Huge losses is old news – what happens next is important

March 6, 2014

The publishing of QPR’s accounts, which show an annual loss of £65.4m, taking the net debt to just over £177m, tells its own story about the state of the club under its Malaysian owners, fronted by Tony Fernandes.

Fernandes, belatedly, has his fair share of detractors, and they’ll have their pound of flesh today, mostly with the benefit of hindsight, as was the case when it eventually became trendy to poke fun at the previously lauded Flavio Briatore.

Anyone unfortunate enough to follow me on Twitter, or worse know me personally, will know what my thoughts have been since the early days of Fernandes’ chairmanship. That debate is done and dusted. Things have moved on.

There has been plenty of speculation about the financial picture at Rangers and the owners’ motives.

Last April, I suggested this could be explained by the fact that even the huge losses being incurred would be dwarfed by the potential income from moving QPR to a Canary Wharf-style redevelopment, and the club subsequently revealed their plans for a move to Old Oak.

For me the real issue is now not the losses, which are and will continue to be huge.

The key question at this stage is I think this: Can those who have presided over such a debacle, who made Rangers a template for how not to run a Premier League club, be trusted with something as important as the sale of QPR’s home, and the creation of a new one while safeguarding Rangers’ long-term interests and integrity?

For some, probably the majority, the answer will be yes. And I suspect that further down the line anyone within the various fans groups who dares express any misgivings will be shouted down.

But all objective, rational evidence based on the last two and a half years suggests alarm bells should be ringing out there.

In fact, given what’s occurred before now, and the massive difference between Fernandes’ fluffy rhetoric and what has actually happened, I’m always surprised at the absolute certainty with which many talk about a new stadium and training ground – often as if they already exist.

The words ‘Warren Farm’ seem to have taken on almost mythical significance as the answer to all QPR’s problems. And I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen and heard Warren Farm and the planned new stadium offered as enough proof that Rangers are in good hands.

I saw a message on a Rangers forum a while ago, where what seemed like a very fair-minded poster said they’d feel better once the first brick is laid at Warren Farm or a new stadium. I think that’s a very balanced and well advised position to take.

Of course, any criticism of Fernandes provokes an angry reaction from some and this will probably be no different.

A common, and totally inaccurate, perception is that Fernandes put his money where his mouth is and was simply let down by the villain of the piece, Mark Hughes.

It just didn’t happen like that. Fernandes was the driver, not the nervous passenger, and the great irony is that the popular notion that he in some way had his ‘pants taken down’ – a term coined by Harry Redknapp – would actually be a better way of describing what’s occurred under the current manager than the previous one.

More recently, Fernandes has found himself between a rock and a hard place.

Having listened to Redknapp’s view that another relegation loomed (a view I absolutely shared and would stand by) unless the board piped down and let him steer the ship, what was Fernandes to do when the manager and short-term strategy he was tied to demanded yet more players be brought in? Stop backing him mid-season?

And so the nonsense, in the shape of Yossi Benayoun and others, has continued, and Rangers, as many fans have observed, don’t look that much different to the overpaid rabble that shamed the club last season.

The bottom line though is that Fernandes, as chairman, is responsible for this. I’ve always believed his unwavering popularity meant he’d have to get through a few managers and maybe one or two CEOs before this became the accepted view, though.

There is an alternative view to the one that says Fernandes has put his money in, backed the club to the hilt, and is basically a fantastic chairman the club are incredibly lucky to have.

It goes like this…

QPR were promoted to the Premier League – the culmination of a lot of factors and hard work that preceded the then owners and even the owners before them. This included fans collecting money in buckets to help the club.

Tony Fernandes inherited that promoted club. He wasn’t involved in the process of getting Rangers to that stage.

With promotion comes a massive financial reward – a huge influx of money clubs can still benefit from even if they go down.

In QPR’s case, that money has gone – and then some, because Rangers are actually worse off for their spell in the top division.

That money, that hard-earned potentially once-in-a-generation (at best) opportunity, was the club’s. It belonged to QPR. And it’s gone. It was wasted by someone with no previous involvement in the Rangers story. That’s the harsh reality.

I know that alternative version won’t go down well with some, especially those who simply blame Hughes.

It should also be acknowledged that although Fernandes inherited a promoted club, it wasn’t a strong one in terms of infrastructure, and many of the issues his board have faced would be a challenge for anyone.

And it could be argued that the pot of gold isn’t gone forever, because an immediate return to the Premier League is still possible.

