Chris Ramsey piece

October 1, 2015

I thought it was worth posting in response to some of the most common questions/comments about a piece I did for West London Sport on Chris Ramsey and his job at QPR. (Link here for anyone who wants to read it)

First of all, thanks for all the comments. I’m very much a news man and generally prefer to stick to that. Opinion pieces are not really my thing but, whether they agree or not, people are always very kind when I do them. I appreciate it.

Many have asked what I was getting at by making the point several times that Ramsey’s face doesn’t fit. Several have also argued that his face would fit perfectly fine if he got results.

That’s true of course, and there was/is certainly a willingness to give him a chance. But for various reasons, some managers get cut more slack than others.

Because of his lack of managerial experience, the circumstances of his appointment and the fact that he is a friend of the director of football who appointed him, I don’t believe Ramsey has as much breathing space as others might.

I’d compare it to a few years ago, when at various times Rangers were looking for a new manager and Sean O’Driscoll’s name was among those being discussed behind the scenes.

I like O’Driscoll and think he’s an excellent manager. But this was not that long after Ian Holloway had made his mark at QPR, so I felt a manager so lacking in charisma in comparison would be up against it from the start. His face wouldn’t fit.

I think there are also comparisons to be made with Iain Dowie, who I thought was just what Rangers needed at the time he was appointed and who, by the way, was proved right in everything he said to the owners during his acrimonious time at the club.

Sure, there was a willingness to give him a chance. But the surprise and dubiousness at his appointment meant that he, like Ramsey, needed results quickly.

As for other responses, some have just involved continuing to list the names in the current squad. There’s not a lot I can say to that really that I haven’t already said.

In a sense it was me asking the question of the fantasy-football players as I call them, perhaps unfairly. I think it’s they who need to justify their opinion of what Ramsey should be achieving, given the big-time players and managers QPR have had in recent years and how things panned out.

Plus, I did suggest that Ramsey might not be the right person if the expectation is to get the best out of the squad as it currently looks. The piece was less about his ability to do the job than what the job itself actually is.

In terms of Ramsey’s team selections and his supposed refusal to change things: As I say in the piece, the most popular change would seem to involve 4-4-2 with Alejandro Faurlin in a two-man midfield – something successive managers have been reluctant to go with, and with good reason.

Other players Ramsey has been criticised for not selecting have been injured or at least not fit enough. Ben Gladwin (I think Rangers could do with him at the moment) and Sandro being prime examples.

On Karl Henry. He’s not playing well at the moment and in the fickle world of football he’s now public enemy number one for some and the root cause of many of Rangers’ problems.

Say what you like about Henry, he has done his best and performed for the last two Rangers managers when others have let them and the club down very badly.

Ramsey knows all about Sandro – he worked with him at Tottenham – and for a number of solid reasons is absolutely right to show Henry as much loyalty as possible and only make a change with a very heavy heart indeed. He’d go down in my estimation massively if he did otherwise.

Finally, the difference between coaching and management – which I do acknowledge – is an issue many have strong views on.

Here’s the thing: managers fail and get sacked all the time. They drop like flies every season. If they previously had a background in coaching, though, it can be conveniently filed under ‘coach not manager’.

Also, the changing structure of clubs means the traditional role of the manager is changing too. Rangers have a director of football in Les Ferdinand and Ramsey is head coach. That said, man-management and various other managerial skills are still required in that role.

Can a coach ever succeed as a manager? Some have asked me on Twitter if there are any examples at all of this happening.

Well, Don Howe as head coach did an absolutely brilliant job at QPR.

I’ll stop there before I upset the Gerry Francis fans by attempting to correct his version of Rangers history!


A decade, not just four years, of papering over the cracks

May 13, 2015

My first blog in ages. Mercifully for you, I rarely have the time.

Down but probably not out

I’ve never been one for doomsday scenarios when it comes to QPR. By that I mean that over the course of the 16 years I’ve covered the club, I’ve encountered people at various stages who would have you believe the end is nigh. There have been difficult times during those years, but the extent of Rangers’ financial plight – or at least its impact on the playing side – was massively overstated bar a spell in 2006 when the Monaco-based investors stopped funding the club.

