, sharing the vision. I think some clubs get that wrong, they’re not willing to share what’s going on. Everybody realises I’m not Pep Guardiola, where I’m at in my career I’m not Mourinho I haven’t managed for 20 years. People also realise QPR aren’t Man City either. We know everything isn’t perfect. Sometimes where clubs and fans get misaligned is a lack of communication. I’m not going to be on social media 24/7, I never was, but I won’t shy away from being honest with fans on what I see. I won’t try and pull the wool over your eyes in any interviews this year. I’ll be very honest. It’s the same with the players, I’ll be honest with them.
And all that jazz
I’ve heard you discuss the importance right at the start of setting an identity and ethos for the team. You’ve worked at some of the biggest clubs in the country, QPR are not that sort of size. Do you adapt, change, have a different ethos, more underdog, than you perhaps would do at Glasgow Rangers? Or do we aspire to that sort of Liverpool, Rangers mentality even thought we’re a smaller club?
I love an underdog mentality. All of our players tell me they want to go to the Premier League with QPR. All of our younger players. Ok, let’s respect that every day at 11am, let’s respect it every time we go across the line. I want that as well as the manager. I want to take QPR there. The ride Nottingham Forest had last year, you may say they were underachieving as a squad but the ride they had proves you can be anywhere in this league at a certain point, go on a run, and it changes everything. I want to induce that here.
Every club is different. What I would say is Loftus Road can be our biggest asset, or our biggest Achilles heel. Firstly, the players need to make it an asset, because it’s a difficult place to play when the fans are with you. It can be horrible. We want to play a style that makes it horrible and we create an environment with the fans where it’s horrible for opponents to come. Every manager will say that this year, but I think we’ve actually got a chance of achieving that very, very, very quickly.
I’ll adopt the right culture for this club. I’ve spoken to a lot of people about this club, and playing against it. I spoke to managers in the league last season that I’m familiar with who told me, warts and all, what they said about playing QPR. One of my best friends has just replaced me at Aston Villa, so what a conversation that was. He asked me for advice on going in there, and I said fine in exchange for his tactics when he played against my team. Who did you try and kick? Who did you put under pressure? Who did you feel you could get at? Where were we vulnerable? His reflections were really important because he sees the game similarly to me and we walked in the same shoes for a number of years, me and Neil Critchley. Obviously I gave him some advice on looking after one or two of the players he’s working with now.
I noticed in one of the training videos you were talking about ‘shoulders facing both goals’ and ‘not endlessly setting’. Can you go into a bit of depth for an idiot like me about what you meant and what you’re trying to change in our team with that?
Every player is better facing the opponent’s goal. Sam Field will be a better player if he is facing forwards and passing forwards. Stefan Johansen when he’s facing forwards can do some fantastic things, a wonderful left foot. If we get Luke Amos passing and running forwards, Ilias coming off the defender where he can see both goals and turn between the lines… If you reverse that and the other team is pressing down on you and everybody is facing our goal football is difficult with people on your back and you only have the option of setting. All of the conversations I have with the players is only common sense.
You try to give the players the same advice in all clubs. If I’m the U10 coach at Barcelona I don’t try and teach them a different game to the U10 coach at Shepherd’s Bush FC. Surely we try to teach players to play better football and be the best version of themselves. Without getting too technical, I think players are better in general when facing the other team’s goal. Lyndon and Macauley are better when the ball is wide, there’s a cross coming in, they can run and attack the ball, or opening their shoulders and run down the side of centre backs. It’s very different if we’re playing into them with a centre half up their back, a centre mid pressing from the front. Trying to see both goals is about opening your shoulders so you can play forwards, look forward.
And is that your ethos in general or are we coming back to you watching the last 20 games of last season because it chimed particularly with those of us who’d been at Blackburn away, for instance, where we really struggled to get out and there was a lot of setting back?
When you defend you try and control space and when you attack you try and open it. People getting their shoulders open, open the space to play, I want this team to be about forwards, wide players and tens. I’m not too interested in playing at the back, I want to play from it. We’ve got to open space. When the other team have got it I want them to play at the back because it’s further away from our goal. It’s not rocket science. It’s about having a few very clear principals that you give everybody clarity on. The game is played by players, you can have the best plan in the world, you could come and be my assistant and really help me with your knowledge and we could have the best plan in the world, but it’s the players who play so we have to try and empower them.
