With the big derby approaching, Billy Grant caught up with Clive Whittingham from Loft For Words to get the low down on Brentford’s West London rivals.
QPR seemed to start the season well. A 3-0 win against Leeds was followed in the league by a 2- 0 win at Cardiff. But it petered off from there somewhat. Are you disappointed with your season so far?
Some are, but personally it’s much as I expected and I see plenty of reasons for optimism. We’re reducing the average age of the team and squad and reducing the wage bill and playing budget (all of which desperately needed doing) while maintaining midtable Championship status. We’ve won three away matches already – only managed four in the whole of last season, and six in the last two seasons put together – and we’ve uncovered an actual, genuine, bona fide first team prospect from our youth team (Mide Shodipo) for the first time in many, many years. The team works hard and cares about what it’s doing, which is more than I can say for any squad of QPR players since Neil Warnock’s class of 2011.
These may seem like meagre ambitions and low standards for a club that’s been in the Premier League for three of the last five seasons but the way we behaved during that period means we have to take this medicine now.
We have a stadium that holds 18,000, and we had 12,500 people in it for last week’s win against Bristol City. We rent a (poor) training ground from a college. This is not a club that can (or should even try to) support a squad with a wage bill of £80m a season (which is what we had when we just scraped promotion in 2013/14). We have zero infrastructure at our club, and yet we were rushing around spending a fortune on the absolute worst kind of modern day football (Barton, Traore, Samba) and, worse still, hero worshipping them while they bled all the money out of the club that we should have been spending on facilities in return for two relegations in three years. We’ve spent hundreds of millions and ended up right back where we started again and that simply cannot continue for all sorts of reasons – principally, from a football point of view, because it didn’t bloody work.
We’re trying a slower burn method now, that will hopefully stand is in better stead four or five years from now. Some don’t agree that it will work, some think we’re still doing it wrong, some are having trouble adjusting their sights and expectations, some have run out of patience already, some don’t rate the manager and/or DOF we’ve entrusted with it, and it’s all making for a rather tetchy, grumpy support base.
The flies in the ointment are the parachute payments, which are declining and stop altogether after next season, making it doubly difficult for a club of our size to get promoted from a division which is starting to contain clubs with the size and resource of Newcastle, Norwich and Villa. If we’re not promoted before the end of the parachute payments, it could be a long old road to ever get back again.
And, in fairness to the critics of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Les Ferdinand and the present way the club are going about things, the football is often granular, attritional, dreadful stuff to watch.
You were pretty quiet this summer. But personally I think you have a number of decent players under your belt. Chery is dangerous. You seem to have won the draw when it came to the pick of the 2nd Division German strikers in Polter vs our Hofmann. Luongo was highly rated at Swindon. Smithies was a decent goalie at Huddersfield. Pleased with what you have in the pot?
We’ve got some very decent players among our number and I’m pleased you mentioned Smithies because I have him and your Dan Bentley up there as two of the best, if not the best by themselves, in the whole division. We’ve got some players stepping up divisions who are taking time to find their feet – Conor Washington has looked more the part of late, Ben Gladwin is struggling rather, Massimo Luongo looks great but never scores. We have some players who have come in from all over Europe who are adapting to English football are varying speeds – Idrissa Sylla has looked threatening straight away, Pawel Wszolek has shown bits and pieces, Ariel Borysiuk has been injured but looks good now, we’ve seen next to nothing of Yeni Ngabokoto and so on. We have two youth teamers in the first team learning their trade.
The main problem the supporters have is Hasselbaink seems very defensively minded, and the team is often quite dull to watch. Some of the home matches in particular – Blackburn, Preston, Reading – have been outright boring. He’s also very hot on the sports science stuff, which can frustrate fans as it means we never pick the same team twice in a row. So we win at Fulham, with Conor Washington and Massimo Luongo our two best players, but because they then went away on international duty (Washington all the way to Belfast for 20 minutes as a sub) neither start the next match. We want a bit more caution thrown to the wind and a bit more consistency in selection basically.
Jake Bidwell left Brentford very professionally (unlike some players who left us) but under a bit of a cloud – merely because of his move across West London. How was he looking in the few matches he played before injury?
Steady, unspectacular, solid, everything we’d been told to expect really. His injury has come at a bad point because our reserve left back, Jack Robinson, is also crocked and the third choice for that spot, Joel Lynch, is now out as well so we’re having to throw youth-teamer Nico Hamalainen in at the deep end. Still, it’s nice to see us doing that, over the last few years three injured left backs would have been an excuse for QPR to go out and buy or loan a fourth one in – Aaron Hughes or somebody like that, for a loan fee, and all his wages.
There have been murmurings from QPR fans who want to get rid of JFH. We talked about it quite a bit on the PrideOfWest.London podcast (below) which featured Paul from the QPR podcast. Some say he is tactically inept. Other feel that you need someone who has been there, seen it and done it. He’s not been in the driving seat that long. Surely he needs a bit of time to get his feet under the table?