More recently, just as there was the last time Rangers went down, there has been plenty of speculation about the possible financial implications of relegation. My view has always been that QPR are much more likely to face spiritual ruin, through what will evolve into an extremely aggressive rebranding, rather than financial ruin under the current owners, who have access to a truly staggering supply of money.

But no amount of money is infinite, so a meltdown of some kind cannot be ruled out completely while the fecklessness and shambolic decision-making continues.

And at the turn of this year, I felt that if the wheels were to start coming off at QPR, 2015 might be the year.

This was for two reasons: the prospect of relegation back to the Championship – financially worse off, despite two spells in the Premier League – and the Old Oak situation, which is likely to become clearer in the coming months.

Anyone who’s had the misfortune to be subjected to my thoughts on QPR may know that I have always said a lucrative Canary Wharf-style redevelopment is central to the owners’ motives – I wrote this after Rangers’ last relegation, some time before the Old Oak plans were unveiled, when there was speculation about how said owners would react to the club doing down.

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By the way, I should add that there are some at QPR who have never liked my Canary Wharf comparison and insist the proposed regeneration would be more comparable to that of the Olympic Park.

Anyway, Rangers’ fate therefore depends largely on events off the pitch as well as on it.

‘As it stands’

On the pitch, everything points to some very challenging times ahead. I know when I say this, there are those on Twitter who aren’t exactly fans of my work who will jump up and down saying I predicted that Rangers would be relegated from the Championship the last time they went down.

This is based on a remark I made on Twitter two years ago. Let me explain a bit about that and why it’s relevant to the current situation.

When Mark Hughes was manager and QPR were in danger of going down – they of course ended up staying up on the final day – there was a belief within the club that if the worse happened, they would simply “do a Newcastle”. By that they meant keeping the bulk of the squad and storming the Championship with players who were, certainly on paper, too good for that level.

Based on the toxic atmosphere in the dressing room at that time, which has since become well documented, I was absolutely convinced that approach would see Rangers fall straight through to League One, and I still believe they would have finished bottom of the Championship the following season had they gone down under Hughes.

A year on from that final-day survival, this time with Harry Redknapp as manager, again there was a belief inside the club that they could “do a Newcastle” and bounce straight back. It was this specific view I was responding to when I replied to a tweet by saying that as it stood Rangers were absolutely certain to go down. And they were.

I also added to those who pressed me on the issue that I might well revise that view a week or two later following planned discussions between Redknapp and the board.

Redknapp’s finest hour

Many QPR fans dislike Redknapp intensely and blame him for this shambles of a season. And rightly so.

But, say what you like about him, he is an experienced football man who understood Rangers were heading for disaster under the “do a Newcastle” strategy and he managed to persuade the powers-that-be significant changes needed to be made or another relegation was on the cards.

In many ways things swung too far in Redknapp’s direction over the course of last season and beyond. He wasn’t kept in check and that had negative repercussions.

However, forget Wembley or any of his better signings, Redknapp’s greatest achievement as QPR manager occurred off the pitch, in important meetings after relegation. There, he succeeded where Hughes would have meekly failed had relegation happened 12 months earlier.

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I still get plenty of stick for the “as it stands” tweet and it’s mostly good natured. But it ignores the fact that in the following days and weeks:

    • The club stepped back from its original post-relegation strategy and Redknapp was given the green light to make crucial changes
    • Original plans for ticket prices were amended following consultation with fans groups, who played a blinder. Never underestimate how these things have a huge impact on the vibe around Loftus Road and its effect on the team and results
    • A pre-season trip to South Korea was also scrapped. I had always put the relegation in large part down to a foolish and ego-driven pre-season tour of Asia, which Hughes did not want and which had a seriously detrimental impact on the early part of the season
    • Steve Cotterill was replaced by Steve McClaren

Given all that, my “as it stands” comment soon became obsolete.

Incidentally, when asked a few weeks later for my prediction for the coming season, I said play-offs.

For those who like me to be wrong, privately I thought the most likely outcome would be that Rangers would totally bomb in the play-offs and a hugely unpopular Redknapp would leave under a cloud, leading to some serious soul-searching about where the club went from there.

