It’s been quite an eventful couple of weeks for us QPR fans. First of there was the underwhelming transfer-deadline day, which promised little and delivered even less, then our opinion-splitter of a manager resigned on the flimsiest of excuses; we’ve been linked, and swiftly unlinked, to a several potential new managers, before appointing from within, and finally, at the 12th time of asking, we’ve managed to come back from an away trip with something other than a dispiriting defeat.
What to say about Harry Redknapp? To begin with, his excuse for resigning doesn’t wash. Yes, he’s clearly struggling physically, but he had been for most of his time in charge, leaving Steve McLaren to coach the team for the first couple of months of last season. I don’t seriously believe that his knee operation would have prevented him taking charge of the team had he managed to bring in a couple of new players. If, by some miracle, we had managed to sign Emmanuel Adebayor and Matt Jarvis (which for the record I’m glad we didn’t), I’m pretty sure Redknapp would still be manager, and I’m equally sure we wouldn’t have won at Sunderland.
The first sign that all was not rosy was when, against all odds, Tony Fernandes sent a tweet. Shocking, I know, and this one said that there would be no money for new signings on deadline day, and that the manager had got every target he’d asked for over the summer, publicly laying, for the first time, the blame for Rangers’ current position at Redknapp’s door. Given that Redknapp’s Range Rover is actually sold with the driver’s window jammed down, complete with padded elbow rest for extra insousciance when drip-feeding gobbets of information to desperate reporters, it was a blow that he wouldn’t be able to spend transfer-deadline day in his usual fashion (see last year when, needing a striker to replace the injured Charlie Austin, he ended up with three, including the absurdly useless Mobido Maiga).
He still tried though, bless him, although there was nowhere near as much QPR-related rumour as there had been the last couple of years, but no new signings were forthcoming. At 5.30 the next morning, his knee suddenly got so much worse that he was unable to do his job properly. For ‘knee operation’, read ‘got the hump at not getting any new signings to play with.’
It’s tricky to evaluate Redknapp’s reign – one relegation when left in an impossible situation by the previous regime, one promotion thanks to a fluky play-off victory, one half-season of abject away performances and gutsy home ones leaving the team once more on the brink of relegation. You’d say he’s been poor, but you wouldn’t necessarily say he’s a poor manager. Likewise Mark Hughes has been reasonably successful at every club (and country) he’s managed, and is turning Stoke City into a passable team to watch, yet was utterly abysmal at QPR. It’s not just managers – Stephane Mbia has been excellent either side of his season at the R’s, Jose Bosingwa was probably the most reviled player of the past 5 years at Loftus Road such was his perceived apathy, but he is playing well enough at Trabzonspor to be recalled to the Portugal squad, while Julio Cesar, whose goalkeeping performances ranged from the outstanding (Manchester City at home) to the truly abominable (Aston Villa away), has just gone 808 minutes without conceding a league goal at Benfica. Clearly there’s something wrong with the club that turns good players and managers into bad ones.
Redknapp has always been regarded as an ‘old-school’ manager – trot out the old clichés, such as thinking tactics are a type of mint, that ‘just tell him to fackin run about a bit’ constitutes a detailed team-talk, and that a teacup is more missile than drinking vessel. However, he must be more than that, otherwise he wouldn’t have been a (qualified) success at both Portsmouth and Spurs – shouting and swearing all the time doesn’t work on today’s footballers, especially those brought up in non-British or even non-European cultures.
At Rangers, though, he seemed to regress to the media’s caricature of him – saying he had no idea about figures in one breath before casually revealing Shaun Wright-Phillips’ weekly wage in the next. His buys in the summer were based on the fact he was going to play 3-5-2 all season, seemingly because it worked in a couple of high-profile cases at the World Cup, and then abandoned the idea after a 4-0 drubbing at Tottenham, leaving the squad ludicrously unbalanced. Since then Rangers have played a fairly rudimentary 4-4-2, but have a surfeit of number 10s (Niko Krancjar, Adel Taarabt, Leroy Fer) and no real full-backs. Clint Hill is 36, with less pace than an asthmatic snail who’s just fallen into a bowl of treacle, and yet has played left-back more often than not. Mauricio Isla, by his own admission in the Standard recently, doesn’t know how to play right-back, and is having to learn on the job, as there’s no-one else to do it following Danny Simpson’s sale to Leicester.
