Written by Micah Chudleigh
Football is a funny sport. I’ve said it a million times but football really is a funny sport – the storylines it creates, the moments it immortalises, the memories we’re left with. Sometimes you’re a whisker away from the success you deserve, other times the final whistle signals a win that you maybe didn’t deserve but whilst both of which live in the memory forever, often one single moment could’ve changed the course of the whole outcome. A ‘sliding doors’ moment if you will.
For those of you unaware of the 1998 film ‘Sliding Doors’ starring Gwyneth Paltrow, it details the two different scenarios of Paltrow’s character after losing her job, all revolving around one where she catches the train home and one where she misses it. One simple action – being just seconds late for a train – is proven to have such a devasting effect in the realm of ‘what could’ve been’.
Which brings me to Alejandro Faurlin. The other day I was speaking to a younger fan who described Ale as ‘the guy who had 3 ACL injuries, right?’ and I nearly punched him in the mouth. It was the first time I’d ever felt ‘old’ as a football fan and to be quite honest with you, I understood everything my dad had been through my entire life. But more than anything, it made me realise just how many sliding doors moments existed in the career of our Ale.
I will preface this article by saying that Ale is most probably my favourite QPR player ever. Adel was a supernatural being, Lee Cook was the architect behind my childhood love for football, whilst Charlie was a footballing machine, but Alejandro Faurlin was different. I’ve always had a real appreciation for technique and football IQ, two things that I’ve not seen anyone at QPR do any better than that magnificent Argentinian.
Much is made of players like Thiago; guys that are able to dictate the game from deep, keep possession and move the ball forward from deep. Going even further back, this country has always hailed guys like Graeme Souness; guys that will protect the backline and put in a thumping tackle that will put the attacker on the floor. Ale was both of those, and that was made apparent in his first season. It’s ironic that at the time of signing, most Rangers fans were unhappy that the board had clearly gone out and bought this player off their own volition. 9 months later, this was almost totally irrelevant information, with the 23-year old being named the clubs player of the season.
For all it’s rivalries and actual international conflict, there really are a lot of similarities between the philosophies of the English and the Argentinians. We often look for the same awe-striking ability in our attackers, as we do for the bustling, no nonsense attitude in our defensive players. I feel this is why we took to Ale so quickly, as he really encapsulated both the things our countries hold so dear; a heavy metal punk artist with the appearance of an opera singer, Ale was truly the first of a breed of deep-lying playmakers in the Championship, helping to move the game out of the kick-lumps-out-of-each-other era into the more structured, tactical Championship we see today.
We all know what happened next for Ale, the greatest season in living memory for a QPR fan of my age. Much is made of the heroics of Taarabt, or the ‘dirty work’ of guys like Derry and Hill, but I really feel Faurlin never got his fair share of credit for exactly how amazing he was that season. No, he didn’t reach the heights of Adel, (who does?) but every week he was there, winning the ball of opposition midfield players, before picking out the right pass to either keep the ball moving or start an attack. Ale genuinely didn’t have a single bad game that season and, in fact, often picked up the slack in games that everyone else did not show up in; Bristol City home and away, Coventry away, Nottingham Forest at home, Ale’s resilience in situations where everyone else looked mentally shot was probably a big reason why he was able to survive the hardships he did later on in his career.
Of course, the ‘points deduction’ saga was centred, almost unfairly, around Ale. But let’s face the facts, the board messed it up massively, didn’t understand the rules that they were paid to understand and nearly cost the club promotion. And on the subject of resilience, not for one single moment did it even look like Ale was fazed by it at all. In fact, his performances got even better. As teams began to try and double up on Adel in the latter part of the season, Ale took the responsibility to create from deep, often finding avenues for Routlegde, Ephraim and others to run into. Ale was absolutely immense and deserved promotion as much as anyone else.
Interestingly, Ale’s best performances were yet to come. Ask any QPR fan which players were dead certs to adapt to the Premier League with ease and the answer was always Taarabt, closely followed Alejandro Faurlin. What QPR fans maybe didn’t expect, was that the latter would completely outshine the former – and everyone else for that matter.
In a QPR team that was an eclectic mix of overpaid has-beens and a collection of gritty Championship regulars, Ale stood out as a player that, quite simply, looked like he belonged at a much higher level. Scoring against Wolves, bossing the midfield at home to future-champions Manchester City, showing us the more industrious side to his game in the Chelsea win – most of us, myself included, started to realise just how good this guy really was.
