The day before Gareth Ainsworth first stepped into the Adams Park dugout, the other club at which he holds true legend status fielded a team featuring such names as Júlio César, José Bosingwa and Park Ji-sung. It’s fair to say QPR and Wycombe have taken different paths to now sharing a division, but how are the Rs looking these days? Let’s find out.
Ground: Loftus Road (since 1917*, capacity 18,439)
Second tier seasons: 31 (+23 top flight)
Major honours: League Cup (1966/67)
Last season: 13th in Championship
QPR have found themselves bouncing between 12th and 19th in the second tier since their last Premier League relegation five years ago. It wouldn’t be particularly accurate to label them as mediocre last season, though; they certainly provided entertainment. Only top two Leeds and West Brom and play-off losers Brentford and Cardiff amassed more goals, and there were 3-2, 4-3, 4-2 and 6-1 wins along the way.
Unfortunately, there were also 4-0, 5-3 and multiple 3-0 defeats, and Rangers shipped 76 goals – the third most in the league. You can see how they ended up finishing where they did… Still, there was one constant: the brilliance of a young man by the name of Ebere Eze, who wove his magic through the Championship with 14 goals and all those we Wycombe fans were so privileged to enjoy back in 2017. He may have just left for Crystal Palace, but he more than left his mark – as well £16 million in the bank. Not too shabby, all things considered.
The gaffer: Mark Warburton
Apppointed: July 2017
Previously managed: Nottingham Forest, Rangers, Brentford
Played for: Boreham Wood, Enfield
QPR league record: P138, W53, D41, L44
Warburton’s appointment brought a collective sigh of relief in South Bucks. Even if only for a few days after the conclusion of the 2018/19 season, it seemed like Gareth Ainsworth was on his way back to Loftus Road. Thank fuck that didn’t transpire! A late starter in management, Warburton was working as a trader when he decided to fully commit to his dream in the early 2000s, first taking a job with Watford’s academy. He won promotion to the Championship with Brentord in 2015 before going on to lead Rangers back to the Scottish top flight a year later.
Fan thoughts (with Loft For Words)
You’ve been more or less a mid-table side since dropping back down into the Championship; what do you need in order to really push on and how soon could that happen? We got ourselves into a right mess over several years of mismanagement when we were in the Premier League. We loaded up on wanker footballers with big salaries, paid huge fees favoured agents, and spent nothing on infrastructure or anything long term. We signed players who weren’t good enough, were often well past their best with chronic injury problems, and frequently were complete arseholes. It brought us back into the Championship with all the TV money and prize money from three seasons gone, and parachute payments required to cover a wage bill that peaked at £80m a year.
We’ve spent the last five seasons cleaning house, getting that wage bill back down below £20m, investing in player development, getting a younger and smaller squad and things like that. It’s pretty difficult to halve your wage bill and halve it again without getting significantly worse and getting relegated again, so it’s been a success in that respect. We have to aspire to better than simply balancing the books and finishing 16th in the league every year, though, and certain factions of the support base are already getting aggy with a perceived ‘lack of ambition’.
We can trade our way out as they’ve done at Brentford, Burnley and elsewhere. Alex Smithies was the first one we scouted well, bought low and sold for a profit, and we’ve since done the same for more money with Luke Freeman – and now the same again for enormous money with Ebere Eze. We need to get to the point where there’s a conveyer belt of players coming in from our U23s or scouting system for modest fees and being sold on a season or two later for big cash. Brentford, annoyingly, have done it really well and are now in a position to spend on players and are right on the cusp of a Premier League promotion. It can be done and Eze is a big positive step in that direction.
It’s always tough to see a talent like Eze go, but you’ve still got a fair few exciting young players on the books (admittedly with varying levels of first team experience). Is it a particularly good time for the club in that respect? In 20 years, we basically only had Richard Langley, Marcus Bean and the late Ray Jones come through our system and play significant first team minutes, so it wouldn’t take much to improve on a pretty dire record of giving opportunities to young players. The young players we have coming through now, including Eze, are often picked up after falling out of other clubs’ academies (Eze from Millwall and Joe Lumley from Tottenham) or at a young age from elsewhere (Paul Smyth, Ryan Manning and Ilias Chair). The evils of EPPP make it tough to bring a teenager of any ability all the way through without them getting picked off and parked in some big youth-hoarding holding area at Chelsea, Spurs, Everton, Liverpool, City etc..
