At the tail-end of Charlie Austin’s unexpected loan spell at QPR, ‘R’ Generation had the chance to speak to him about his winning mentality, the importance of “controlled arrogance” and his ambitions for the club next season.
Interview: Sam Taylor
Writeup: Ben Summer
“So you see, that’s where the trouble began. That smile. That damned smile.” The familiar 13 Reasons Why quote and often-memed adage immediately springs to mind when Charlie Austin joins ‘R’ Gen for a virtual chat on a bright Thursday morning. As he takes the Zoom reins from Paul Morrissey at QPR’s Harlington training ground, he starts cracking jokes almost immediately. After Austin makes a jibe at his own appearance (when we speak, he’s sporting an overgrown beard and somewhat scruffy haircut which he vows to remedy at the barber’s in the afternoon), ‘R’ Gen’s Sam Taylor offers his compliments by deeming it a “nice rugged look.”
“Jesus Christ, are you mad?” Austin laughs at the idea of it being “rugged.” “Look at it! Not when your kids start grabbing on it, mate!”
It’s abundantly clear that 2021’s Charlie Austin is laid-back and confident. His trademark smirk will make a few more appearances as the interview goes on. However, that’s not the only side of Charlie Austin that we see. The player who has returned to QPR after a five year absence is not just Charlie Austin the striker, but Charlie Austin the psychologist, Charlie Austin the life coach, and Charlie Austin the emerging pundit. In only fifteen minutes with Sam, these different sides of QPR’s #45 begin to show themselves.
It’s difficult to know where to start with the man who has become the public face of this season’s great turnaround, so we start with the turnaround itself.
“Of course it’s been a success, hasn’t it. The football club were in a bit of a sticky league position at the turn of the year, and look where we are now. We’re fighting for a chance to finish top 8, which is unreal if you think back to where we were. In the form table we’re 3rd, collectively as a football club it’s probably what was needed more than anything – a big lift.”
It’s clear that Austin is proud of the latter half of the season. He lists the achievements that the club has attained:
“Get out of the position we were in – done that. Finish higher than last year – done that. Win more games away from home than last year – done that.”
Far from taking full credit, he assesses the reasons for the club’s 2021 form:
“It was more the mindset, a few changes, and just a bit of honesty in the group” [that have caused this upward turn in the club’s form]. “It’s easy to say: Chaz, you’ve come in, and Stef [Johansen], the loans…” he admits, but “everybody, me included, has risen to the challenge of getting out of the situation we were in.”
Mentality is a theme that reappears throughout this conversation. When asked whether the team has acquired a winning mentality in its increasing success throughout the campaign, he agrees wholeheartedly.
“Yeah, of course, because that’s where it starts. You’ve got to get it bedded into the team. The winning mentality, the teamwork mentality, the team ethic. Because if you don’t, then you think you can do it on your own and it doesn’t work. Mentally, if you think: ahh, I’m gonna be okay, I’m gonna get a move and do this and do that… that don’t work. Because you’ve won four games before the turn of the year… so you’re not going nowhere, are ya? You know what I mean…. When we came in, it looked like we were looking down the barrel of League One. Now, if anything, we’re looking up. That’s where the football club needs to be and should be aiming for.”
So – Charlie Austin isn’t solely responsible for QPR winning 46 points from a possible 72 in 2021. Different fans will give you different opinions on that, but his impact – at least to some extent – has been undeniable. How does the Charlie Austin of 2021 differ from the one that scored 18 goals in a Premier League relegation season?
“I’ve got a couple more kids!” (there’s the smirk again). “No, that’s the thing, I’ve matured a lot more. I’m a different person to what I was, and a different player.”
He’s quite comfortable to upgrade that statement:
“I’m a better player now than when I was here last time. Last time it was all about goals for me. When I went to Southampton, my all-round game improved and I think people are seeing that more now.”
This season has seen Austin, whether employed in a partnership with another striker or leading the line ahead of a combination of (usually) Chris Willock and Ilias Chair, dropping deeper than Rangers fans are perhaps used to seeing him. Austin sees this as a sign of progression.
“The goals have always been a part of my career, but I’ve always wanted to be better outside the box. I think I’ve done that. I’ve become a better all-round player, and a better all-round person if I’m honest.”
We posit to him that he seems like a man brimming with confidence in his own ability. Austin shakes his head – but before anyone could be deceived into thinking that Charlie Austin is secretly a shy, introverted character simply projecting the confidence that we have all become familiar with… the smirk re-emerges.
“Controlled arrogance is what I like to call it, Sam!”
Austin grins, and a stifled chuckle is heard from Paul Morrissey, off-screen.
‘R Gen’ spoke earlier this season to another striker for whom confidence has surely played a central role this season. When we chatted with Lyndon Dykes in December, he described himself as “confident,” and someone who would “breed confidence” into the QPR squad. These comments were unfortunately followed with a hefty goal drought before the spectacular form he’s found himself in throughout April. Whether or not Dykes’ own confidence waned at any point in this period, Charlie Austin had enough to spare for his strike partner.
