Despite His White Boots

Football, football, football and, if the mood takes me, more football.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

(Almost) End Of Season Review

Technically, QPR's fate is still in their own hands.  A point at Man City will ensure Premiership football for another season.  Practically, I think this is very unlikely.  With the best will in the world, holding off such an expensively assembled team when they need a win to secure the title is going to be next to impossible.  So QPR, and Mark Hughes, will be judged failures or (relative) successes based on whether Bolton beat Stoke on Sunday.

This is the kind of results-oriented "analysis" that makes the football world go round, and in attempt to bypass it I'm going to try to assess QPR's season, and their future prospects, now.  It's been a strange one to say the least.  After 12 games, all the pundits were certain QPR would have "no problem" staying up.  After 25-odd, everyone said they were relegation certs with their tough run-in.  But QPR and Wigan have both shown that "toughness" of fixtures on paper doesn't necessarily mean a great deal.

No doubt if Bolton do beat Stoke on Sunday, there will be a lot of chirping about QPR being wrong to sack Neil Warnock.  The facts are that Warnock picked up 15 points from 20 games, while Hughes will (barring that shock at Man City) record 22 from 18 [1].  Hughes had the opportunity to spend money in January, then again Warnock could call on both Faurlin and Helguson who were probably our best players in that first half of the season.  Faurlin of course was injured in Warnock's last game, and Helguson has only managed a couple of substitute appearances under Hughes.

My feeling, looking from outside and being speculation as it can only be, is that the club would have done better to place more trust in the players who won promotion in the first place.  One or two (Gorkss springs to mind) were discarded before the season even started.  Hughes has, perhaps ironically, placed more trust in some of Warnock's championship signings than Warnock did himself this season.  There's little doubt that Mackie has contributed much more than Wright-Phillips over the season, similarly Helguson > Bothroyd and Hill > Gabbidon.  Warnock barely seemed to trust Taarabt at all this season, whereas Hughes has not only trusted him to attack but to make a defensive contribution as well, which Taarabt has tried his best to fulfil.

In fairness to Warnock, he was forced to shop in the bargain basement before the summer takeover, and had about three days to try again with a bigger budget when the takeover happened.  But Warnock does strike me as the kind of manager who, when you give him a budget, will make sure he spends every penny of it regardless of long-term benefit to the club.  Instead of following Norwich and Swansea in identifying exactly what holes needed filling and then finding the best players available to fill them, there seemed to be a headlong rush of "He's available, let's buy him!" irrespective of whether we actually needed that type of player (Wright-Phillips) or whether there was a good reason no one else was buying particular players in regard to the baggage associated with them (Barton, Dyer).

Warnock's statements about the players he would have bought given funds and time don't inspire a lot of confidence - he talked about Routledge, who we all had a good look at and who has never impressed at Premiership level despite umpteen chances, and Graham, who has scored 11 league goals in a full season compared to Helguson's 9 in half a season.

I don't want to badmouth Neil Warnock entirely, he did a great job in the Championship, we may well have had the biggest budget in the division but plenty of managers have failed despite that in the past.  But it seemed to me that he felt (and/or the club felt) that we needed one team to get into the Premiership and another completely new team to stay there.  Norwich and Swansea showed that that isn't at all the case.

In summary, I felt at the time that the decision to replace Neil Warnock was marginally justified, and what has happened since indicates that it was more than marginal.  Hughes has been able to bring in better players, and Diakite in particular is a player who I'm almost certain Warnock would not have considered, let alone been able to bring in.

I have little doubt that Hughes will be manager next season either way, and so he should be.  The club needs to move on from short-term thinking and making decisions with a view to making itself look good, the classic example being re-signing Lee Cook.  Vine, Agyemang and Hall will finally be off the wage bill this summer and the club should be taking note of the cost/benefit ratio of those signings.  Of course, the people who signed them are all long gone.  Instead of three spending sprees in a year, all with different objectives, like we've just had, irrespective of what happens on Sunday the club should try to build a squad that will be knocking around the top 10 of the Premiership in 3 years.

Looking at next season, this is a decent looking team IMO : Kenny ;  Onouha, Ferdinand, +1, Traore ;  +1, Barton, Faurlin, Taarabt ;  Zamora, Cisse.  If they can bring Diakite in so much the better.  Priorities are a goalscoring wide player (Hoilett and Moses spring to mind) and a big fuck-off flesh-eating they-shall-not-pass centre half (nothing springs to mind right now unless Samba wants to come back).  In the event of relegation, any big earners who want to leave should do so if possible, commitment to the club is a must.

