I have a strong feeling that this is a really good time for us to play QPR. Actually, it’s a good time for us to play anyone, but particularly QPR.
The opportunity is here, now, for the players to slay that lingering, ugly demon of the play-off final. Many of the team weren’t here then, of course, but a fair few suffered it. And more importantly, the fans all did.
Belief and unity is at a real high at the moment – 30,000+ for Rotherham was a superb gate – and the symbolism of a win against the team who ruined the narrative at the end of 2013/4, who absolutely nobody wanted to win, who spent so incontinently to achieve their goal, would be massive.
It would underline that Derby are a club on the way up, who have made very significant progress since Wembley, while QPR’s win that day did not, in the end, disguise the fact that it was all wrong – that the coke-rush frenzy of spending couldn’t fabricate the infrastructure of a club genuinely capable of sustaining a place in the Premier League. Yes, Derby spent good money this summer, but it was nothing compared to what QPR did in 2013/4.
The Football League are going to let them get away with it – they haven’t got the resources or the will to try to force QPR into paying up through a lengthy legal battle – but everybody knows Tony Fernandes drove a horse and carriage through the Financial Fair Play rules. Ed Thompson of financialfairplay.co.uk explains:-
“QPR paid almost the same amount of wages in the Championship (£77.3m) as they did in the Premier League [in 2012/3, £78m]. This is the highest level of wages ever paid by a Championship club. OK, some of this figure, perhaps £5m or so, will relate to promotion bonuses, but it is worth comparing QPR’s wages to the approximately £13m wages paid by Derby.
“FFP constraints were brought in to help put a lid on wage escalation – however, QPR almost seem to have felt they could play to a different set of rules.”
Fernandes made the right noises at the start of this season, giving Chris Ramsey the job on a permanent basis and telling him to guide the club through a period of consolidation. Only now, he’s changed his mind and instant promotion is the goal again. That’s right, the manager’s brief for the season has been radically rewritten for him, in October.
A win would put Derby 11 points ahead of the Hoops. No mean gap to hold over a supposed promotion rival, even at this early stage. It’s under the lights, it could be an electric, classic atmosphere to really rev up the fans for the rest of the season, as the winter nights draw in. More than that, frankly, a Derby win would restore a little justice to the universe. I sympathise with Ramsey, who seems to be a good man, but nevertheless – I can’t tell you how much I want us to thrash them.
Loft for Words, run by Clive Whittingham, is one of the best football blogs I’ve come across and I appreciate his taking the time to contribute some thoughts ahead of the match.
DCB: QPR’s results so far speak of inconsistency. Was this uneven start something you expected, or has it come as a disappointment?
LFW: Well, the initial plan and what the club pitched during the summer was that this was to be a season of rebuilding and consolidation. We’ve had three ruinous seasons in the Premier League recently, during which time we’ve accumulated about £200m of debt – which we’re now hearing, worryingly, is secured against the Air Asia share price, which has dropped recently. By going to the Premier League before your club and team is ready – QPR have zero infrastructure – you either have to bank the TV money and accept you’re down from day one, then use it to come back stronger next time, or use the money to chase fourth bottom. QPR spent the money on mostly wanker footballers and came down anyway, so have nothing to show for all that money and are actually in a much worse financial position than we were when we went up the first time.
So the line was: ‘spend three years in the Championship, get the new training ground built, invest in the academy, build a team slowly, cut our cloth accordingly, get the wagebill down’ and so on. So most of us were expecting an inconsistent mid-table season. What then happened, for a variety of reasons – Leroy Fer failed a medical, Sandro had visa issues that weren’t resolved until the end of August, Charlie Austin is out of contract and available for free next summer – is that the bigger name players ended up staying, when we’d expected to sell them. That has ratcheted up expectation and Fernandes has now said publicly that promotion “means everything” to him.
We are, it seems, trapped in that high-pressure, ‘must get promoted’ situation again and, having started very well in August when the pressure was off, we’ve been inconsistent and mostly poor ever since.
DCB: I hear that Ramsey has been fiercely criticised by some supporters. Does he deserve more time and patience than those fans are prepared to give him?
LFW: I think he should be given more time, possibly the rest of the season unless it looks like we’re going to be relegated, but I’m in a minority.
Firstly, expectations were raised when the big names who were meant to leave, didn’t. Ramsey has had to re-integrate them all into a squad when, in their minds, they were probably already out of the door. Players like Seb Polter, Michael Doughty, Darnell Furlong and Ben Gladwin, who expected to be first choice, are now not playing, which brings its own challenges.
Secondly, Austin apart, I’m not convinced those ‘big names’ are all that good. Fer is poor defensively, Sandro is physically shot, Green is accident-prone, Phillips is inconsistent. I think we over-estimate how good they are, and even if we don’t, they were all here last season when we finished last – so why the rush to go back up with the same players?
I don’t think the head coach is the problem at QPR. Mark Hughes did well at several clubs before coming to QPR and has done well with Stoke since, but bombed here. Harry Redknapp had success at Portsmouth and Spurs before coming here and couldn’t do much. Now Ramsey seems to be struggling. Like I say, it’s a club with no infrastructure that seems to be throwing money around just to stand still. It’s a very difficult job that’s proved beyond several managers in a row now. Why would the next guy do any better? What has this board shown that gives us confidence they’d be able to make a successful appointment next time? With people like Tim Sherwood floating about, it might be a case of ‘better the devil you know’.
But I can see why people are frustrated with Ramsey. His in-game management and substitutions are poor, his faith in under-performing senior pros like Paul Konchesky, Karl Henry and James Perch runs contrary to the ‘give youth a chance’ pitch he was brought in on, several of the signings he and Les Ferdinand made this summer haven’t worked out and the quality of performance is currently on the slide.
