By Micah Chudleigh
With another season in the Championship hurtling towards a conclusion, QPR find themselves in the predicament of having several talented young players coming to a crossroads in their QPR careers, whilst the club itself continues to rebuild after several years of mismanagement in the Premier League. In this series, Micah Chudleigh assesses what’s the best move for each of these young players and how the club would be impacted, starting with Bright Osayi-Samuel.
I am not exaggerating when I say I have seen very few players as gifted as Bright Osayi-Samuel in my 16 years of supporting the club. ‘Bright’, as he is affectionately and appropriately known, fits into a very small group of players that excite me every single time they touch the ball (that Adel Taarabt category of players that you have absolutely no idea what they might try and do next!). Having shown signs that his game has reached the type of maturity in his game required to reach the very top, the young Nigerian finds himself at an interesting stage of his QPR career…
Bright arrived at QPR three seasons ago from Blackpool for £1m; a transfer that, bizarrely, went largely under the radar. That summer brought Josh Scowen and David Wheeler to the club, as well as a young Paul Smyth, and yet an unknown, Nigerian-born winger from Blackpool was the club’s most expensive signing. Perhaps even more bizarrely, Bright is the last player to have cost the club one million pounds and remains the club’s most expensive signing since Jordan Cousins arrived from Charlton in the summer of 2016.
In that time, much has changed for both the club and for Bright himself. Nobody needs another breakdown of how and why the club has been forced to operate with more of a focus on developing their own players, but it’s worth noting how much Bright’s growth as a footballer embodies that. Bright never went on loan like his good friends Ebere Eze and Ilias Chair, nor was he ever stuck in the under-23’s team like Paul Smyth, who joined at the same time. Bright, although a peripheral figure in the first-team, was allowed to hone his skills against grown men and was rewarded with 18 Championship appearances, scoring a single goal.
Bright possessed the dribbling ability and raw skills of a street footballer; a player with the unnerving ability to take on any player and beat him. Bright has the level of on-the-ball skill that long time Rangers fans would probably compare to current under-23’s coach Andy Impey. In recent memory, the club probably hasn’t possessed an out-and-out winger of this quality since fan favourite Lee Cook’s time at the club. Historically, nothing excites the Loftus Road faithful more than a blue and white shirted player taking on and beating his man, leaving him face down in the mud whilst he skips towards to goal.
So, it’s no wonder the fans took to Bright so quickly, with the player even winning the young player of season award in his second term with the club. An exciting player already, but the common joke on the terraces of Loftus Road for Bright’s first couple of seasons was ‘if he could add some end product to his game, he’d be brilliant’ – and it seems under Mark Warburton, he’s finally added that. 13 goal contributions from 35 games, including a stunning solo goal against Birmingham at St. Andrews. Bright has shown the world he’s far more than just a street footballer, but a player with a ceiling far higher than most QPR fans initially imagined.
Post-lockdown, Bright hasn’t hit the heights of the second third of the season – though playing as a makeshift striker has definitely contributed to that. Despite this, stories of interest from other clubs continue to rage on; most recently a reported £3m bid from 16-time Belgian champions Club Brugge. Prestigious and flattering interest indeed, but where is the best place for the young winger outside of Loftus Road, if that even exists in the present moment?
Bright has made it clear in the past that he sees himself playing in the Premier League, and why not?! With English football moving towards possession based, attacking football, the need for tricky wingers with a refined end-product in both scoring and assisting grows ever more. The perfect example of this is the emergence of former R’s academy product Raheem Sterling, the complete winger in terms of creativity, dribbling and goal-scoring. The 25-year-old is undoubtedly a world-class player who continues to improve his game in a system that suits him down to the ground, after spending years at Liverpool as one of the country’s most exciting young players in years.
Bright’s game is not too dissimilar from the younger Raheem’s; aside from his blistering pace, clever feet and astute ability to read the game; Bright can consistently hold players off with an impressive amount of strength considering his size. Despite being very small in stature, full-backs know they cannot bully Bright off of the ball and have to better him on it, which as we have seen several times, is far more difficult than it sounds. Bright also shares the ability of Sterling to really annoy players; constantly go at them where they are weakest and embarrass them in front of 20,000 people. So much of their games are comparable, that the next step for Bright is undoubtedly England’s top league.
But the younger Raheem was an unpolished diamond and not yet the world-class footballer he is today. The wingers time at Liverpool and early days at Manchester City were exciting, raw but still, understandably, a way off being a consistently effective present in front of goal at the top level. Sterling’s tallies before the age of 23, (when playing 30 games or more) are as follows; 3, 11, 11, 11 and 10. In the three seasons he’s played after the age of 23, Sterling has never hit less than 23 goals, with his current season reaching a career-best of 27, at the time of writing.
I take note of this because Bright Osayi-Samuel’s 23rd birthday is in December, with the player having had a similar amount of appearances as Sterling did at the same age. Generally, ‘young prospects’ that have been playing men’s football in their teenage years tend to turn potential into ability around the age of 23, especially wide forwards; Eden Hazard was the Premier League’ young player of the year at that age, Ronaldo’s first Ballon D’or came at 23 and Lionel Messi hit 73 goals in the season of his 23rd year. Of course, these are examples of some of the best players on the planet, but the key to their success, and Sterling’s, is that these players were in settled environments, not having to find their way at new clubs whilst in one of the most important years of their development.
And this is where I’d advise Bright, (albeit from a biased QPR fan’s point of view) to stay one more season at QPR…
Bright has shown the groundwork for a winger with a lethal end product, but hasn’t yet put together a full season of the level of quality the way Eze has or Freeman had. The Premier League is probably a step too far for him at the moment, so the likelihood is that Bright would have to move to a Championship play-off contender. The play-off hopefuls for next season, in a league as unpredictable as England’s second tier, remain to be seen; but the criteria typically revolves around well-run clubs and settled squads that have been built over a number of years.
If you have to play Championship football for another season, why not be the big fish in the small pond, hone your skills and get the move you really deserve a year later? As oppose to having to muscle your way into a contending team’s line-up, battle for promotion with the risk of not going up and potentially pricing yourself out of the move you really want, meaning you have to spend another year in the EFL. Of course, it has every chance of going his way, and he most definitely has the ability to be a key component of a promotion-winning side. But only 3 of 24 get to go up, and Bright should make his decision very carefully.
Ultimately, the decision does lies in the hands of Bright, and I would go as far as saying it might be the most important one of his career thus far, as well as the most intriguing one surrounding the club in the summer. With the club seemingly moving towards a 5-3-2 that doesn’t suit him at all, it may be best for both parties to separate, but no one wants to lose a player with the frightening ability of Bright Osayi-Samuel.
The real problem is, in QPR’s case anyway, that statement becomes almost redundant when you realise everybody would love to buy one…