But for Rangers, having spent so obscenely, to be banking on Charlie Austin’s return and a team largely of loan signings to save them from the financial implications of failing to get promoted, is inexcusable. Questions must surely be asked even if they end up scraping home.

Fernandes insisted he’d be “the first to go” – his own words – if his appointment of Hughes ended in failure. It did.

But he didn’t go, largely because the fans didn’t want him to.

Will that change in light of the new financial figures, or even if Rangers fail to go back up? Probably not.

That shows just how effective Fernandes’ interaction with fans on Twitter and in person has been, because that’s what’s sustaining him in terms of support – he certainly can’t rely on his record as chairman.

And while it’s easy to be cynical about this, the so-called ‘£20 fans’ dismissed by Briatore are entitled to cut what is a very decent man some serious slack when he is seen to treat them with respect.

That said, the most important way of respecting the fans isn’t by holding court on Twitter or in the pubs of Shepherd’s Bush, it’s by running their club properly and carefully.

If that principle is applied, Fernandes’ position arguably became untenable long ago.


Tiger Feet 5: Your help needed for a wonderful cause

February 20, 2014

I don’t get time to update this blog much these days. In fact I’ve barely done so in between the last two years’ Tiger Feet walks. When I posted about them before the response was fantastic and I know it’s a cause that’s become close to many QPR fans’ hearts. 

Well, Tiger Feet 5 takes place on Saturday, when some of us will walk from Loftus Road to The Valley, where QPR play Charlton.

For those who don’t know, this sponsored walk raises money for the QPR Tiger Cubs – a team for children with Down’s syndrome.

I’ve come across a few people who were under the impression that Tiger Feet was my idea. It wasn’t! The idea came from my friend and former BBC colleague James Doe (also creator of the hugely popular Non-League Day) and was inspired by the fact that our friend Chris Charles, who also worked at the BBC with us, has a daughter with Down’s.

My only involvement has been to agree it was a good idea when James suggested it and to turn up on the walks. That’s it. James and Chris approached QPR’s Community Trust and between them they organised a walk to Crystal Palace in 2010. There have since been walks to Watford, Tottenham and Arsenal.

Since the relatively small number of us walked to Selhust, the event has grown every year and this weekend the group will be bigger than ever. And this time there are also QPR FC staff walking as well as the usual Tiger Feet stalwarts from the Community Trust.

Because of that, the event has been publicised this year more than ever and I very much doubt anyone reading this won’t now be aware of Saturday’s walk.

If you’re able to sponsor us – perhaps you’ve been meaning to get round to it and haven’t – I really can’t overstate how much it would be appreciated and how much of a difference your money would make.

I can vouch for the fantastic work the QPR In The Community Trust, led by the brilliant Andy Evans, do, and also for the positive impact donations to Tiger Feet in recent years have made.

It really does so much in terms of developing the kids’ social skills and confidence, and it’s invaluable to their parents too.

Past money raised means the Trust has been able expand from one to three training sessions a week, while paying for new kit and the hiring of venues.

And it’s about more than football. The financial support has also led to the introduction of educational workshops. including cooking and street dancing.

So if you’re able to spare some money for this truly fantastic cause, it would be greatly appreciated. You can sponsor us by clicking here.

You can also read a previous West London Sport article by Chris about Tiger Feet by  clicking here or click here to read his blog about the Tiger Cubs from 2010 on the BBC Sport website, which includes a video of the kids in action.


QPR’s staff list – don’t be fooled

June 13, 2013

I had a glance at a couple of messageboard threads today and noticed some discussion about the current staff list on the QPR website.

Several people noticed that the list of academy coaches is sizeable - which is in keeping with the new academy structure clubs are encouraged to have.

In comparison, the number of names listed under scouting is small – smaller for example than the club’s media team.

I’ve written about the shortcomings of Rangers’ scouting set-up for many years and those shortcomings still exist, but the number of names listed under scouting isn’t a reflection of the size of the scouting team.

Like most clubs, Rangers have a number of scouts that are involved to differing degrees.

Scouting is a fluid business, with many people in the game used on an informal basis, perhaps while they’re in between jobs. Others work on a more formal and regular basis.

These people work well below the radar and are usually never named by clubs.

I say usually because QPR in fact have tended to publicise the appointment of scouts in recent years in a way other clubs wouldn’t dream of doing.

