The beer tokens, the air conditioning set on gas mark six, the uncomfortable plastic chairs and the same old questions. Hooray for the QPR Fans Forum; necessary and frequent but unpleasant... like a smear test. You can set your watch by these things: there’ll be one about moving the family stand, one about how few QPR scouts have attended the games involving the kids of whatever parent is in attendance, one about the expense of the club coaches, one about players attending Christmas parties or local schools. I’d suggest turning it into a drinking game if only they’d make it a cash bar and stop rationing us to two free drinks.
Mercifully the question about the water pressure in the ladies toilets - which was asked repeatedly at a time when the club was about to go bankrupt - hasn’t been seen for a while (maybe she drowned?) but it’s been replaced by a question even more banal, even more ridiculous, even more mind-rottingly stupid. “What is Les Ferdinand’s role at the club?”
has been asked and answered so many times, I’m not sure anything short of getting the finger puppets out is going to help the people who still don’t (or perhaps more accurately don’t want to) get it but I’m going to have another swing here. Hopefully, even if I miss, I’ll catch somebody a glancing blow on the side of the head instead.
Let’s start with the old George Santayana quote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Here’s a few scarcely believable things QPR have done in the recent past before they had a Director of Football.
In the summer of 2012 manager Mark Hughes decided he needed to replace goalkeeper Paddy Kenny. He signed, initially, Rob Green on a free transfer from West Ham on more than double the weekly wage Kenny was earning, then three weeks later brought in Julio Cesar for Inter Milan on double the money Green was on. In little more than a fortnight QPR had more than quadrupled their monthly outgoings on goalkeepers, hacked off and benched a £50,000-a-week player, while making no discernible improvements to the quality of goalkeeping; in fact neither Cesar nor Green were as good as Kenny in QPR colours.
Later that same summer QPR brought in Jose Bosingwa on £65,000 a week - a Champions League winner apparently keen to step down and muck in for the relegation battle ahead, despite chairman Tony Fernandes, in his own words, questioning the transfer “many times, many, many times”. Uncle Tony himself also added Ji Sung Park, in a move that played well in the marketing department, if not on the field.
Let’s not forget that the only reason Mark Hughes was there at all was because his close personal friend, Kia Joorabchian, had used the negotiations over the potential purchase of Alex the previous January as a chance to get in Fernandes’s ear about replacing Neil Warnock with his man. Later, in a move akin to employing Harold Shipman to turn around the fortunes of your failing medical practice, the club employed Harry Redknapp to dig them out of the mess they’d worked themselves in. Now there’s plenty to go on here: the accounts showed that Redknapp spent £100m on transfer fees and wages to scrape up through the play-offs in 2013/14 - but I’m going to pick up on a couple of deals.
Firstly, QPR paid Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala £12m (a club record, unlikely ever to be broken) for a patently unfit Chris Samba, whose salary was reported as high as £100,000 a week. When the accident-prone centre-back failed to prevent the relegation, the club claimed to have sold him straight back to Anzhi for the same amount, who then promptly sold him onto Dynamo Moscow at a loss. Now, I’m sorry, but if you believe that QPR handed over £12m for a poor centre-back, got relegated, then received £12m straight back from the same club who sold him for less than they’d paid a week later, then you’re exactly the kind of thick-headed moron who keeps asking what Les Ferdinand is here for.
One can only muse, under the watchful eye of LoftforWords’ official counsel (not a salaried position), exactly how much money disappeared out of that transfer, out of our club, to Samba, Samba’s agent, Redknapp. Later, while in the Championship, with a squad that already had Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson on big money, and had spent £4m on Charlie Austin, Redknapp did one of his “bare bones” tricks at the end of a transfer window by naming young Tom Hitchcock on the bench for a game against Ipswich. He put him on late in the game to show how desperate he was - only for Hitchcock to score. Pesky little scamp never played for QPR again.
Redknapp, meanwhile, was allowed to add Javier Chevanton, a Uruguay international striker of 22 caps standing, to a squad with an £80m annual wage bill and sat him on the bench instead. The squad had Nedum Onuoha, Clint Hill, Richard Dunne and Max Ehmer to play centre-half but Redknapp later insisted on adding Oguchi Onyewu, a 69-capped full US international, again to never play.
This continued throughout the season, including a mind-blowing moment on the January transfer deadline when Charlie Austin’s six-week absence with a shoulder injury saw the club rush to sign Kevin Doyle, and Will Keane, and Mobido Maiga and Ravel Morrison to add to Zamora, Johnson and Hitchcock. Yossi Benayoun, another Champions League finalist, turned up for a bit.
Now, whether you think Tony Fernandes was naive, an idiot, malicious or something else isn’t really relevant. Nor are the motivations of Redknapp and Hughes - those two are particularly bad for it - but any manager in football, given the choice, will always sign three more players if he can and the money’s available.
What is clear and obvious is that QPR needed a Director of Football. Everybody said so at the time, and they were right. Somebody to sit over the manager and craft a more rounded transfer strategy than “Charlie Austin is injured, so I want to sign three full internationals and two England U-21 players as a stand in”. Somebody to say “no, you signed an expensive goalkeeper last week, you can’t have another”. Somebody to look at the squad building with one eye beyond the end of next week. A football man who knew the game to run that side of the club, so agents and managers couldn’t keep going to Tony Fernandes like a broken ATM that spews out £50s when you ask for £10s, pushing toads from their client logs onto us.
Throw in the appalling atmosphere and standards of behaviour at QPR at the time and it felt like it would help if that person was a club man, who’d been here before, who understood and had an affection for the place.