Obviously I couldn’t have been more wrong. I do think though that QPR would be in a healthier position now had that soul-searching happened last summer rather than this. But try telling that to the thousands of fans who experienced that last-minute Zamora goal – few football fans will ever taste something like that.

Be careful what you wish for

So why is a debate that took place two years ago relevant now? Because this time around, there isn’t a manager who isn’t on-message with the owners’ vision for the following season, so the roadmap being drawn up is for keeps.

That isn’t a criticism of Chris Ramsey, Les Ferdinand or indeed the owners. It’s a fact based largely on the situation Rangers are in. There’s simply less room for disagreement this time. The realities of another relegation and Financial Fair Play to a large extent dictate where they go from here.

Their basic approach, which is to batten down the hatches and prepare for a season in which Rangers will do well to finish mid-table, is exactly the right one. It should be seen as a positive thing and a sign of sense prevailing – or least having a chance to prevail.

And if some smart decisions are made, it could be the platform for Rangers to rebuild and rebuild properly this time.

But it’s fraught with danger.

Ramsey and Ferdinand have done some good things. But they have also played behind-the-scenes politics on the important issue of the club’s youngsters, convincing Tony Fernandes there’s a potential harvest approaching when there is in fact at least a few more years of drought.

This had the effect of undermining Redknapp’s position and strengthening theirs as Fernandes sought a new direction and a new message to fans, with the ‘lessons learned’ mantra having been seen for the hollow nonsense it was.

With fans now calling for youngsters rather than big-name signings, Fernandes has new platitudes to trot out.

Youngsters playing was what Tony wanted all along, by the way. While he was locked in a cupboard for four years as his egomaniac twin brother insisted on the opposite approach.

Without being too critical of young players and making this blog even more long-winded than it’s becoming, here’s a sobering thought as QPR head back to the Championship: Fulham have one of the best academies and some of the best young players in the country and they almost got relegated – and that was with a seasoned striker in Ross McCormack.

That highlights what could lie ahead for a club that’s convinced itself Redknapp refused to give talented youngsters a chance, despite his track record showing the exact opposite. Few managers are more enthusiastic about blooding youngsters if they’re in any way good enough.

For Rangers, simply having youngsters who can see out a loan spell at lower-division clubs has been an important step in the right direction in recent years. That’s how bad things had got. Steve Gallen has done brilliantly with what he’s had.

Show me your list and I’ll show you mine

As well as looking to their youngsters, Rangers know they will need to buy sensibly from League clubs – something they should have been doing anyway.

Fernandes’ factually-ropey narrative of the last few years is that he was taken for a ride by certain people, mainly agents, and that he has learned lessons. But with a director of football with no experience of the area of the transfer market that Rangers will need to deal in, doesn’t that mean they are again at risk of being steered by agents?

No, Fernandes insists. When I asked him about this potential issue some time ago, he gleefully pointed out that the club has a list of players in the Championship and League One they might pursue.

Herein lies the major problem. The chairman doesn’t understand football and is far too easily swayed by things he finds impressive. Everyone at all levels of the game has a long list of players. Everyone. It means nothing.

Les on the spot

Regardless of Fernandes’ reasons for appointing a club legend to the crucial role of director of football – without a proper procedure to find the right person for QPR rather than indulge the chairman’s latest whim, needless to say – Ferdinand as Johnny-on-the-spot means business, has really got his teeth into the role and is serious about improving the club.

He could yet turn out to be brilliant and his lack of experience in some areas needn’t be a problem, as part of his role involves bringing the right people in and overseeing their work. He is keen to appoint a chief scout/head of recruitment, for example.

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But the main lesson that needs to be learned from the Rangers debacle is that there is so much more to getting things right than signing good players and having a good manager. And QPR have had good managers, despite how they may have come to be perceived.

Fernandes spoke of “culture” when he brought Ferdinand in. He has no real idea what club culture means, he just knows the fans are talking about it. A handful of people who understand the inner workings of QPR and the issues at play have been using the word culture for years, it’s only recently that it’s caught on.