This is largely because Rangers have been aware of criticism of their almost non-existent scouting set-up and wanted to show they do actually have scouts. Or at least a scout.

So there’s nothing unusual about only the chief scouts or equivalent being listed by the club. That’s pretty standard practice and isn’t the sum total of Rangers’ scouting set-up.

I think the more important thing about that staff list is that Paul Furlong stands out among the academy coaches as being the only former QPR player.

In my view that list should include several ex-Rangers players with an understanding of the club, and I’m afraid the fact that isn’t the case is an indication of what’s wrong at QPR at the moment.

Many will argue the omission of ‘QPR people’, especially away from first-team level, has nothing to do with how the team performs on a Saturday afternoon.

I strongly disagree with that view and have argued for a long time that there is a direct link between the absence of such people – especially in the boardroom – and the shoddy performances we see on the pitch despite the credentials of some under-performing players.

Just as importantly, with many competing for jobs in football, I believe the club should prioritise and look to give a break to guys who’ve served Rangers with distinction. Other clubs do so as a matter of course and QPR used to. If you can’t rely on ‘your’ club to give you a foot in the door, who can you look to?

When Rangers were looking to expand their team of coaches, I asked those involved if they would be keen to recruit former QPR players, and if not why not.

Furlong was already coaching at the club on a non-contract basis and was retained, but straightaway the impression I got was that Rangers were not overly keen on people with a past association with QPR – which is actually typical of recruitment right through the club.

I thought that was a shame, because I know a number of former Rangers players with coaching ability and potential who care about the club deeply and would jump at the chance to work with the youngsters there.

I also thought it was strange in light of the fact that Mike Rigg, who was technical director at the time, spoke privately about the need to develop youngsters with what he called ‘the QPR DNA’.

In my view an opportunity to do exactly that was missed when the club presided over the biggest influx of staff I can recall. I think that’s a real shame. Perhaps others will disagree.

Incidentally, one of those listed under scouting, Kevin Cruickshank, is leaving Rangers to join Mark Hughes at Stoke – a move that has been on the cards for some time.

Understandably given the disastrous signings during Hughes’ time as manager, the story I did today about Cruickshank’s departure was greeted with a few not-so-kind comments on Twitter about him and his contribution during his short time at the club.

In fairness, the role of scouting co-ordinator shouldn’t be confused with that of a chief scout.

The co-ordinator is exactly that. It tends to be a more logistical role, managing a team of scouts and communicating with the manager.

How effective Cruickshank was in the role, I couldn’t tell you. But pinning Rangers’ dismal transfer dealings on the man is a tad harsh!


End-of-season ratings

June 3, 2013

Well, what a season that was. For me, it started with being derided for suggesting QPR were in very poor shape despite their hype and big spending, and would again just about manage to stay up. It ended with me being derided by some for believing Rangers would stay up.

Yes, it turned out to be a worse season for the club than even I expected. And that’s saying something.

I don’t update this blog much these days – this is my first post of the year – but having started some end-of-season player ratings for West London Sport and then decided not to publish them after all, I thought I’d finish them off, add ratings for the managers, and publish them here instead.

So here you go. Feel free to tell me what complete sense I talk.

Speaking of which, thanks for the comments, good and bad, on Twitter and the like during the season. It’s appreciated.

Cheers.

Robert Green: 5
QPR’s long-standing ‘he’s played for such and such, so he must be good’ transfer policy was summed up by their signing of Green. He’s played for England, so he must be good, right? Wrong. There’s a reason Green has never been bought by a top club and has spent part of his career out of the Premier League. Many clubs have looked at him closely and decided that, actually, he’s not that good. He’s a decent shot stopper, but all professional keepers are. His all-round game, especially his footwork, leaves a lot to be desired and was evident right from the start at QPR, with mistakes in pre-season and when the campaign started disastrously against Swansea. Should be a decent enough keeper in the Championship though.

Julio Cesar: 5
Another CV-based signing. Cesar has played at the very highest level but is past his best. Loves a Hollywood save, so will always have days when things go his way and he has a blinder. He had a spell of such games in the middle of the season, which attracted some interest from Arsenal – hence the Gunners being linked with him more recently. Overall though, his performances have been poor and he shouldn’t have been signed. And an often-overlooked factor in QPR’s defensive woes has been poor communication from the keeper.

Jose Bosingwa: 4
Like Mark Hughes, Bosingwa is a convenient pantomime villain that detracts from the real reasons for Rangers’ decline – irresponsible ownership. He has been rightly criticised, but the bottom line is that if you’re daft enough sign Jose Bosingwa you end up with a defensive liability with a questionable attitude. It’s as simple as that.