This isn’t just a necessity at QPR. I used to think the Director of Football was a bit of a nonsense: it’s the manager who gets the sack for poor results, so let him have what he wants, and then he lives and dies by his decisions. But not any more. With the money involved in the game, you can’t have spending decisions made by one bloke whose only qualification is he was a good footballer back in the day, and did a decent job for Portsmouth/Blackburn in the same position. Even if you take out the corruption element, which it’s obviously wide open to, no business shells out vast sums of money on the say-so of one guy below the chairman and CEO.
The number of agents and hangers on, the time it takes sorting contracts, the number of foreign owners with deep pockets and zero understanding or experience of the sport, the move towards managers being more of a head coach, the influx of continental systems and ways of managing football clubs... any club without a Director of Football these days is foolish, and QPR were more stupid than most.
Even if you don’t think Les Ferdinand has done a good job - and I strongly contest that he has - his position at QPR, keeping Fernandes and Ruben as far away from the football decisions as possible, preventing the likes of Redknapp running amok, getting a handle on the ridiculous amounts we were paying to agents, is absolutely necessary.
I’m not going to get into the race element of this debate too much, though it does strike me as strange that Mark Hughes was allowed to recruit all the coaches he’d worked with before and Glynn Hodges in the academy (all Welsh), and Redknapp was allowed to bring in Jordan and Bondy Bond as usual, and nobody said a damned thing - and yet when Ferdinand employed a couple of old teammates and a couple of people from the (hugely successful and productive) academy he worked in before at Spurs, people start talking about “jobs for the boys”.
Part of this was, I think, people who’d been at QPR a long time, people with a lot friends in and around the club, people who were very vocal on social media, lost their jobs over a period of time. That’s part of football’s natural churn but it’s always going to see a bit of bad blood and bitterness leaking out. But part of it, certainly, didn’t sit right at all - particularly as the ‘Jobs for the Boys’ pictures that went around Twitter and Facebook often featured Chris Ramsey, Andy Impey, Paul Furlong (three black guys) and rarely, for instance, Perry Suckling.
One of the criticisms is “Les interferes, Les picks the team” - which is always told third-hand from somebody who heard from “somebody with an in at the club” which, when pressed, often comes back to “used to work there” again.
Two things. Firstly, Les has had three separate opportunities to become the permanent manager at QPR. Given his coaching credentials, experience, knowledge of the club, history at Loftus Road, one would have thought he might at least be an option to be a caretaker-manager, or just take a few training sessions while a new man is sought; but it’s never happened. We even temporarily employed Neil Warnock and Kevin Blackwell instead of that at one point. If he’s that desperate to pick the team, why not do it, even just on a caretaker basis?
Chris Ramsey played an open 4-2-4 set-up, conceded loads of goals, scored loads; Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink played a very conservative, dull, direct, one-up-front set-up based on out-running opponents and trying to keep clean sheets; Ian Holloway is now scoring goals again in a 4-3-3 set up, with Grant Hall protecting the defence and dropping into a back five when not in possession. Vastly different managers, completely different set-ups, visibly different teams - if Les is interfering and picking the team, would we not see some continuity and traits cropping up again and again? There have been none.
Let’s look at some of the things we have seen. The average age of the squad is down from the start of last season to this by 18 months. Between Redknapp leaving and the end of last season the wage bill has been halved. Having failed to graduate a youth teamer into a first team regular since Richard Langley (with a nod to Marcus Bean and the tragic Ray Jones situation) we’ve now got two in our starting XI most weeks. When we loan players out they don’t go to Hendon or Woking or St Albans any more: Shodipo, Lumley, Comley, Furlong get league clubs, good ones.
From that goalkeeping situation outlined earlier we’ve now got the Championship’s best keeper Alex Smithies, League Two’s best goalkeeper Matt Ingram, and the form goalkeeper in League One at the moment, Joe Lumley, who collectively are on less than we were paying Green; and all are younger than Green, Cesar or Kenny.
From a situation where we were paying players to leave, selling them at a loss, and having senior professionals waiting out their enormous contracts while not playing (Traore, Wright-Phillips, Young) because they knew nobody else would be as stupid as we’d been, we’re now selling players (Polter, Chery) for a profit. Hell, we’ve even sold a youth team graduate (Kpekawa) for good money.
From consistently paying more than anybody in the Championship, and two-thirds of the Premier League, to agents, we’re now near the bottom of that list. From weekly newspaper stories, ridiculous outspoken comments being made publicly, and frequent social media storms, we’re now down to our final problem child (Caulker) and other than that the professional standards and conduct of the squad has improved beyond all recognition.
We’ve gone from our captain being a Katie Hopkins-style rent-a-gobshite making sexist remarks on Question Time and getting sent off in crucial matches for being a dickhead, to Nedum Onuoha who represents our club superbly, is recovering his form on the field, but has to put up with people screaming at him from the stand during games because he’s “not a leader” and “doesn’t talk to his team”.
Not all the signings have worked, though I have noticed a tendency for the good ones (Freeman the most recent) to be credited to the manager while the ones that don’t work out (Gladwin) get laid at Ferdinand’s door. The success of Manning and Furlong is put down to Steve Gallen, or Holloway, or Bircham, or Curtis Fleming - anybody but Evil Les.
A Director of Football shouldn’t be judged on whether Massimo Luongo is a success or not, whether we win this weekend or not, whether this managerial appointment works out or not. He should be judged by the overall direction the football side of the club moves over a long period of time - years. Get it right, as Ferdinand has done, and results will take care of themselves in time, as we’re now seeing. What does Les Ferdinand do? It’s right in front of your eyes.
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