At Rangers, that culture is unfortunately one of shoddiness and a lack of professionalism and pride in the club as an institution. And that stems from the top.

Ferdinand saw this immediately and saw that the starting point for addressing this cultural problem would be for the chairman to change the way he conducts himself, particularly on Twitter.

But Fernandes wasn’t having any of that and Ferdinand was duly slapped down. Culture’s great as a buzzword, but that’s as far as it goes, it seems.

If Ferdinand isn’t allowed to change the fundamental reasons QPR is a circus, it’s hard to see how he can do his very important job without being compromised.

Fernandes rejects any suggestion that his social media activity is linked to the club’s problems, or that his star-struck behaviour has contributed to a series of players under-performing for QPR when they have performed well elsewhere. So do many fans. I know from experience that a great many totally dismiss any suggestion the current mess on the pitch is not only caused by events off it, but caused by events that occurred a decade ago.

It’s a 2005 thing

Something happened to QPR in 2005 that changed the face of the club. The fall-out from Gianni Paladini’s boardroom coup and his subsequent purging of much of what made the club tick is the single biggest reason for the years of chaos and instability that Rangers, once a respected club, is now synonymous with.

This chaos was well documented under Flavio Briatore (eventually – it took a while for that particular media bandwagon to gain some momentum), but only because he and Bernie Ecclestone had a higher profile than Paladini and the previous de-facto owner, Antonio Caliendo.

It was often said the Briatore-led takeover of 2007 led to QPR losing its soul. My mantra during that era was “It’s a 2005 thing, not a 2007 thing”, and the same applies now. Fernandes has been a disaster since becoming chairman in 2011 but in many ways he is not the cause of QPR’s problems, he’s a product of them. It’s a 2005 thing, not a 2007 or 2011 thing.

Above, I suggested that the big lesson to be learned is that there is so much more to being successful than having good players. It’s why I said with complete confidence that Rangers’ big-name signings would flop.

The current mentality is more or less what Paladini called “The Italian Way”. Broadly speaking that approach sees doing deals and getting players as all that all really matters – everything else is just window dressing and is dispensable.

Briatore and Fernandes have both since made noises about building, sustainability, culture and numerous other buzzwords. And in fairness, some of what Fernandes has talked about doing he would genuinely like to if he could only get beyond the endless firefighting needed because of his previous short-term firefighting – a cycle QPR just can’t escape.

But fundamentally, since 2005 the club has remained in the trap of believing that if they could just get this player, or that manager, the tide will turn. Classic “Italian Way” thinking. Rangers just can’t shake it off.

No standards = no chance

Over time, it’s become the majority rather than derided view that Rangers weren’t equipped to make big-name signings, were signing the wrong characters and were being foolish. That debate’s finished, it’s time to move it on a step.

Signing the right characters is important. I’ve argued that more than anyone. But – and this is where the real soul-searching comes in – it’s not just about type of characters the club bring in, it’s about what kind of club they walk into.

Sadly the answer to this question is a large part of the reason why so many signings that seemed fantastic on paper have been so dismal. Some have been “bad eggs”, but for some the fire has simply gone out. And the brutal truth is that it’s gone out for a reason.

It’s not just about whether they’re “bad eggs”.

What kind of club are they joining when they join QPR?

What kind of standards are imposed?

Who reminds them of their duty as QPR players?

What happens if they let the club down?

What sense do they get of the history and tradition of the club and its importance?

What happens if they bring the club into disrepute?

And, based on the answers to all those, what do they think of QPR compared to their previous clubs?

The answers not only explain the performances on the pitch over a long period of time, they’re also linked to the Paladini purge I’ve referred to. And they’re linked to the way the current chairman conducts himself too.

This view is sometimes dismissed as harking back to the days when QPR weren’t so cash-rich. It’s not that, because the rot set in during the two years before the billionaires arrived.

Other clubs that came in to money had people at the door to welcome new owners or investors, to tell them about the club and what it stood for, and that’s been reflected in how those clubs have managed to build. Because of the Paladini purge, QPR didn’t have this. Subsequent owners inherited a club that had been torn apart, was down on itself and had no credible ethos or sense of direction.