Aside from confusion over formations and the lop-sided acquisitions, the players have often seemed unsure of how the manager wants them to play. At Old Trafford, against a vulnerable Manchester United side, Rangers put in a spectacularly anaemic performance, basically rolling over and allowing United to do whatever they wanted. According to Karl Henry, Redknapp hadn’t made it clear whether he wanted the team to press high, or to drop off and challenge United to play through them, eventually doing neither. If there’s no strategy for something as basic as that, no wonder the R’s have looked clueless for much of the season.
Thankfully, on this occasion Tony Fernandes, rather than quickly appointing the most high profile manager available (as happened with both Hughes and Redknapp), has taken his time. Too much time, some might say, as he has appointed Chris Ramsey, formerly the Academy coach, as manager until the end of the season when presumably, if his cryptic tweets about getting his ‘dream manager’ are to be believed, someone else will be appointed, possibly Paul Clement, son of QPR legend Dave and currently assistant to Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid.
This assumes, of course, that Chris Ramsey is not Fernandes’ dream manager, a fairly safe assumption for a man whose last stint as a manager was at Charleston Battery (a football club, not a dance academy) in the second tier of football in the USA, ending in 2004. But is appointing Ramsey a sensible decision? He was moderately successful in the States, winning the end of season play-offs in his second year, and has a good track record in youth football, both with various England youth teams and, over the last 10 years, Tottenham Hotspur.
The jump from coaching at youth level to managing in the Premier League, however, is huge, in terms of the pressure, in terms of the man-management, and in terms of the receptiveness of big-name players to coaching and tactical ideas. I’m sure that Ramsey is an excellent coach, but excellent coaches don’t necessarily make excellent managers, examples being John Gorman, Les Reed and Steve Clarke. He will need to lift morale, coax performances out of underperforming players such as Matt Phillips and Junior Hoilett, and deal with huge egos like Rio Ferdinand, Joey Barton and the trickiest of them all, Taarabt.
His efforts so far haven’t been bad at all. The players by all accounts like him, Barton tweeting that he has ‘got [the] group back on track,’ but then again he would say that, as who wouldn’t be publicly nice about the new boss in any job? Most impressively of all, he has done what Redknapp failed to do and get a point away from home, winning at an admittedly poor Sunderland, playing, by all accounts, fluid attacking football with players selected in their best positions (apart from poor Isla still marooned at right-back), eliciting a match-winning performance from Matt Phillips, and reacting quickly when substitutions were required.
Whether he’ll be able to continue in this vein remains to be seen. There is a lot of dross in this season’s Premier League, and I think QPR probably only need four wins from the remaining 13 matches to stay up, an eminently achievable task. When Joey Barton concentrates on the simple things, he’s an extremely effective midfielder, Bobby Zamora can still be a handful, and in Taarabt, Phillips, Krancjar and Charlie Austin we have potential match-changers.
On the downside, the team still suffers from an alarming lack of pace, the defence looks as watertight as a colander after a fight with a hole-punch, and the injuries are mounting up. Richard Dunne, Rangers’ most consistent defender this season, may well have played his last game for the club, Nedum Onuoha, the only centre-back with even a modicum of pace, is out for a month and Leroy Fer, just as he was starting to play well, has been the latest in-form player to suffer from the QPR curse of the knee ligament (after Ale Faurlin, Martin Rowlands, Danny Shittu, Clarke Carlisle and Richard Langley). Thankfully he’ll only (!) be out for 10 weeks, so may still play a crucial role at the end of the season.
It’s a big ask for a man as inexperienced as Ramsey to save the Hoops from relegation, and I fear that his appointment is another in a long line of short-term fixes that are trying to mask a very long-term malaise.