Good luck to Rowan Vine. He’s due some, and that’s coming from someone who generally doesn’t do sympathy for footballers and didn’t think he should have been signed in the first place. I hope he does well at Hull and gets his career back on track.
He was one of the better acquisitions QPR made between the 2007 takeover and this summer, although that isn’t saying much.
But that wasn’t Vine’s fault, and neither were some of the reasons things went wrong for him. The broken leg was a turning point. We all know that. But his problems didn’t end there.
For a year, the messageboards fawned over him and his comeback couldn’t come quickly enough for many. But there were two absolute certainties given the nature of his injury. The first was that he would struggle for fitness and form when he did return, and the second was that his adoring public would turn on him very quickly when that happened.
And sure enough, by the end of the season before last, opinion had turned against him and the powers-that-be were already looking to get rid. His annoyance at them for axing Dexter Blackstock didn’t help his cause.
Jim Magilton and John Gorman, who liked him a lot, put a stop to that. Magilton went along with the Pellicori deal and stomached the pressure placed on Faurlin’s shoulders by the suggestion he had cost £3.5m. But he put his foot down over Vine, and resisted attempts to ship him out.
Magilton and Gorman believed Akos Buzsaky, who’d also had a bad injury, was a lot closer to full fitness than Vine, who could take months longer to get back up to speed.
Their handling of the player reflected that. He was eased in very gradually, with good and bad signs during various substitute appearances, although there was no doubt that he looked a shadow of his former self.
He played his part in an excellent team performance at Newcastle, scored in the 4-1 win against Reading, and was gradually gaining some confidence and important match-time. Magilton himself was on a roll, as we all know. Rangers looked unstoppable, and he was particularly pleased with Vine’s progress given his insistence on keeping him.
But a few weeks later – that’s how quickly the tide turns against a QPR manager – Magilton’s own position was under scrutiny following a couple of bad results and all-too familiar behind-the-scenes problems.
For his part, Vine was struggling with a hernia. That injury was hugely significant and debilitating, but has been overlooked because of the broken leg his shortcomings are associated with. It also came at the worst possible time.
Magilton was now, ridiculously, under real pressure, and asked Vine to start in the now infamous game at Watford, which the manager badly needed a result from. It was Vine’s first start for more than two months – and it showed.
Magilton was finished after the fall-out from that match, and Vine was effectively finished at the club himself.
With Magilton gone, attempts to get rid of Vine carried on where they’d left off in the summer. He was linked with a number of clubs – always a sign that moves are being made to get a player out.
But there was genuine interest from Sheffield Wednesday. Brian Laws, then their manager, wanted him and Vine was duly told he could go. Rangers were keen to offload him, but they were trying to offload an injured player. Vine required a stomach operation and was nowhere near fit.
Wednesday are regarded inside the game as a very big club, and a big draw for most players. Clearly out of favour at Rangers, the move would have been perfect for Vine. But he was up-front with Laws, telling him that he wasn’t fit and didn’t feel he could do himself justice or help Laws at a time when his job was hanging by a thread.
Vine had his operation, and weeks later Neil Warnock took over as Rangers manager. He told Vine he rated him as a player and had tried to sign him in the past.
But Vine continued to struggle, and by the end of the season it was clear he had no future at the club – a fact underlined by his performances during pre-season.
There’s no doubt that the injuries – not just the injury – took their toll. I know of four clubs who this summer discussed taking him, but decided not to. That speaks volumes, although being a free agent would have made him a much more attractive proposition had he reached a financial settlement with QPR. For a manager who wants or needs to take a punt, someone of Vine’s proven ability is bound to be worth considering.
Time will tell how much he has left to offer. But one thing I am certain of is that some of the criticism I’ve read of his attitude, not simply his performances, has been unfair.
Vine’s attitude – what Iain Dowie used to call his “spikiness” – made him an asset on as well as off the pitch. His sharpness and mobility were affected by the hernia as well as the more obvious leg injury, and when that happens a player’s sluggishness and dip in confidence can look for all the world like a lack of effort.
He isn’t someone who simply failed to deliver after being signed for big money. There are strong, mitigating reasons why it went wrong for him, and for that reason he’s arguably entitled to have his contract properly paid up – unlike other unwanted reserves who’ve clung to their fat contracts in recent years.
He is not in the same mould as those players, despite not doing himself any favours with some ill-advised recent comments on Twitter. They did nothing to mend his relations with some at QPR, or change the growing perception of him as a typical money-grabbing footballer. And they could yet land him in hot water, although his loan move to Hull may pave the way for both parties to draw a line.
Even as someone who despairs of Rangers’ fecklessness and often jokes that you can always be sure they’ll “make the pay-offs”, I don’t begrudge Vine a good financial settlement if that’s what he wants before moving on. QPR have paid off numerous less-deserving players who don’t have the same excuse for not performing.
Vine did his best after signing his contract in good faith. He entertained, and then one moment on the training ground changed everything. Let him have a fresh start. He needs and deserves one.