Ryan Nelsen: 7
A signing for which the unpopular Hughes received little credit. Looked a spent force before joining Rangers and eyebrows were raised at the decision by Hughes, who managed him at Blackburn, to offer him a one-year deal. In the end, Nelsen’s consistency and professionalism meant his early departure for Toronto was a huge disappointment.

Clint Hill: 6
Out of his depth at times, but Hill’s obvious commitment and honesty meant he was rightly named player of the year. Formed an excellent partnership with Nelsen, although both players were able to look good because the rest of the team was set up to protect their lack of pace, which meant Rangers were ineffective at the other end of the pitch.

Anton Ferdinand: 4
Another player avoided by sensible clubs who knew his best attribute is his surname. Ferdinand’s performances have been as dismal as Neil Warnock’s excuses for signing him. Ferdinand could actually be a decent option next season though, because like many players hyped up by Rangers as top-class signings, he has long been nothing more than an average Championship-standard centre-back.

Nedum Onuoha: 6
Uncomfortable but committed at full-back, his performances as a central defender underline that his future lies in that position. Unfortunate for him and the club that personal issues have probably contributed to his QPR career not getting off the ground so far. He may well play a big role next season.

Chris Samba: 5
Half-fit and signed on the basis of his past reputation. Has ability, of that there is no doubt, and while not the signing he was cracked up to be, that he was so disappointing is a surprise. But, having found themselves bottom of the table with a group of overhyped players who were “here for the money” as angry fans pointed out, Rangers going back for a player who previously chose the money on offer in Russia says it all really.

Armand Traore: 5
Talented but brittle. Unlike most of Rangers’ signings, this one made sense – a couple of million to get him from Arsenal was potentially a decent deal. Has ability defensively and going forward, but it’s difficult to see how he can stand up to the slings and arrows of the Championship.

Fabio: 5
Yet another who isn’t as good as his name, club and billing suggest. In fairness he was very impressive in a run of games midway through the season, but overall his time on loan was unremarkable. Unlucky with injuries though.

Tal Ben Haim: 6
Not at home at full-back but gave it a go when he featured there. Wasn’t around long enough to disgrace himself.

Stephane Mbia: 5
Character-wise, is not actually as bad as the mindless ramblings which appeared on his Twitter feed late in the season suggested. Plays with enthusiasm and had the potential to be a gutsy, likeable crowd favourite in a team sorely lacking such players. But the way he was handled summed the club up. After missing out on a number of Hughes’ targets, Rangers brought in Mbia primarily as a centre-back – a position he is more than capable in. But he was always going to need time to adjust to the Premier League. Thrown straight into a struggling team, in the middle of a shambolic defence, playing in front of an uncertain keeper who was himself in a new league and country, Mbia inevitably didn’t hit the ground running. So, in true QPR fashion, he was very quickly switched. In midfield, he did well in a defensive role – he’s either a centre-back or sitting midfielder. But after being deployed as an all-round midfielder – a totally inappropriate role for him – he was woeful.

Shaun Derry: 6
Mostly did well when he featured, but many factors were in his favour. He’s rightly forgiven by the crowd for his shortcomings, which in any case have not been exposed often because of his limited involvement and because of his vast experience. He knows his role and plays it well.

Esteban Granero: 5
Another daft signing who should never have been brought in. He has enough ability and a good enough attitude to be of interest to other clubs, especially in Spain, and has a decent career ahead of him. Ridiculously overhyped in the way only QPR overhype players. A good player, yes. But not cut out for Rangers and was not a star of La Liga either. At 25 he was popular at Real Madrid but had never really established himself as a first-teamer. At best, Rangers were getting a Spanish version of Nicky Butt. And that’s maybe harsh on Butt, who in his time did establish himself at club and international level.

Samba Diakite: 5
Many of the players Rangers took a punt on after missing out on other targets weren’t worth the risk. Diakite was, but for various reasons it hasn’t worked out. It’s best for both parties that he returns to France. A real shame.