Which is why the next part is so heartbreaking. I’m confident enough in this assertion to believe that had Alejandro not done his ACL at MK Dons in the FA Cup, he would’ve gone on to play a big part in us staying up that year, and most probably getting himself a big move. There was talk of Celtic being interested, as well as Serie A clubs and none other than Liverpool Football Club. Let me tell you something – he absolutely would not have been out of place there. Post-injury Ale lost a touch of his explosiveness and dynamism, and although he was still one of our best players, (even when he was released) you probably wouldn’t realise just HOW good he was if you hadn’t seen it before.
But alas, another ‘sliding doors’ moment in a career that consisted of many. I’ve never fully forgiven Uncle Neil for playing Ale in that game – we’d just come out of the notoriously busy Christmas period in which Ale had been a key part of. Warnock chose to rest a lot of guys, but not Ale for some reason. The injury probably kept my favourite player at the club, but the simple fact is, the trade-off just wasn’t worth. Warnock was given his P45 after that game and the QPR/Alejandro Faurlin story, that so often seemed intertwined, would never be the same again.
The rest of Ale’s career would be spent under, quite frankly, useless managers. Mark Hughes came first and threatened to give us arguably the best QPR midfield partnership of the millennium in Faurlin and Granero. When it became clear that Mark Hughes had absolutely no idea what he was doing, he was sacked 4 games later (sigh) and with him went the Granero-Faurlin dream. Along came wheeler-dealer ‘Arry Redknapp, who made the natural decision to ship his best midfielder to Palermo on-loan. I’ll never forget finding out that Ale was going on-loan to Palermo and realising that we were most probably heading back to the Championship.
And back to the Championship we headed, and Ale returned, looking like he was truly grateful to be back. The feeling was absolutely mutual, and seeing the guy charge around the Loftus Road turf, put in a thunderous tackle on Championship midfielders before spraying a beautiful 30-yard pass felt like the good old days were coming back. Unfortunately, Ale would again suffer an ACL injury in home win at Derby, and again on his return in the League Cup a year later.
Every time we lost Ale to an ACL, it genuinely felt like the heart of the team was ripped out. Yes, Shaun Derry and Clint Hill felt like the lifeblood of the club, but Ale was the heartbeat, he kept the blood flowing, gave the team energy and loved the game. That’s what I loved most about Ale, he just looked like, every single week, he was enjoying the game. This is why I find it impossible to watch back the footage of his third ACL away at Burton Albion. All I remember is Ale going down, clutching his knee before taking himself off the pitch. He knew and from the devasting look on his face, we knew too.
It’s hard to say what that season in the Premier League would’ve been with Ale in the team, but as we came back down to Championship with our tails between our legs, it was clear that we needed our heartbeat back. Ale came in, played 30 games, put Lewis Dunk in hi place and didn’t put a foot wrong. It looked like the type of ‘comeback’ season players have after an injury lay-off, showing flashes of how good they’re going to be once they get that full season under the belt. I really felt Ale would’ve kicked on and got back to being the best midfielder in the league had he stayed, but it wasn’t to be.
I have immense respect for the job Les Ferdinand has done for us. Yes, he had a shaky start but I feel as though he’s put us on a path that we wouldn’t be on without him. Despite this, I struggle to accept exactly how he informed Ale his deal wouldn’t be getting renewed. Not even giving one of the club’s greatest players in recent time a proper send-off on the final game is a real bitter pill to swallow and a massive oversight from a man who otherwise has a great understanding of this football club. To make matters worse, Ale was let go because Jimmy Floyd didn’t see a regular spot in the first team for him – Hasselbaink was then let go just three months into the season.
The abiding image I have of Ale is not a game he played, but a moment he was part of – the turf at Wembley stadium, a QPR kit draped over his club suit, trophy in one hand, flag in the other, big beaming smile across his face. He hadn’t played a single minute of the infamous play-off final but you can bet he kicked every ball and won every header from his seat in the stands. So, he had every right to be on the pitch, celebrating the win as much as our fans were – why? Because he was one of us.
I think a huge part of why we love Ale so much is that he represents such a significant and crucial period of this club’s history. Bought by owners that we were all sick and tired of, Ale turned up and did the business every week – just as we, the fans, did too. Forced to take the brunt of a situation that was out of his control a year later, Ale just showed up and did the business – just as, the fans, had to do. Plagued by THREE separate ACL injuries, Ale got up, got on with so he could come back and continue doing the business. Ale is quite simply one of us, and always will be. My favourite player in QPR history – they don’t make them like you anymore, Ale.