So far we’ve had 13 sessions this summer. I had to remind myself when we played Crawley at the weekend. For 45 the game was extremely comfortable and we should have been further in front, but in that session Tyler Roberts had trained with us twice, Ilias four times, Lyndon four. There were only three players who’d done all 11 sessions for different reasons. I want perfection. I get back in the car and drive back to the family like a bear with a sore head over one or two things. The realism is it was day 11 of pre-season, and the majority of the team had only taken part in 30-40% of it. Don’t get me wrong the season will come around quickly in two weeks, but everyday we’re together we’ll grow stronger.
Is part of the job, and you spoke about weaponizing Loftus Road, is it about communicating and selling it to us? It can kind of feel like an accounting exercise at QPR, FFP, rules of the league, turnover. It can drag.
We’ve got to find where we are in the realism of football now. It’s horrible, because we have to do that sometimes in our job – you want to earn more money, bigger house, nicer car, whatever you aspire to. There’s a realism about what you can do, how you can move forwards, and that’s what everybody is doing here at the club. I look at my squad and see areas I’d like to improve because we’re not the best team in the world, but equally I look at other teams in the Championship and see managers with equally or tougher hands than me. That gives me optimism to want to come here and want to do it.
I’m very serious about my job. I’m very serious about my career and the places I’ve been. I didn’t have to take the decision to come. I hope people realise I’ve taken that decision because I see a lot of things to be optimistic about. We’ve got to align everybody. The way you do that is share and talk things through. We try to do that, with the players we sign, with the honesty about sustainability – not everyone receives that with the same eyes and ears and so we just have to continue to do that.
It depends if you think the glass is half empty or half full. I wouldn’t have come if I didn’t think it was half full. It doesn’t mean it’s an easy job, or that everything will go our way, but it does mean we have a plan.
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The U'sual Ramblings #3 by wessex_exile
The U’sual Ramblings #3 comes on the back of an imperious victory at Portman Road, our first there since 13th October 1951, when Jimmy Allen’s U’s won 2-0 courtesy of second half goals from Vic Keeble and Fred Cutting in front of 19,275. This was back in the old Division Three South days, and the U’s would finish the season 10th, with our Suffolk neighbours down in lowly 17th place. Needless to say, some of the gloss of Tuesday’s backs to the wall defensive masterclass was tarnished by the behaviour of a mindless minority in the away end, though the CUFC Police twitter account has since confirmed these were not regular day in day out supporters of Colchester United. Let’s hope investigations identify the culprits, and that they never darken our doorstep again. Our reward is a second round home tie against Premier League Brentford, and whilst it won’t be on the TV, assuming Brentford sell out their 2,000 allocation, it should be a decent crowd and an excellent atmosphere at the JobServe.
The U'sual Ramblings #2 by wessex_exile
The U’sual Ramblings #2, and the U’s first home match of the season. Much has been written on our narrow defeat away at Northampton Town last Saturday, not least that if they are the yard-stick for promotion contenders, we can take plenty of credit (and hope) from most of our performance, which really should have earned a point. However, we’ve seen these false dawns before – remember away at Notts County, and at Bradford, in recent years, where we thought we were playing contenders, and they turned out to be whipping boys for most of the season. Still, I don’t expect that of Northampton, so stout hearts faithful…and wasn’t it great seeing Nouble bombing down the wing doing what he does best again!
The U'sual Rambling #1 by wessex_exile
Here we go folks, are we ready for another rollercoaster of joy and dismay? Right now, I’ll probably take an even mix of both if it guarantees a solid midtable finish, but why stop at that. I agree with Durham in his excellent match review, given how well we finished the second half of the season, ignore the bookies perennial struggler tag – we can do this! For the new season, the blog has slightly metamorphosed into The U’sual Rambling, though largely the same format as last season, albeit perhaps less labour-intensive in content. In my case, pertinent for Saturday given I am missing the opener at Sixfields to dog-sit the beautiful (and high maintenance, super ridiculous, energetic etc.) border collie Reggie.
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.
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