The fallout means that, 10 years on, there’s a chairman talking about culture without really knowing what he’s talking about, unable to put his finger on why it’s gone wrong despite all that’s been thrown at the project.

I’ve taken some stick for being dismissive of Rangers’ chances of making their money work for them. But while a club can spend enough and paper over their shortcomings enough to eventually get it right in the Championship, which Rangers have now done twice, the Premier League is a different kettle of fish.

For all their money, QPR simply cannot compete with medium-sized clubs who have what Rangers had before the Paladini purge; spirit, a coherent plan, pride in itself, high standards – and most of all, decision makers and other influencers who live, breath and love their club and have its best interests at heart.

That’s the culture players and managers who join those clubs are expected to buy into. It’s a world away from the culture at QPR.

What lies ahead?

Going forward, Old Oak remains the key issue. More on that another time. On the pitch, Ramsey, who is due to be confirmed as manager in the next week or so, will face some tough months. His appointment won’t please everyone, but it will at least give Rangers some continuity.

With Ferdinand in place, Rangers paving the way for Tim Sherwood (Ramsey, despite his initial role, was earmarked as Sherwood’s assistant) only to not appoint him made things tricky. Taking Ramsey out of the picture too would make things downright messy at a time when things are messy enough.

As for Fernandes, a number of factors mean it now make senses for him to stand aside, either formally or informally, for the time being at least.

The ball has already been rolling in that respect, with Ruben Gnanalingam, who despite his lower profile is very much the main man in financial terms, having an increasingly prominent role behind the scenes.

File photo dated 13/04/2013 of Queens Park Rangers' Chairman Tony Fernandes.

These things are almost always determined by events, and the events of the last few years speak for themselves.

Plus, there is a potential event on the horizon which I think could seriously undermine Fernandes’ credibility even among the many fans who still believe in him, and that is the possibility of QPR’s academy being downgraded to Category Three status.

The current status was determined largely on the basis of the club giving various assurances and outlining ambitious future plans (fans aren’t the only ones given the spiel).

But their bluster may not be enough to get them through a re-audit which was due to take place this month, although it has been deferred. If it’s delayed long enough, say until September, it may be that Rangers are simply allocated Category Two fixtures for next season and therefore buy themselves more time.

Otherwise, a drop to Category Three, which would see QPR’s youngsters in the same league as the likes of Leyton Orient and Southend, after four years of Fernandes’ grand promises, would be difficult even for him to explain away.

He could try, perhaps arguing that progress has been made on plans for a training ground at Warren Farm and therefore that a short-term step backwards is unimportant because possible Category One status is closer.

But it could be a tough sell, even for Fernandes, the ultimate salesman, given that he has placed so much emphasis on building the academy, made so many promises about it that have bought him time and goodwill and given him a bigger-picture narrative to sell to fans, enabling him to constantly deflect criticism despite the shambles that’s occurred on his watch.

In any case, with QPR preparing to batten down those hatches, and accepting that this relegation is more damaging than the previous one, Fernandes’ frontman role as hype generator and face and voice of the club’s owners has perhaps simply run its course.

Given the events of the last four years and the challenges that lie ahead, the quieter approach favoured by Ferdinand and Gnanalingam is called for now. 

NB: I should add that in 2005 Rangers were already dealing with serious problems, so certain issues in fact date back further than that. It’s also the case that Paladini invested in 2004 after others had merely talked a good game, and that this money, followed by that of the Monaco-based investors he brought on board, kept the club stay above water. However, in 2005, a year after promotion, having replaced the previous board from the Chris Wright era and consolidated in the Championship, there were certainly challenges but also a genuine platform from which to build and get Rangers on a solid footing. So the events of that year were very significant and the consequences stark. 


Rangers have got it all back

May 8, 2011

Great scenes at Loftus Road yesterday. Let no-one say that ground isn’t fit for the Premier League.

The time for assessing QPR’s future and some aspects of the past will come, but for now all Rangers fans will be interested in is celebrating.

For the younger generation, promotion is magnificent for obvious reasons. For the older ones, in many ways this is as much the end of a journey as the start of one.