What never gets recognised is that QPR are actually reducing their wage and playing budget year on year at the moment. So it’s very difficult for a manager trying to build a team while he and the director of football are under pressure to shift on high earning players, and only able to replace them with players who cost less both in wages and transfer fee. That we’re doing that while not slipping into relegation trouble is testament to the job Hasselbaink and Les Ferdinand are doing, but also shows that the big earning players we signed weren’t that good, were here for the wrong reasons, weren’t performing for us and shouldn’t be something we crave and lust after again. There are still people who say we miss Joey Barton for goodness sake, an absolute cancer on any club and squad he goes anywhere near as Rangers are now discovering.
QPR have been a real hire ’em fire ’em club in recent years, and have always been battling against relegation or for promotion. I think people have got used to both those things and are struggling to get used to a different way. In the last ten years we’ve been managed by Gary Waddock, John Gregory, Luigi De Canio, Iain Dowie, Paulo Sousa, Jim Magilton, Paul Hart, Mick Harford, Neil Warnock, Mark Hughes, Harry Redknapp, Chris Ramsey and now Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. This chopping and changing of managers never worked – we dropped on with Warnock and were foolish to get rid of him – but people have become used to four or five games meaning the manager changes, because he always has been before. We’re also used to either being in the Premier League, or competing to get back there, despite the size of the club, its infrastructure, support, income etc being more League One. Re-accepting our place in the grand scheme of things is also taking some getting used to.
When we had Harry Redknapp in charge people said we needed a young, hungry manager who could drive and motivate the players. Now we’ve got that, people say we need an experienced, wily old manager who knows the Championship. When Redknapp and Hughes were using their agent friends to furnish our club with wasters on £60,000 a week like Jose Bosingwa we said we needed a football man with the club at heart to sit between the board and manager, now we have Les Ferdinand doing a very solid job as Director of Football and people criticise him and say we don’t need that extra layer. We’re a real original grass is always greener bunch at the moment.
Our CEO Lee Hoos recently said that our season ticket income, which will become our biggest earner when the parachute payments end after next season, is between £5m and £6m a season. The running costs of the club – training ground rent, matchday policing, road closures, stewarding etc etc – are between £8m and £9m a season. So just to run QPR, before a single player’s wage is paid, costs £3m more than what will be our biggest earner in 18 months time.
Like I say, the football can be pretty dire and that has to improve less we all drift away from attending matches through boredom. But we’re not the club we were four or five years ago and nor should we be, people need to remember that before giving them pelters and demanding another round of sackings.
We played Newcastle a few weeks ago on their turf. Our players spent a lot of time admiring the stadium and we got thumped 3-1. They believe their 6-0 thumping of QPR was a turning point for them this season. Were you really bad that day or were they just on a different planet?
That was a bizarre night. I honestly thought it was going to double figures. Smithies made three outstanding saves, they hit the post and the bar, and had a goal disallowed in addition to the six. They were very good – big, physical and quick as well as obviously talented – and just ran all over us. I felt we could have done more to shut up shop when it was obviously going to shit, and the effect of losing 6-0 at home has taken some getting over for the players, and spent Hasselbaink’s last three months of credit with a section of the support. I’m not convinced any of us, players or supporters, are over the humiliation of losing 6-0 at home yet but a couple of good results recently will hopefully help. They’ll do that to more teams this season – in fact they did it to Preston last night.
Some people are saying its a fight for 5th and 6th place with Newcastle, Norwich, Brighton andWednesday taking the top spots. Do you agree? Do you think Rangers have any chance for a top 6 spot this season?
I certainly think the top two will be Newcastle and Norwich and that they’ll shoot off and away by quite a distance. Brighton yes but Sheff Wed (my pre-season tip along with Newcastle) didn’t look much cop at the weekend, certainly nowhere near as good as last season. I fancy Bristol City to be a dark horse for the six, although they’ve lost a few lately, and other than that it will be the usual lottery and team on a late run bursting in. Birmingham are up there at the moment, I watched them at Burton on Friday night and they were completely outplayed and lucky to only lose 2-0. I don’t see us being involved, but I don’t think that’s any reason to be firing up the wicker man.
Brentford have never beaten QPR at Loftus Rd in my lifetime. The last time is almost exactly 52 years ago. Our away record this season isn’t the best. Do the Bees stand a good chance of reversing history this match?
Apart from the Newcastle and Leeds games every other match we’ve had could easily have been one of the two other outcomes available. We won at Wigan and Fulham and could easily have lost both games, we lost to Sheff Wed and Barnsley and could easily have won both. So I suspect more of the same here, tight game, competitive, bash away at each other for 90 minutes and have a count up at the end.