Alejandro Faurlin: 5
Rated much higher by fans than successive managers, Faurlin, who has made a good recovery from a knee injury, is effective if given time and space, especially in the final third. When he isn’t, he struggles. Other sides know this – and that he lets opposing players run off his shoulder time and time again. Harry Redknapp, having given him the benefit of the doubt after continually being told how good Faurlin apparently is, lost patience after the MK Dons cup debacle and packed him off to Italy on loan. Those hoping the popular Argentine will re-establish himself next season might well be disappointed. The amount of possession a dominant Rangers side had in the Championship and the space left by teams focused on Adel Taarabt suited Faurlin perfectly. I think it might be different next time around.

Jermaine Jenas: 6
Did okay. Scored a fine goal against Sunderland.

Ji-sung Park: 5
The big question with Park was always how much he had left in his legs. Pretty quickly it was clear that the answer was not a lot, so that was that.

Junior Hoilett: 5
Needless to say, not as good as Rangers made him out to be. But he’s definitely capable of much more than he’s shown. Hoilett is a good young player and was an understandable signing by Hughes. He’s been a major disappointment and looked out of shape before picking up a hamstring injury at Chelsea.

Shaun Wright-Phillips: 5
Another silly signing by Warnock. Past his best and was sussed out by defenders long ago. Was also passionate about playing for Manchester City – as Joey Barton was about Newcastle – and Rangers weren’t savvy enough to be wary of players for whom a move to small-but-rich QPR meant the fire was likely to go out. This failing has been a big factor in the club’s demise.

Andros Townsend: 8
Found wanting during a succession of loan spells below Premier League level, but did very well during his time at QPR, where he flourished under a manager who gave him confidence and knew how to get the best out of him. Quick, direct and always willing to shoot. Did much better than I expected.

Jamie Mackie: 6
Has his shortcomings but works tirelessly, has scored a respectable number of goals in the top flight and has troubled even the best defenders, albeit through sheer persistence alone – just ask the likes of Cole and Evra. That’s more than most QPR players have done. He’s also served the club very well previously. So, given the well documented lack of professionalism of other players, to insult someone like Mackie by even leaving him out of end-of-season games when relegation had already been confirmed sent out the wrong message. He struggled badly at times, especially when asked to play as a lone striker. Big deal.

Adel Taarabt: 6
Seems to have been written off by many fans as prematurely as he was dubbed a future club legend in the mould of Marsh or Bowles. His attitude has always been woeful – he helped destroy QPR’s season prior to their promotion – and his game was lacking the fundamentals of a Premier League player. But Taarabt has done reasonably well in the top flight, all things considered. The role he played in keeping Rangers up seems to have been forgotten, and even last season at times he performed to a level way above most of his team-mates, although that’s not saying much. Warnock talked a lot about improving Taarabt. Hughes actually did so. It’s ironic that so often in the past R’s fans have worried that a club would come in for Taarabt when there was little chance of that happening. Now, it seems most don’t think he could get a move. Don’t bet on it.

Andrew Johnson: 6
Looked lively before suffering cruciate damage. The injury was a real shame, but Johnson has a history of knee trouble, making the decision to sign him a questionable one.

Bobby Zamora: 5
Another player whose declining fitness and form meant he lost favour at Fulham, who saw Rangers coming prior to Johnson going on a Bosman free transfer and Zamora leaving for a hefty transfer fee.

Jay Bothroyd: 5
Failed to make the most of what will surely be his final chance to make it in the top division. Has good attributes and was an understandable free-transfer signing by Warnock, but he hasn’t delivered.

Djibril Cisse: 5
Wanted out as early as last summer and it showed in his subsequent performances. His goals the previous year kept Rangers up, so on balance he has to be regarded as a worthwhile signing by Hughes.

Loic Remy: 7
A short-term signing to try to keep Rangers up on the understanding a move from Marseille would put Remy in the shop window following doubts about his fitness and ability at the top level. Did more than enough to suggest he is worth a go somewhere else in the Premier League.

The managers

Mark Hughes: 4
Inherited a difficult situation from his predecessor, whose short-term personal ambitions (which matched the club’s perfectly when he was appointed) and diabolical signings meant Rangers were on very shaky foundations despite promotion and having money to burn. But Warnock is also a shrewd man-manager who created a team spirit and a sense of togetherness the fans could buy into, and in these areas Hughes was an unmitigated disaster. Much of the criticism he receives over his signings is wide of the mark and underestimates the effect of the transfer policy set by the owners and the difficulty in attracting the right players to a relatively small club hell-bent on spending big and grabbing the headlines. He was also unfortunate that Johnson and Zamora, who were heading to QPR even before he was appointed, were crocked.