Player of the season is a tough one, Helguson in the first half, Diakite in the second (by far the best player in the games I saw in the flesh).  It's hard to make a case for anyone who played through being outstanding, but I would like to give full credit to Derry and Hill, two players who I mocked when they arrived, but they've both played more games in the Premiership than I (and many others) thought they would in the Championship, and they've both squeezed everything they can out of the ability they have, at a club renowned for housing under-achievers.  Whatever happens I'd like to think those days are over.

[1] FWIW A better points-to-games ration than both Norwich and Swansea over the whole season to date (44 from 37)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

If I Ran Football (2) - The Media

I'm never going to run the media, and be in a position to tell them how to act. By God, if only I could. But I can't. All I can say is that I gave up buying newspapers a long time ago and I'm getting increasingly bored with radio and TV coverage of football. Here's why and here's what you would have to do to bring me back.

Four words : STOP PANDERING TO IDIOTS. It's quite tempting just to leave it there. If I start on the details I might never stop. I'll try to keep the rest brief.

- Be truthful and objective. If you want to call out foreign players for diving, call out British players when they do it too. If a game is shit, don't say it's "combative". Say it's shit (without going all Alan Green mind you). Don't tell us the Premiership is "the best league in the word" unless you could immediately answer the question "What's the second best", i.e. you have actually given the question some thought.

- Give referees a break. Players are on 50 grand a week. Officials are on a bowl of rice. But when a player fucks it up or makes a stupid choice "he'll be disappointed with that". Officials are hauled over the coals for things that a) aren't at all obvious without the benefit of slow-motion replays from multiple angles and b) hardly even matter, for example giving a throw-in the wrong way when the benificiaries go on to score from it. Fans, players and managers all like to blame the referee to distract attention from their own [team's] shortcomings. The media encourages this shamelessly.

- Give us people who understand the game and can communicate clearly. I don't care who they played for or how many caps they have. It's not good enough Ian Wright saying "I don't care about none of these teams I only care about England". It's not good enough Robbie Savage's entire argument being "I was a pro and you weren't so there". Richard Langley didn't play in the Premier League or for England but his blog is by far the best explanation of what's happening in QPR games that I have ever read. Gary Neville is an honourable exception but his understanding and clear explanation of why things are happening (compared to say Alan Shearer's look at this thing happening here style of analysis) should be the minimum expected.

- Lighten up a bit? It's only a game of football.

- Trickier, but try to have some understanding of probability and how you can't just pluck cause and effect out of thin air. Instead of "United will win", give us "United are favourites but if Rovers can do this, this and this them they'll definitely have a better chance". Instead of "QPR are going down that means they shouldn't have sacked Warnock", entertain the possibility that had Warnock stayed QPR might be down already (as I suspect may well be the case).

In a nutshell, stop dumbing the whole thing down. That's what I want you to do. Nonetheless, I expect this is like the Simpsons "Flaming Moe's" episode where Homer's shouting "You just lost yourself a customer" but Moe can't hear him for the cash register ringing and people shouting their orders. Thus and so.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

If I Ran Football (1) (Of Many) - Rule Changes

My boiling frustration at how football is run has finally reached a point where Twitter just isn't a sufficient outlet, so I'm going to lay out what I would change, about football (in a fantasy world where I had ultimate power). No doubt this will become more and more utopian and idealistic, but for now I'm just going to propose various rule changes that I think would all work and would all improve the game (short of technology being introduced, which I'll come onto later). Some of them aren't really even changes, just proper implementation of existing rules.

1. Game clock of 60 minutes which runs only when the ball is in play. Bang. 90% of time-wasting eliminated on the spot. At the end of a half, I'd suggest that play continues until the ball goes dead, as in rugby (not including fouls of course).

2. While we're on time-wasting, shielding the ball in the corner of the pitch with the intent to waste time is an indirect free kick for obstruction. IMO this isn't even a rule change.

3. As in rugby, dissent results in the dead ball being moved up to 10 yards in any direction the team offended against wishes [1]

4. Referee has a spray can with a form of paint that fades away after a minute or two. For a free kick that's a shooting opportunity, spray the line 10 yards away. Defender in front of the line when the ball is played, re-take. This is already being done in South America. Now I think of it, referee could also mark the spot where a free kick is supposed to be taken from.

