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#QPR: Are we there yet?

Written by Sam Taylor

I was watching England the other night. As enthralling as our 1-0 victory over Iceland was, it gave me time to reflect on the players I was watching, how they got to the level they are, and just what might be specifically missing from our England squad that seems to be preventing us from reaching the highest of heights. I thought about it, I looked at Phil Foden, Sterling, Sancho. I thought to myself, what is it that they don’t have that the Germans and Brazilians seem to have in abundance. My thoughts then went toward Mourinho as I have been casually watching the new Spurs documentary, the counter-story to Man City’s ‘money=trophy’ series. Then it came to me – to truly reach the highest heights in football, a team needs grit. Mourinho, gritty as hell, Ranieri with Leicester, every German footballer ever. They all succeed because they are masters of consistency, masters of perseverance, they master the element of patience. Then of course, as I am very much shall we say ‘optimistic’, talks of Man City and Mourinho triggered the image of little old Queens Park Rangers. The love of my life. Other than quality, money, ability, facilities, supporters and everything else that makes a big club successful, what is it that is stopping us from reaching the heights of our London opponents?

 I love Mark Warburton. I think he’s great. I think he is great – as a representative for the club. As a manager, he’s proficient and has his own style of play, a philosophy and is a top guy to have on the side-line. However, the question can be asked as to whether he has that gritty ruthlessness that Championship winning leaders always have. Look to Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds; a seasoned professional who knows what he likes, has an idea as to what works and is incredibly ambitious. Slavan Bilic, another example, for West Brom; a tough, hard hitting bloke who leads his team with discipline and character. Say what you like about Brentford but Thomas Frank has something about him that shouts some sort of professional, charismatic excellence. 

I think for a team to compete at the top of the league and for a team to fight it out for those coveted promotion places, a team must have an identity, a formidable presence and a strong leader. I also, on the other hand, think that the manager of a club in the Championship must most definitely personify their club’s ethos at the specific time of his leadership. For example, going back to Leeds, they have been battling it out at the top end of the Championship for years now and their board, as vocalised on their documentary, have a clear vision of what they expect from their team, their staff and their management. For them, they are a big club, with a big following and a big vision and thus, the employment of Marcelo Bielsa, an internationally renowned leader with a great history of winning titles with big clubs, makes sense. He matches their ethos and therefore can succeed with his club to the level of which expected of him. 2013/14 QPR might’ve been a Bielsa level of team but I think we can agree 2020/21 QPR is much more Warbs.

Now, using this template, I think it is fair to say that Mark Warburton is very much the right man for QPR right now. I think we can all agree that the club is at a point on it’s timeline where it must be careful, measured and sensible with it’s decision making. Coming off the back end of many years of mismanagement and poor decision making, the club now needs to grow before it can flourish and I think Mark is very much the right man to raise us back to the platform necessary to begin a proper run toward the top end of the table. Personally, I am unsure as to whether we will ever see Mark lifting that Championship trophy, but to be honest, I’d much rather have someone right now tightening the cap on our wage paychecks than someone un-tightening the lock on a brand new gold plated trophy cabinet. Glory would be lovely but one must stabilise before they elevaye.

As appealing as it may be, our squad today would get absolutely battered in the Premier League these days. Just imagine the Man City attack force against our defence. We genuinely conceded three goals to Plymouth already this year, Sergio Aguero would be on the brink of a double hat trick before Paul Morrissey has even finished calling out the line-ups! The Premier League is not where we need to be right now, from a footballing point of view, I genuinely think it would be a disaster if we went up right now. Mark is a great manager, our squad is okay, but a squad must build and grow as must a manager before they are even near Premier League standard. Just imagine the bloodbath that little Ilias will be left in after a midweek clash with Sean Dyche’s Burnley or god-forbid Big Virgil Van Dijk on a ‘Super- Shitty-Sunday’ in front of the Kop.

Financially, the Prem might be brilliant for us, but it also could not be. We could make the same mistakes as last time, get ahead of ourselves, and damn the club to another eight odd years jostling around for 16th in the Championship. These things take time, and to do it right, that time is necessary.

You could argue that we had an eye on those top spaces last season and that’s true, but I think Premier League standard is genuinely required to consistently fight for a spot in the Premier League itself and we have been clever and lucky enough to keep a hold of some assets which are probably at that level of ability needed to compete at the top end. Ebere Eze has just made a move to the Prem and that’s because he is at that level, as we saw. We finished mid-table last year because we had a few players in Nahki, Ebere, Bright etc, who should be able to compete at the top of the league. But we also have some players, not naming specifically, who are more adapted for a relegation struggle than a promotion push. I think the team we have assembled for this coming season will probably be more of a mid-table side than the one last year which I think on paper was probably a lower mid-table side, which we did in fact overachieve with, thus reasons for optimism this coming season. Sometimes it’s not as unpredictable as it seems, sometimes it is what it is and that’s the extent of it.