“Centre-forwards, we are the most selfish people on the pitch! It’s as simple as that, but we can’t do it on our own,” [Austin admits.] “I knew Lyndon had the ability to score, he puts himself in so many positions, but he was putting himself in so many positions unselfishly. Running the other way, in positions where he wasn’t capable of scoring. I just said to him: think about scoring goals, give yourself the best opportunity to do it. And then, he scored the one and his mindset was like: ooft, hang on a minute. Do that again, do that again!”
“It was no coincidence that after one it became two, three, they all start rolling in. His first season in the Championship he’s in double figures. You say to Dykesy at the start of the season, would you take double figures now before you start? He’d say yeah, absolutely.”
One way or the other, Dykes’ form has been undeniably brilliant, and if Austin could be credited with even a fraction of it then it would be worth mining his brain for any further wisdom. When prompted, Austin quickly launches into a story.
“I played golf yesterday, with a good friend of mine. He’s been a police officer for 18 months now. He’s going through his mind, doubting whether he can do certain things, whether he’s good enough to do the job. He’s asking me whether that ever creeps into me… well, of course it does! I think everybody in their job… you’ve got to be your own person, your own human being. Make your own mistakes, learn from them, go on and be a better person. That works for me in football, and that’ll work with what you’re doing.”
Wise words, from a striker who (intentionally or otherwise) is the master of his own image. When asked to sum up his time at QPR this season, he once again embodies a number of roles.
He’s the blue-and-white-hooped legend of old:
“Everyone knows my affiliation with the football club, and how I feel towards it. It’s been great, could’ve done with a couple more goals I think, but other than that I’m pleased with our performances on and of the pitch.”
He’s a straight-talking critic:
“You look at the defeats, they’ve been sloppy ones. Forest away, you can put a line through that. Rotherham away, Derby at home: rubbish. Huddersfield at home was rubbish. You know what I mean?”
He’s a team player:
“When I came in… I was thinking, Chaz, you’ve got to make this a success. Because if you fail, the team fail. So it’s got to be a joint success.”
He’s a mentor:
“Look at what Illy [Chair] has done, look at what Chrissy [Willock] is doing. The potential is there and the platform for them at this football club is definitely available for them to push on and do better.”
Crucially, at the end of it all, he gives us a quote that, whilst not any sort of bombshell of its own accord, could quite easily be quoted and Tweeted and Retweeted until the cows come home.
“If we can keep everyone together, the Luton game would be the first half of the [next] season, and we can have a go for the second half, do you know what I mean? I think a lot of people would like that.”
Therein lies something of an issue. Austin has spoken, in clearer terms than these , about how he wants to stay in W12 next season. Very few fans would pass up on the opportunity to see it. Crucially, however, if the internet’s various (and admittedly dubious) sources are to believed, he’s on a hefty salary at West Brom , and QPR’s wage structure is well-known and deliberately inflexible. Some amount of putting one’s money where one’s mouth is might be required over the summer. We’ve been here before, to an extent, with Nahki Wells, and Twitter will no doubt be fuming no matter what happens. By all accounts, the club does not seem like it would sign Charlie Austin on a contract anywhere near what he is reported to be earning currently. There might be goal bonuses, signing-on fees and all sorts of other technicalities to which us punters are not privy, but the bottom line is that all the dewy-eyed nostalgia and clever media spinning in the world won’t bring Austin home for 2021/22 – but a bit of pragmatism might.
In the meantime, other career opportunities have presented themselves for the striker. A combination horse-racing and football podcast, and a co-comms gig with Gareth Ainsworth covering (amusingly) a Chelsea game, have been among his various media appearances in recent weeks.
“I’m being dragged everywhere!” [he laughs]. “I like talking so it’s been easy! I’m not scared to say what I think. It’s been good fun.”
However, once again brimming with confidence:
“I’m not thinking anywhere near going into that. I’ve got so much time and so much more left to give football-wise, on and off the pitch for this football club.”
There it is again – this football club. The jury’s out, as of yet.
‘R’ Gen is a youth-centred site, with young writers and a keenness to focus on the team’s youth development . As such, it’s become a tradition for us to ask our interviewees whether they have any words of wisdom for youngsters, and who better to offer them than our most experienced striker (crucially, Sam avoids using the word “veteran” when putting this to Austin!)? His reply is characteristic of his tone in the entire interview, and delivers the advice as if it’s intended for Sam personally.
“You have to learn from your experiences and take it one step, on and on. You wouldn’t be in the position you’re in now if you weren’t any good, but there’s so much more you can go on and achieve.”
The smirk re-emerges.
“Now look at you – you’re talking to me!”
We thank Charlie for his time and for his persistent love for the club we call R’s. For more exclusive, heartfelt QPR content, make sure to follow @rgenerationnet on twitter and Instagram.