But, having lost control under Manchester City’s ambitious owners, Hughes claimed he had learned lessons and would be stronger in his next job. Instead, he floundered again and was a sitting duck for criticism when an ongoing off-the-pitch shambles inevitably manifested itself in a shambles on the pitch. Mike Rigg, the technical director Hughes brought to Loftus Road, was also a major disappointment whose uncompromising style did not go down well with some. The club became an unhappy and divided place and Hughes was unable to take control of the situation, continuing to put faith in his “meticulous preparation” when a much less scientific approach was needed. And while Hughes is not an arrogant, unpleasant character, his aloof persona makes him seem that way – and the last few decades show that managers in that mould fail at Rangers, whatever their merits. For that reason alone, Hughes should never have been appointed. Ultimately though, he was a big name brought to QPR to spend big on high-profile players from around the world. He did so. With inevitable consequences.

Harry Redknapp: 5
Contended with similar issues to Hughes and was unable to get Rangers out of the mire. Was unfortunate to be without the injured Loic Remy for crucial, winnable games. Overall, however, appointing a high-profile manager and spending £20m on two players was yet another example of Rangers doing pretty much the exact opposite of what they ought to. Redknapp is an outstanding manager – he should arguably be the England manager – but he wasn’t the right man for the situation Rangers were in, and he’s certainly not the right man for the situation they’re going to be in.


Tiger Feet – a great cause worth supporting

October 26, 2012

I don’t update this blog much these days. In fact, I’ve only done so a few times since asking for support for Tiger Feet 3 a year ago.

Then, as always, QPR fans didn’t let me down. So here I am again.

For those who don’t know, the now once-a-season Tiger Feet event is a sponsored walk to raise money for the QPR Tiger Cubs – Rangers’ team for children with Down’s Syndrome – and takes place this weekend, when a group of us will walk from Loftus Road to the Emirates Stadium.

Our previous walks have been from Loftus Road to Selhurst Park, Vicarage Road and White Hart Lane. The direct walk to Arsenal would be shorter than the others, so we’re taking a longer route that will work out at around 10 miles.

The idea of a sponsored walk came from my good mate and QPR fan James Doe and was inspired by the fact that our friend and former BBC colleague Chris Charles’ daughter, Lois, has Down’s.

I’ve come across a few people who think I’m behind the whole thing. I’m not. My only contribution has been to nod my head in agreement that it was a good idea and then turn up on the walks, the previous three of which I’ve found really enjoyable in so many ways.

It was all set up by James, Chris and the QPR Community Trust – whose awe-inspiring work is a credit to the club – with other Rangers fans since becoming involved.

On average, previous walks have raised around £10,000. So far this year’s total stands at a more modest £1,300. It would be great if we could bump that up a bit.

The Tiger Cubs is a truly magnificent cause and without getting all Lenny Henry about it, your money, really and truly, would have a genuine effect on families’ lives.

As well as giving the kids a chance to have fun and develop their confidence and social skills, it’s also a source of support for their parents, which is important too.

Past money raised means the Trust has been able expand from one to three training sessions a week, while paying for new kit and the hiring of venues.

And it’s about more than football. The financial support has also led to the introduction of educational workshops. including cooking and street dancing.

So if you do have a few quid to spare, it would be fantastic and very much appreciated if you could sponsor us by clicking here.

You can also read Chris’ article about Tiger Feet on West London Sport by clicking here or click here to read his blog about the Tiger Cubs from 2010 on the BBC Sport website, which includes a video of the kids in action.

Right, I’m off to put my feet up in preparation for tomorrow and hope one or two people have improved their banter since the last walk.


Remembering a QPR legend

June 29, 2012

I didn’t know Alan McDonald well. There are others – including one or two who’ve been reporting on QPR longer than me – who are much better qualified to write about him.

Macca left QPR two years before I started covering them. Until he returned as assistant manager, our only contact had been a few phone calls, the first of which was for a preview of the 2003 play-off final.

His love for the club was clear, although so too was his hurt at the manner in which he was released after such long service.

After he came back to Rangers, I got to know him a bit and can only concur with how others have described him; warm, generous, with a great sense of fun and an obvious love of QPR.

The last proper conversation I had with him was a day or so after he left Rangers following the appointment of John Gregory as manager – a departure which was again difficult, but one he took in his stride.

I think one of the things that made Macca special was that while other icons did their thing and moved on, he was a constant.

Rangers had some superb and hugely popular players in the 80s.