Ten years ago, with Rangers in administration and having just been relegated to the third tier after a defeat at Huddersfield, I stood on the side of the pitch listening to a hugely emotional Ian Holloway promise that the club would one day be back in the top flight.

Holloway said I could hold him to his comments, so I kept them, just in case they might seem poignant in the future.

I used a sentence or two for the local paper and a couple of the nationals, but other than that these words never saw the light of day. I stored them on file and always intended to reproduce them if the day arrived when Holloway’s words rang true.

Ten years on, that day has arrived. So, here they are…

“No words can do justice to how I feel. Devastated doesn’t even start to cover it. To have played for this great club in the premier division and see it now, in the third division for the first time since the 60s. It’s a tragedy. It breaks my heart. And to think how those QPR fans will feel, having come from what we had to this, here today. I feel sick. Absolutely sick. But let me tell you this: QPR will rise again. I promise you that. Like a phoenix, it will rise again. We’ve lost everything, but everything we’ve lost we’ll get back. Trust me on that. We’ll get it all back. Whether I’ll be the manager when that happens, I don’t know. I’d like to be. I can at least get the whole thing started. Believe me, I’ll be proved right. Remember me saying this. QPR will get back there again – back to how it was a few years ago and the years before that. Mark my words. Remember them. It will happen, I’m telling you. Everything we’ve lost, we will get back.”


Warnock’s perfect timing

February 23, 2011

Bringing in Dan Shittu and Fitz Hall was a bold decision – and the right one – by Neil Warnock, but maybe not as much of a risk as it seemed.

After the draw at Preston, Warnock initially decided to take one of his centre-backs out of the side. He later opted to go the whole hog and take both of them out.

The fact Shittu and Hall had played together in recent reserve matches meant Warnock possibly took less of a chance by replacing both centre-backs rather than dropping one of them.

I know from speaking to Shittu that he was slightly nervous about his return, and felt Hall’s inclusion was a definite bonus for him as it did not mean a new partnership being formed at the back in such an important game.

It was still a big call by Warnock though. I certainly wouldn’t have made it.

But if you are going to put Shittu in, Tuesday’s match was exactly the right time to do it. Warnock’s timing may have seemed strange, yet was spot on.

A home game under the floodlights, the crowd instantly lifted by Shittu’s appearance and then his every header and tackle;  it was the right way to reintroduce him and give Rangers a lift at a time when there were signs of anxiety –  and maybe some fatigue – creeping in.

Shittu was, as always, a colossus in both penalty areas, and his boundless enthusiasm was just what the team and fans needed at this vital stage of the season.

If he’d scored, it would have brought the house down and probably have sent Shittu into orbit. We’re talking here about a man who even got carried away while scoring in a reserve match last week, shouting “have it!” as he slammed the ball into the net and then “that’s how you score a goal!” to other, bemused, players on the pitch.

If Shittu keeps his place, there will be bigger tests to come for him. Especially away from home, when games are likely to be much more stretched and very different to Tuesday’s battle in both boxes.

That will reveal more than last night’s adrenaline-filled performance, which was the perfect reintroduction for him at the perfect time.

I’ve always seen Gorkss and Connolly as decent individual defenders at Championship level, but not a good partnership, and this Rangers side as much more defensively vulnerable than the stats this season suggest.

Even so, with the team on course for promotion I’d have been reluctant to turn to two defenders whose fitness and form have been a concern. I’d have solidered on.

It would have been the wrong decision. Not because of their performances last night – neither player did anything they haven’t done before, and some questions remain unanswered – but because, with hindsight, at least one of them was always likely to be called upon at some stage during the run-in.

That means the alternative to Warnock’s decision could have involved having to put them in for some godforsaken away match, on a bigger pitch and possibly with even more riding on the result.

That type of game would be very different to the kind of compact, congested one against Ipswich, which was ideal for a centre-back with Shittu’s attributes to go out and play like his life depended on it.

There will be games, especially away, where there’ll be more ground to cover, more snap decisions required, and much more potential for Shittu to be isolated and left one-versus-one. That’s a very different assignment, and not one for a new addition to a back four, who’s had hamstring trouble and lacks match practice.