DCB: What are the most significant changes to the squad since that fateful day, positive and negative?
LFW: Positive, we finally shifted Joey Barton and his giant ego and even bigger pay cheque – although some QPR fans still think he’s amazing and would have him back. We’ve added Luongo from Swindon, who I really like, and Tjaronn Chery from the Dutch league, who has shown some impressive flashes. I liked Gabriele Angella and Daniel Tözsér from Watford too, although neither has played very well for us at all so far.
Richard Dunne has gone, so Chris Martin might get a kick this time 😉 [Cheeky – DCB]
DCB: QPR have a very low pass completion rate (68.4%, the third worst in the Championship) and a relatively high ratio of long balls to short passes per game (23%). Has the playing style been an issue that fans have picked up on and complained about?
LFW: There have been some games where we’ve passed the ball very well. At Wolves, we won 3-2 from 2-0 down by playing through them. We were the top scorers in the division until the weekend and only Fulham and Boro have scored more than us, so it’s not exactly Pulis-ball. Against Hull a month ago, we played really nicely, with wingers tight to both touchlines looking to spread the play. There was a real method to us, but that’s rather melted away since.
We are quite direct at the moment, looking to get it up to Emmanuel-Thomas to hold up and lay it off. He was surprisingly good through October while Austin was injured, but was poor at Brentford on Friday. Austin is fit again now, so we’ll see what happens.
DCB: Is Austin’s return from injury likely to be enough to propel QPR back into contention, or is more quality required in other areas of the park too? I notice that you have the fourth leakiest defence in the division at the moment.
We had the worst defence until a week ago, when we brought Clint Hill and Grant Hall back in as centre halves and sacrificed the original ideal, which was to have ball players in that position. Sadly, Hill got injured at Brentford, so it will be interesting to see if we start leaking again in his absence.
Austin is an interesting one, because he’s a finisher, not a target man. He’s having to learn, and is learning, the uglier parts of playing as a lone striker in this system. It looks like Ramsey is going to try and find a way to play him and Emmanuel-Thomas together, Austin for the finishing and JET for the target man stuff, but he’s going to have to leave one of Phillips, Luongo or Chery out to do it. Chances are we’ll just shoehorn JET in on the wing, or something.
DCB: During the Milton Keynes game, Karl Henry was the target of sustained verbal abuse from some home supporters. Why is Henry so unpopular at Loftus Road?
Nobody can pretend that Henry is playing well, although I thought he actually performed better against Milton Keynes and Brentford. Every club has a boo-boy of some description and if it wasn’t Henry, I’m sure it would be Konchesky or Perch.
There’s a long history of players getting stick off their own fans at QPR and I’m sure we’re not unique in that. The Milton Keynes game was unusual though, because it went beyond booing into humiliating one of our own players – chanting for him to be sent off when he committed fouls, cheering when he did go off. It makes it harder for the players to play well and for the team to win, which is the opposite of what we’re there for. It was a shame really.
I don’t think it helps that Ramsey seems to pick Henry every week regardless of who else is available, or how he’s playing. We’ve a young lad, Doughty, behind him in the pecking order who is probably worth more minutes than he’s had this season and that doesn’t help the situation.
Henry isn’t an attacking player, the passes he plays tend to go sideways or backwards which, when you’re losing, or trying to make a breakthrough against a poor team at home, doesn’t tend to win many friends.
Central midfield is a real issue for us. We’re not short of bodies there, but they all seem to have one major strength and several key weaknesses. Fer has a fierce shot and eye for goal, but can’t defend. Sandro is a dominant figure, but can’t be relied upon in a 46-game season. Tözsér can (supposedly) pass a ball nicely, but is one-paced and can’t go box-to-box. Faurlín is our best passer of the ball, but has had three ACL ruptures in three seasons. Luongo is more of a ‘number ten’, but so is Chery, so one of them has to play out of position. Henry can run about and cover ground better than any of them, but can’t really do anything else.
It’s a ragtag bunch. Ramsey could take more of a chance with Faurlín, and Doughty should play a bit more, but neither would make a really radical difference.
DCB: What’s the latest on the dispute with the Football League over QPR’s excessive losses for 2013/4?
LFW: Nobody really seems sure. We’re told a decision won’t be announced until 2016.
The League has a couple of problems here, which is why they haven’t simply come out and slapped us with the giant fine the rules said we should get. Firstly, those rules have since been changed, which is an admission that they were unworkable and not legally safe and QPR have a case that we should be judged under the revised rules. Secondly, my understanding (not great) is that fines against businesses have to be relative to turnover. Companies have been fined £1bn before, but they were banks and oil companies with turnovers of many many billions. You can’t safely, legally levy a fine against a company that would put it out of business – £60m for a Championship club with an 18,000 seater stadium and a rented training ground for example.
If QPR took this to court and won (a possibility), then not only would the whole FFP thing collapse, but Blackburn and Forest would be queuing up for a slice of damages, having been hit with transfer embargoes under these rules. So it’s in the League’s interest to come to a settlement with QPR, which they will do, possibly through arbitration.
The rules were well intentioned, but badly written and executed. We completely ignored them and deserve punishment for that. Big mess really. Doesn’t reflect well on anybody involved.
DCB: And just finally, care to predict the QPR starting XI for Tuesday and a final score?
Perch, Onuoha, Hall, Konchesky;
Phillips, Luongo, Emmanuel-Thomas;
My predictions are notoriously awful and I get grief for being too pessimistic. I don’t think many QPR fans are expecting a win, let’s leave it at that.