In the following decade, Gerry Francis coming back was a big deal as he was a legend as a player. Players like Wilkins, Ferdinand and others also etched their names into Rangers folklore.

But they all came and went. Macca was the one who was there through it all. To perform to such a consistently high standard over so many years is a remarkable feat.

When I think back to the various QPR open days and other events I loved going to as a youngster, I recall times when Ferdinand, Roy Wegerle, Wilkins or someone else was the man of the moment – the one swamped by autograph hunters at that particular time.

Francis, when he returned as manager, was definitely such a figure and has that personal touch.

But again and again, Macca was a focal point. He was always the one surrounded by the largest group, posing for the most photos, being passed the most babies and small children to hold.

It’s a corny term, but he really was Mr QPR.

He was also very much loved by those who knew him well and this was reflected in the tributes paid this week from different parts of the world, from his great friend and dressing-room partner in crime David Bardsley, who now lives in the US, to Paul Parker (Malaysia) and Jim Smith (Spain).

One of the most poignant tributes came from Dave Anderson, the manager of Harrow Borough. The pair had been friends for most of their lives, were best men at each other’s weddings and godfather to each other’s daughters.

A frequently-made comment this week has been that the word legend is overused, but Alan McDonald is a proper QPR legend alongside an elite group of other names. He belongs in that category.

So how should his contribution be fittingly and lastingly honoured?

Personally I felt a good start would have been for the club to hold off on announcements involving Joey Barton and Samba Diakite for a few days.

Barton, of all people, sharing the spotlight with a worthy captain of the club seemed crass to me.

As for Diakite, yes he’s potentially a very good signing (and a signing agreed ages ago) but the chest-beating over the latest big deal could and should have waited 48 hours I thought.

Of course the business of the club must not stop, but I felt the public focus should have been solely on one event this week.

Watching Tony Fernandes talking about the Diakite deal on TV, I couldn’t help wondering, had he succeeded in taking over West Ham and they had lost a figure like Billy Bonds, whether he would been speaking about a big-money signing before a funeral had taken place.

But, as I expected, most people strong disagree, with many on Twitter making it clear they were very happy with the way the club have handled things this week. The vast majority feel QPR played a blinder.

And as opposed to signings or other football-related matters, when the majority can be very wrong, with something like this if the fans feel the club got it right, it got it right. Simple as that. On that basis the club got it very right indeed.

I hope they get the next stage right in the form of a memorial to one of the club’s great servants.

There has been some talk of retiring the number five shirt. I think that would be a mistake. Besides, he also wore the number six and two shirts during his time at the club.

Getting rid of a shirt number seems to me to be the last thing that should happen. The legend should very much live on, and it ought to be a shirt that means something to future generations, as the number 10 shirt has.

Imagine how proud you’d be if your son or grandson went on to grace the shirt worn by Alan McDonald. It ought to remain.

Renaming a stand would be a significant and worthwhile gesture and one I can see the club going for, partly because it’s logistically not difficult and would be a quick win for them in PR terms.

A statue or plaque would be harder work but an option I hope won’t be discounted.

I was always more of a Danny Maddix man myself – something I enjoyed telling Macca on a few occasions.

But there’s no doubt that Alan McDonald is in that very elite group of former QPR players who can be considered true legends, and I don’t think talk of statues or renaming stands is an over-reaction.

In addition to a stadium memorial, I also think something at the club’s new training ground would be appropriate.

Fernandes believes the signing of Diakite is a watershed moment. But I think the training ground at Warren Farm will be the watershed moment – a hugely important development.

In my eyes it’s more than just a training ground. I think it can become a local landmark and really announce Rangers as a big club in the heart of west London.

And as Alan McDonald was a product of the youth system, a renowned training-ground joker but also regarded as a great professional, someone who represented all that was good about QPR and lived in the area for many years, a memorial at Warren Farm would surely be a fitting tribute.


Still questions for Buzsaky to answer

January 24, 2012

I’ve received some nice comments since Saturday suggesting I was proved right about Akos Buzsaky, which in fairness is a bit premature.

Even while Taarabt was in his pomp I’ve always said Buzsaky is the best player at Rangers and the one whose attributes are most transferable to the Premier League, which upset some admirers of Ale Faurlin as well as Taarabt’s fan club.

But even after Saturday I think questions still remain about Buzsaky. Three bad injuries in succession and other periods of inactivity are bound to affect a player.