Shittu can now go into that kind of situation having had his sharpness and morale boosted after storming it in front of his adoring fans and gone off to a standing ovation.  That’s why Warnock was right to pick him sooner rather than later.


Warnock’s major comedown

February 17, 2011

From Messi to McIntyre in less than 24 hours. How the mighty have fallen.

A day after meeting Barcelona’s players as they trained at Loftus Road, Neil Warnock was back to dealing with the likes of me.

He managed to put a brave face on it, and as usual was having none of my attempts to put words in his mouth. It’s been nearly a year of this now. A change of tactics may be needed.

In an ideal world, he’d have compared Troy Hewitt to Les Ferdinand – the obvious comparison (for a lazy person) to make, given the latter’s rise from another local non-League club.

That one was politely shot down straightaway, and was always going to be. But a comparison with DJ Campbell; now that was a goer, I thought.

‘Neil Warnock reckons he’s unearthed the new DJ Campbell in non-League hotshot Troy Hewitt….’

It was all done in my head, and I knew which papers would take it. Job virtually done. All Warnock had to do was play ball.

He wasn’t having it. I had two or three attempts, but he just wouldn’t take the bait.  Some nonsense about comparisons being daft, and not putting pressure on a youngster. Whatever. I zoned out at that point,  my superbly-crafted story ruined. 

On a serious note, players from the lower divisions and non-League often emerge and attract interest, and it’s almost always misplaced. But I think Hewitt can go a long way. I like him. People whose judgement I trust like him even more, and have been watching him for some time.

There are clubs that have been tracking Hewitt for much longer than QPR and will be bitterly disappointed that he looks set to join them. He’s regarded by a number of good judges as a genuine prospect.

That said, the jump from Ryman League to the Championship and soon, possibly, to the Premier League, would be an absolutely monumental one. Anything he does this season should be seen as a bonus. It could take 18 months or longer for Hewitt to adapt.

Even if it doesn’t – and I have a feeling he might hit the ground running – sooner or later a player making that kind of step up will almost certainly hit a wall.

When that happens, it’s simply part of learning the professional game. And that game can involve going from flavour of the month to a cast-off very quickly.

An option for a club in Rangers’ position is always to take on a player like Hewitt as a no-risk signing, and then loan him to another League club to see how he fares.

I asked Warnock if he’d consider doing this, and he was adamant that he wants Hewitt in his squad. That’s a big compliment.

As of this afternoon, talks were at an advanced enough stage for me to be pretty convinced Hewitt will be a QPR player.

Warnock expects the signing to be completed soon – and is also confident he won’t be losing one striker as another comes in.

He has spoken about Ishmael Miller to West Brom, who have an option to recall the player at 24 hours’ notice.

There’s been speculation that, having taken over as Albion manager, Roy Hodgson might exercise that option.

At the moment though, that seems unlikely to happen, at least until Hodgson or one of his staff has watched him in action for Rangers. Even then, Miller will probably stay put, although Warnock has been looking at other possible loan signings in case he loses him.

As things stand, Miller will be on the team coach to Preston and it is, apparently, on that coach that Warnock will decide whether to make a change to his defence on Saturday.

Matt Connolly and Bradley Orr are the most likely casualties if he alters things, with Pascal Chimbonda and Fitz Hall waiting in the wings. Dan Shittu is another option.

Would he change a successful team? I believe yes, simply because Rangers dropped points at the turn of the year when he decided against making changes during a very hectic period, despite considering it very seriously.

For that reason, with games again coming thick and fast, I expect Warnock to make the odd change, if not this weekend then soon.

Finally, I want to say thanks for the many nice comments I received after my post about Harold Winton, some of which I’ll pass onto his family.

I also want to clarify something about my post on the Amulya loan, which attracted some not-so-nice comments! That’s fine.  I’m always hearing from and meeting Rangers fans who tell me what rubbish I talk and that I’m consistently wrong. I’m well used to that.

I should say though that the post, which some saw as negative and even scaremongering, didn’t actually include any personal opinion on the Amulya loan whatsoever.

It was purely a brief factual rundown in light of a letter sent to shareholders that had caused some confusion – as the issue of the loan often does.