5. A "professional foul" that results in a penalty is not also a red card (unless the sheer violence of the challenge merits is). I've been told this is actually coming in next season.

6. A defender handling a goalbound shot results in a penalty goal (whether accidentally or not). Obviously there is some judgement required by the referee but this is clearly the solution for an offence like Suarez' handball against Ghana.

7. Holding at a set piece is a free kick, and in the penalty area by a defender, it's a penalty. Fine, give 10 penalties per game for one week, the next week they'll stop. Again, this is only the correct implementation of existing rules.

That ought to do for a start! Next time I'll move on to decision review, using technology both on the spot and post-game.

[1] Not just 10 yards forward, there are situations where 25 yards out is a better spot than 20 for free kicks.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Champions By Degrees

So finally, as I'm sure you know, QPR were found guilty of 2 of the charges against them for a fine of £875,000, allowing them to receive the Championship trophy yesterday. It's very easy to comment on the verdict without knowing the facts - the lack of knowledge clearly didn't stop half of Fleet Street and Mark Palios after all, so you can hardly expect random Internet commenters to show any discretion. Predictably enough you can read plenty of comments about how QPR "got away with it" because they are rich, based in London or any other reason that people could think of.

My favourite was the guy who said that because Faurlin scored against Sheffield Wednesday in their relegation season, that shouldn't count and so Wednesday should be reinstated to the Championship immediately. He didn't say who he supported, but I think I could hazard a guess. Ridiculous as that was, everybody does it to an extent, even me. You pick the side that suits your team and then try to think of a justification.

I'm just glad it's settled, assuming of course that it is and Swansea don't appeal. You can bet your ass Cardiff would have done. Ideally Swansea will go up through the playoffs and that will be that, which I'd like to see anyway because they finished 3rd and play good football. In the event I think Forest might win through but we'll see.

It is a shame that QPR had to celebrate promotion "by degrees" as I imply in the title of this post. First of all they were almost there barring a massive goal difference swing and FA verdict ; then barring just the FA verdict ; and then it was confirmed. At least it was confirmed on the final day so they could celebrate at Loftus Road. And again, I'm not going to blame the FA for the delay, how do I know it wasn't QPR spinning it out (as some reports suggest it was). The only specific criticism I have is that it's ludicrous that three organisations are making rulings on the same competition - the Football League, the FA and the Welsh FA. The relationship betweem the League and the FA is so convoluted it may never be sorted out, but it's about time the Welsh FA were kicked to the curb. I have no problem with Cardiff and Swansea playing in the English league but is it too much to ask that they be subject to the English league's rules like everyone else?

Anyway, massive respect to Neil Warnock and all the players. They have done brilliantly. Have they received the credit they deserve? Meh, who cares. Life isn't fair sometimes. I think they rock and I'm sure no Rangers fan would disagree. From the flair of Adel Taarabt to the know-how of Clint Hill, Warnock has picked a system to suit most of the players he had, added to that squad in the right positions and generally managed the club, in the true sense of the word, excellently. Not every signing worked, but enough did to get the job done. I'm not going to talk about what Rangers will and/or should do in terms of preparing for next season, mainly because I'd like to enjoy this for a while without starting to think about matchups like Bradley Orr v Gareth Bale. And that's what I'm going to do.

Monday, April 18, 2011

QPR 0 Derby 0

10 days ago it was looking like this could be the night QPR could seal the deal. After an unexpected defeat at Scunthorpe and wins for the chasing pack at the weekend though, it wasn't to be even with a win. As it was, Rangers looked tired and couldn't break down a determined Derby County.

Again, if you were interested, you probably saw it. If you gave up before the end, good call, and you didn't miss anything. Derby executed a game plan very well and Rangers created not much in the first half and nothing at all in the second. Helguson seemed to duck under Routledge's cross-shot early on, and Taarabt's sublime long-ranger with the outside of the boot was well tipped over by Jones. Robinson wasted a good opening for the visitors just before the break, and Pearson was denied by a stunning Paddy Kenny save, by far the highlight of the evening.

Apart from that, Savage did what he does best and Taarabt got suckered into a personal battle with him instead of doing a job for the team. This time few of his team mates stepped in to take up the slack, the sole exception being Smith who did his level best without much support.

