What Next for Ilias Chair? #QPR

With another season in the Championship having hurtled 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; this week, we look at what the future holds for Ilias Chair.

Being the first Moroccan to play for QPR since Adel Taarabt departed for pastures new, (unless you want to count the sombrero man – which I do) Ilias Chair was always going to be running uphill on his QPR journey. In truth, the only attributes’ the two share is their positions on the pitch and their nationality. I think Les summed it up perfectly when he claimed that Eze was far more Taarabt, whilst Chair was far more Peter Beardsley; a tricky, tenacious and under-sized player who’s influence on the game is far bigger than his height.

Unlike the other players I’ve covered in this series, Ilias Chair does not have question marks over where he will be playing his football next term. The former-Lierse man recently signed on until 2023 and probably hasn’t done enough to justify a big move just yet. Chair does, however, have question marks over technical things; what is his best position? What does he bring to the team? Can he fill the shoes that Ebere Eze will almost certainly be leaving behind?

Ilias Chair is a footballer I’ve always found quite hard to accurately describe, when it comes to his skillset at least. The attacker, who can play both on the inside left and in the number 10 role, wowed us all with his eye for the spectacular whilst on-loan at League Two side Stevenage. Most QPR fans will remember the reaction on Twitter when Chair scored for The Boro from his own half in a 2-0 win against Swindon.
Once the footage had reached everyone’s timeline, it was met with the typical ‘why isn’t he here?’ responses; this was not helped by the fact Ebere Eze had hit a brick wall in terms of form coupled with the team severely lacking creativity in midfield.

Interestingly, many fans had argued that perhaps Chair’s ceiling could actually be higher than Eze’s, citing his pace and tenacity as a reason for believing so.
The two share an almost identical story; scooped up by QPR’s U23 team, impressing on-loan in League Two before eventually making the step into the first team. Their numbers from their first full Championship season are almost exactly the same; boasting the same amount of goals, 4, and Chair registering two more assists, 6 to 4.
So here we are, at the same point Eze was at 12 months ago, but the feeling is different.

Despite slightly better stats, I don’t think we’ve ever seen Chair completely influence an entire game the way Eze did against Sheffield United or Stoke City in 2018/19. Yes, Eze’s form had waned by the end of the 18/19 season, but was playing in a worse team under a manager whose best days were well behind him. Eze is also a year younger than Chair, who will be 23 at the conclusion of the next season.
Chair is playing in a system that is designed for attacking players to thrive, and he seems to enjoy playing in it; at his very best he looks a real danger anywhere on the pitch, on his worst days you can forget he’s even playing. His best games this season seemed to come when the rest of the attacking trio, Bright and Eze, were on-song. Very rarely did you see Chair take a game by the scruff of it’s neck the way Bright or Eze did this season.

When he has got going, he’s found it quite hard to maintain. He seemed to really get going around December time, but the squad collectively lost momentum once Nakhi Wells left for Bristol City. Pre-lockdown, Chair seemed like he’d found a real pocket of form coming off the bench, but I think he can be forgiven for what would come after that. Consistency has been an issue for him at this level and will need to be ironed out next year.

You could argue his diminutive stature isn’t always suited to the physicality of the Championship, and although we’ve seen Championship defenders try and kick him into Westfield, Chair had no trouble standing out in the warzone that they call League Two. I would put it down to both experience and confidence. The debut season in the Championship is never easy to cope with, and his goal/assists-combined numbers are better than all bar-one of Jack Grealish’s, with the one coming in his final season in the Championship.

I think confidence plays a huge part too; combine your first season in the Championship with having to play alongside arguably the best player in that division, you’re bound to be wary of every misstep you could possibly make. We’ve not seen him try any of the ludicrous long-range efforts he scored at Stevenage, (although Warburton has said he doesn’t want his players shooting outside the box) nor does he seem to play with as much conviction as you’d like. It’s like he’s too polite, he calls for the ball, he doesn’t demand it the way you would want a player of his flair and creativity to.

No, I’m not and was never convinced that he is better than Eze, nor do I believe he is next Adel Taarabt. I do, though, think he is a rough diamond that needs a little more polishing. With Eze inevitably leaving, he might be trusted with a little more creative responsibility this term. He’s going to have to be far more assertive and far more consistent if he wants that role; there’s still several question marks over his best position and whether what he brings to team isn’t replicable. With one steady season in the second tier now under his belt, he can answer those questions emphatically with a strong season that his ability is certainly capable of.

Maybe I’m being harsh or overly-cynical, but I only do so because I believe there is a genuinely quality player in there. This season really is a make-or-break for him and he’s not going to be able to hide behind Eze and Bright anymore. Thankfully, he’s under a coaching staff that clearly believes in him which will only benefit him going forward. There’s a great player in there, I’m sure of it – now it’s time for him to come out to play.

Written by Micah Chudleigh

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