The perfect fit

January 21, 2011

The fact he was at QPR before is almost irrelevant. I’ve never been a huge fan of his, disagreed with the decision to sign him first time around, and thought the club were right to sell him. But by pure coincidence, the one player Rangers could really do with at this point in time happens to be Wayne Routledge.

It’s a loan signing (beyond that, I’d think twice) that works for so many reasons.

As a winger, Routledge is exciting but limited – as his unsuccessful forays into the Premier League have shown.

Part of that is because football’s changed. Fifteen years ago, Routledge would probably have played for England. But the days of a winger sprinting down the flank and slinging in crosses are gone. Defenders at almost every level are wise to it.

But Routledge is a perfect fit for Rangers because he is much more effective in the right-of-centre position he can play in at QPR.  That role is made for him.

Coming in from the right wing rather than being glued to it, he can be devastating in the Championship and could yet make an impact at the next level in the future.

I’ve long thought that Routledge is a much greater threat when facing a centre-back rather than a full-back. And he’s dangerous when getting into space between the two, as well.

Jim Magilton felt this too, and moved him in from the wing. It didn’t work particularly well, but I reckon it will this time. Rangers are a different team now.

Routledge is also the perfect counter-balance on one side of a front three to what Tommy Smith offers on the other. Smith is a very clever player, while Routledge offers not only trickery but some much-needed pace, which is something Rangers have been lacking. Ishmael Miller offers this too and, if he can get fit, is capable of frightening the life out of defences.

And while Smith and Routledge are very different types of player, where they are similar is that they are equally capable both of pulling out wide and delivering a cross, and of offering a threat through the middle. That’ll be tough for teams to defend against.

Another reason – maybe the biggest – that getting Routledge makes sense is that his pace is now sure to affect the starting position of opposing defenders, who up until now have faced a side that are a bit one-paced. It’s likely to move defences back a few yards, and that will create more space for you-know-who behind the front three.

The signing also gives Rangers an attacking spark should Taarabt miss games, especially while Buzsaky attempts to get fit. And it simply sends out a message to the rest of the division, starting with Coventry, who already faced a tough task on Sunday and will now see the name of Wayne Routledge on the QPR team sheet.

Routledge is the right man at the right time. If I were in Neil Warnock’s shoes, especially since the injury to Jamie Mackie, I’d have been saying to the board: “Get me Wayne Routledge. Never mind what I said about him before.”

Whether it works in the longer term is harder to call, but for the coming months it’s the perfect arrival for Rangers, and the same can be said of Pascal Chimbonda.

He isn’t universally liked for reasons that have been well documented, but people who know Chimbonda well have told me there are few better players to have on board when he has something to aim for.

Chimbonda has never played outside the top division in this country, which speaks for itself. Ability-wise he’s an excellent player, and given Rangers’ position at this crucial time he’s an excellent signing as he can play anywhere across the back four.

There might be some concern that these signings could change the atmosphere in the dressing room. I don’t think that’ll happen. Players arriving at this stage generally enter a dressing room where the atmosphere is already set in stone, and they have little choice but to go with the flow.

That should especially be the case at QPR, who are top of the league and on course to achieve their objective, and have good senior pros in the likes of Derry, Kenny and Hill.

I’m not used to praising QPR for their signings. It doesn’t happen very often. But 10 out of 10 for these, no question.


McCarthy’s chance to impress

January 18, 2011

Very interested to hear that Benni McCarthy featured for QPR in a reserve game at Tottenham this afternoon.

McCarthy played up front alongside Heidar Helguson. Personally, I doubt anything will come of this and would be surprised if he ended up at Rangers.

But then a couple of days ago I doubted that Wayne Routledge could be persuaded to leave Newcastle on loan.

Lee Cook also played in the match – in central midfield – and there was another appearance by Emmanuel Ledesma, who came on as a second-half substitute.

Spurs fielded a very strong side, which didn’t include David Beckham, and won the game 9-2.

Two of Tottenham’s youngsters played at centre-back for QPR, which says something about how seriously these games are treated. And maybe about Rangers’ lack of cover in that position at the moment.