But, that is not enough to actually go up from the championship. You need grit and you need consistency and your best players are going to have off days so if you have a team consisting essentially only of a few players, then in my opinion you essentially don’t have a team of a high level.

We have a team that are very good at pretending to sometimes be higher than the level they are.

To return to my original point, I think it’s safe to say that Mark Warburton really is the best possible leader for this team currently. He’s good with young players, he has a philosophy he’s confident in and he’s sensible behind the scenes. He really is the type of guy you’d want to look after your stuff whilst you go away, someone to look after your kids whilst you go out, someone to steady a sinking ship. But, whether or not he actually sails that ship to shore – We just don’t know, and we have to just go with it. To all of you on Twitter tagging Amit Bhatia and Tomy Fernandes in your tweets demanding we re-sign Charlie Austin, I hate to break it to you but the football world is not a call and response type of system, otherwise I’m pretty sure Lionel Messi would be at QPR many many years before now. Save your characters, stop these rediculous bounty calls for Warbs and the board, you can’t do anything about it, and in my opinion you don’t need to do anything about it. The toxic QPR twitter storm is caused by the ‘yo-yo years’ fans expecting to either win the league or play offs at least once a month, demanding the impossible simply out of boredom and for the sake of exploiting the platform of free speech that is so easily accessed and consequently misused in today’s world.

Unfortunately, if we finish in the top six this season it will be a massive, massive overachievement, to say the least. And by that logic we are essentially saying that we shouldn’t and aren’t ready to finish in that top six and consequently shouldn’t be aiming there.

I think when we are ready to compete for the top, we will know.

I think the club is in a place that is incredibly fragile. Both on and off the pitch. Therefore, it is essential that our management isn’t ruthless. We need a safe, guiding arm to guide us calmly toward safety before we start our charge toward land. A team in the Championship, in such a manic league, requires stability before it can acquire excellence. As I said previously, I think it is necessary to be ruthless, in one way or another, to win, come second or finish in the top six of the highly competitive Championship and quite frankly we cannot afford to be ruthless with the state of our club looking the way it does today; we have to be realistic. However, the joy of the Championship is within the unpredictability and being sensible certainly does not mean giving up the fight. 

Wherever your club is at, as Barnsley demonstrated post-lockdown, a club must certainly always maintain an element of heart and emotion in their play to survive this dogfight of a division. So, it isn’t to say we couldn’t end up competing at the top this season, we might, you never know. But, it is rather evident to me that the place we need to be for this year and probably next year, is the Championship. A division where you can excel without brilliance and survive without consistency. A division where you can sink the leading ship, rise from the dust or just simply float in the middle. 

I truly think that right now, where we are at, is (both sadly and fortunately) where we are at. This is why I think it is necessary to not pester the club or fan base with expectation. I think as a fan, a committed fan, the support should extend past the final game of the season, past the final standings and truly plant its roots in the club as a whole; not an eleven, not a manager, not a board – but a collective. Having spoken to Chris Ramsey recently about the past, present and future of QPR, I have developed a kind trust that we are in in fact heading in the right direction. We have been stuck with some ‘bad eggs’ over the last decade or so and I for one am incredibly pleased with the way we are going. Twitter is a dangerous battlefield of fifteen year old keyboard warriors and forty-five year old pessimists, and I think it’s important that people don’t get caught up in the extremes.

I think it’s important to take the rational standpoint in the middle ground where I genuinely believe people like Mark and Chris are levelling us towards. It’s so easy to victimise the man in charge, to point fingers at the decision maker. As an aspiring writer I’ve learnt in my studies that excitement comes from conflict and conflict is what makes a story whole. To put it bluntly, life itself is not always a fairytale and it’s hard to resist making our stories more than they are. But sometimes they are what they are and we just have to accept life as it comes and live simultaneously, whilst our stories unravel in their own, unpredictable way.

Trust is a big deal, and it’s a hard attribute to have, but I think trust and rationality often  slip away when you introduce passion to the mix, especially when it’s the level of passion that comes with being an R’s fan. With a club like QPR, it really is essential that we stick behind them right now. The world is shit and QPR are masters of emulating that both on and off the pitch, but right now, the bombardment of ‘sign him’, ‘sell him’, ‘Board out!’, is just misplaced emotion. The good will come, patience is very much of the essence. Some of the best things happen late, as we learnt in a certain 2014 play-off final. So, let’s just sit back, brace ourselves and wait for that 90th minute winner, because with the right people, the right moment and the right time, things will happen. I for one have faith that the good will come – I am very ambitious and positive about the future. So, cool yourselves down, get excited for the 12th, follow the R’s and all I can leave you with is to remember the past, exist in the present and glimpse to the future. Come on you R’s!

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