We have managed it with Darnell Furlong [now at West Brom] and Osman Kakay, though. Like I say, we have to get a conveyer belt of talent coming through, either acquired or developed, that we can sell for profit each summer if we’re to get out of this situation we’re in.
Rob Dickie’s move from Oxford made it four summer signings. What have you made of your business so far and is there anywhere you still urgently need to strengthen/add depth? I like the look of him and George Thomas from Leicester – exactly the sort of early 20s players with plenty to prove who could potentially improve and move on for a profit.
Much rests on Lyndon Dykes, our £2m buy from Livingston. The crazy market for strikers, our financial restrictions, FFP, and us rather messing up spending money on Conor Washington have left us relying on the loan market for strikers for a couple of seasons now and they either do too well and go somewhere else for money we can’t afford (Nakhi Wells and Jordan Hugill), or they’re not arsed (Tomer Hemed) or not good enough (Jan Mlakar) – so to actually own a striker is a big moment and we need that to go well.
We’ll probably loan in another striker in to play with Dykes or back him ip. We look weak in both full-back positions, but as we’ve got two players signed up in each, I doubt we’ll spend money there. A physically dominant, ball-playing central midfielder to sit in front of the defence would be nice, but it looks like we’re going to go for Tom Carroll, who’s the least physically dominant human being in the entire world. Much will also depend on whether Manning and Bright Osayi-Samuel agree contract extensions; if they don’t then the club are going to try and shift them now and that will leave gaps but provide some more funds.
We’re weak defensively. We conceded 76 goals last season and we’re particularly awful defending corners [cc Joe Jacobson]. We look a bit small, meek and weak apart from Dykes. A bit too nice. That’s the biggest area for improvement.
Our meetings should be great occasions How pleasing has it been to see a Loftus Road legend do so well and would you like him as manager one day? We adore him here after a terrific stint as a player as you’re well aware. He did one of our lockdown pub quizzes dressed as Gene Simmons during the summer, which you don’t see from too many EFL managers. I think it’s highly likely he will end up back here as manager one day, but I’m intrigued to see whether [or not] he adapts the style of play that worked for you in League One and changes it for the Championship.
One of many problems QPR have is they not only change the manager too often, but they also tend to change to somebody of completely different style and ethos to the predecessor. We went from Mark Hughes to Harry Redknapp to Chris Ramsay to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to Ian Holloway to Steve McClaren: some old, some young, some traditional, some modern, some attacking, some defensive, some cautious, and some mental. It often leaves us nursing players bought by a different manager for a different style that we suddenly have no use for. As much as we love Gareth and would want to see him back here one day, going from Warburton playing the way he does to Ainsworth playing the way he did at Wycombe last year would be us doing that all over again.
Finally, realistically, how do you see 2020/21 panning out for Rangers? What would most fans see as a good season? It’s very difficult to talk for our fans as one group and I would never presume to do so. I was quite satisfied with last season; others thought it was terrible; and you could probably find any opinion in between. We scored more goals than just about anybody else in the league – which the optimists point to – and we conceded more than anybody apart from Luton – which the pessimists/realists hang their hat on. It seems to vary depending on age, how regularly you attend the games, how long you’ve been following the club, whether you’re on Twitter, Facebook, message boards or none of the above, whether you can read a set of accounts and the league’s FFP rules, and so on.
We’ve been 16th, give or take, for four years now, so that’s usually a good prediction for our final place. Last season, we won more games, won more away games, scored more goals, played better football and finished higher in the league than the season before. We also developed a player we’d picked up for nothing four years ago into a £16m sale [potentially rising to £20m]. If we could do all that again and get some big money for Ilias Chair this time next season, that’ll be a good season for me.
When we last met
Here’s the Wanderers line-up from our most recent game with QPR: Steve Williams, Chris Vinnicombe, Roger Johnson, Stuart Nethercott, Mark Rogers, Matt Bloomfield, Darren Currie, Michael Simpson, Craig Faulconbridge, Danny Senda, and Nathan Tyson. Martin Atkinson was the referee – for a third tier match. It really was a different era (2004, to be precise). We played out a 2-2 draw at Adams Park thanks to goals from Bloomfield and Faulconbridge, while the reverse meeting ended scoreless. Rangers returned to the second tier that season and the near 17-year wait for our paths to cross again will finally end in December.
Did you know…?
QPR were the first English club to lay an artificial pitch, doing so in 1981 – and the first to rip theirs up, returning to grass seven years later.
Header photo: Zakarie Faibis via Wikimedia Commons
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