I doubt even his staunchest critic would deny that Buzsaky is dangerous from set-pieces and can deliver a ball, so in many ways the Wigan game told us nothing we didn’t already know.

The main question is whether Buzsaky has the legs to play consistently in the Premier League and so far that hasn’t been answered. The Wigan game was ideal for him. Faurlin, who I’ve been critical of, looks a great player in matches like that too.

The signs are good though. Buzsaky’s actually getting better and sharper with every game and during games, which is exactly what you’d want to see from someone who needs to recover his sharpness after a long spell of inactivity.

It’s been particularly difficult for Buzsaky, because the odd cameo appearance in which he’s desperate to impress is the worst situation for a player of his type to be in.

He’s a touch player, and those kind of players need games – and confidence.

With that and some match sharpness back, I’ve no doubt whatsoever that Buzsaky isn’t only Premier League class, he’s top half of the Premier League class.

I’ve believed that since he wasn’t even a first-team regular at Plymouth and stand by it. But the centre of a 4-4-2 can be very unforgiving in the top division and tougher tests lie in store for him, that’s for sure.

I’d really like to see him establish himself as a first-team regular, which won’t be easy under a new manager who is urgently looking to strengthen every area of the team apart from goalkeeper – despite being linked with Ben Foster and Heurello Gomes.

It’s a great chance for Buzsaky though, made possible as much by Faurlin’s sad injury as the sacking of Neil Warnock.

In fairness to Warnock, he did initially regard him as a first-team player and planned to make him a key part of the side last season.

But Buzsaky picked up an injury shortly before the opening game, Shaun Derry – who was signed purely as a squad player – started instead and the rest is history.

That said, only a club with more money than sense would have been looking to offload a player like Buzsaky while, as usual, trying to buy half a team during the transfer window – something no-one else does but which at Rangers seems to be accepted as the done thing.

Buzsaky was written off too quickly, and I think the same may be happening with Jay Bothroyd.

I can’t claim to be Bothroyd’s biggest fan, but I would have taken him on a free last summer and think he’s since been a bit unlucky.

Apart from last season, Bothroyd has never been a goalscorer. So getting on his back for not scoring is a complete waste of time.

He isn’t that kind of forward. His strengths are his touch, being at the centre of things, bringing others into play, moving defenders around and so on. He isn’t and never has been what you might call a number one striker.

And like Buzsaky, he’s a touch player who needs games. There’s no point putting him in and taking him out. You either stick with him or ditch him, and I’d be inclined to stick with him.

Part of the reason he was so effective last season was that he played regularly for Cardiff. Their other striker changed repeatedly, but be it alongside Chopra, Bellamy, McCormack or Whittingham, he played.

It’s different for someone like Helguson – once similarly written off and now the blue-eyed boy – as he’s more of a battering-ram type of forward so can be chucked on during a game and expected to do his stuff.

Bothroyd did his job as a lone striker very well earlier in the season, but that job is a thankless one and it’s no coincidence that players in that role are consistently criticised by fans at QPR and elsewhere.

It’s a team role appreciated mainly by the team – not least the attacking midfielder who pops up in acres of space in the penalty area. Few ask how and why he got there or where the opposing centre-backs were.

Helguson is a recent example of that. Kevin Gallen made Rangers tick and was a fine Mark Hughes-type forward but, according to some, slow, overweight and often the weak link in the side.

Bothroyd’s confidence dipped a bit after his time in the firing line and he’s having to work his way back into the swing of things when he’s not a crowd favourite.

Personally I’m not a fan of his attitude, but he’s one of these players who doesn’t respond to being berated, either from the stands or touchline.

He does have a contribution to make and, like most number two-type forwards, that contribution is always more appreciated on the pitch than in the stands.

Proof of that is in the reaction of other players to him.

Think of the QPR players you’d consider to be the best pros at the club and have the best attitude. I imagine the kind of names that come to mind are Derry, Hill and Mackie maybe.

Now think back to last season and those players’ reaction to Taarabt during games.

Yes, they tolerated him and at times marvelled at him. But there were times when their anger at him was obvious. Before his injury, Mackie often looked particularly frustrated with Taarabt during matches.

Look at the very different reaction to Bothroyd from those players when they’re on the pitch together.

At every opportunity they’re having a word in his ear, patting him on the back when something doesn’t come off for him, and are always looking to get around him and encourage him. That tells you a lot.

So I’ve got some time for Bothroyd. As misfiring strikers with questionable attitudes go.


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