It still looks like Rangers are just about there, barring the nightmare scenario of a points deduction. If and when they do step up next season, they can be sure that no one is going to park the bus at Loftus Road, but they will have other problems to solve that's for sure! I'd just like to see them over the line and I'll be stepping back at that point. I am, in the words of Danny Glover, getting too old for this shit anyway :). As if to underline that point, I met someone who used to write for In The Loft which I used to contribute to as well. Was nice to have a chat but man oh man that was so long ago! ZOMG!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

QPR 3 Sheff Utd 0

Once again, if you were that interested in the game you probably saw it on TV ; I don't have too much to add. There's a definite feeling around the ground that the job has pretty much been done. Of course it hasn't, quite, but Warnock has been here often enough and in any case the players are responding by playing with more freedom.

Although Adel Taarabt was fairly quiet, the other attacking players all had good games, switching positions and linking up well, albeit against a very porous defence. Wayne Routledge's goal gave Rangers a deserved half time lead, although United did have a couple of chances, but when Bogdanovic missed their best opportunity just after the break, Alejandro Faurlin's excellent strike ended the game as a contest.

Thanks to some careless finishing, good goalkeeping from Simonsen and some utter comedy from sub Patrick Agyemang, Rangers only added one more, Routledge grabbing a second to earn him the TV Man of the Match prize. Personally I thought Faurlin was the class act, he just gets better and better and will be a key player next season, if the club can hold on to him. If I was a manager with £8 million to spend in the Loftus Road summer sales I'd definitely be looking at Faurlin rather than Taarabt (for all his qualities) and keeping the change. But we'll see.

In the meantime this season isn't quite over yet ; I has a ticket for the Derby game in two weeks and with a following wind that could be when Rangers finish the job, it would be nice. As for Sheffield United, I felt a bit sorry for them, their supporters started off boisterously enough but the first goal and a well-timed chorus of "We're going to Liverpool, you're going to Hartlepool" seemed to knock the stuffing out of them. The team, who you traditionally associate with hard bastards like Chris Morgan, were lightweight, sloppy in defence and generally looked like a team who know they're going down.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

QPR 2 Ipswich 0

Rangers dug out a massive three points thanks to two late headers against a tenacious Ipswich side at Loftus Road last night. Neil Warnock sprang a surprise by replacing both centre-halves, Shittu and Hall coming in for Gorkss and Connolly. I could see the reasoning behind replacing both rather than one, as Hall and Shittu had played 3 reserve games together, but it was still quite a turn up [1]

After an initial flurry, the new defensive pairing found themselves with plenty of work to do as Ipswich dominated. Rangers' attacking midfield three of Taarabt, Routledge and Miller gave possession away constantly, whereas the visitors passed it neatly with Bullard usually in the thick of it. Having said that I think Paddy Kenny only had one save to make, but Rangers went off to nervous murmuring all around the ground at half time. Personally I couldn't see where a goal was coming from.

As often happens though, the second half was better as Rangers, perhaps with a few words of encouragement from Warnock ringing in their ears, at least played most of the game in the Ipswich half. Taarabt's set pieces looked dangerous, with Shittu getting on the end of quite a few. One knock-down fell to Heidar Helguson but his diving header flew over the bar. Shittu had an opportunity in the inside left channel but was closed down well by a defender, then Taarabt sidefooted straight at Fulop from a similar position. Akos Buzsaky came on for Miller (a substitution I called 10 minutes before) and looked very composed, but the deadlock was finally broken via another set piece. Ipswich couldn't deal with Taarabt's corner and Clint Hill nodded in from close range.

The evident relief of the crowd was clearly shared by the QPR players who immediately looked like a different side. Fulop beat away a shot from Routledge after a slick passing move, but soon after Hill managed to reach the by-line and dig out a fantastic cross which gave Helguson the easiest task to nod in.

And that was that really. A massive three points for the Rs. Other results all went unexpectedly, I thought Forest, Leeds and Norwich would all win comfortably while Cardiff and Swansea would find it difficult, so there you go. In this division I think there's hardly any point looking at games and saying "ooh, that's a tough one, should be three points there though." It's mad.

Looking at the team, I would definitely keep Shittu in, he was excellent and is a big threat on attacking set pieces. It's harsh on Gorkss who has done little wrong for 30 games, but this is no time for sentiment! Hall vs Connolly is a lot closer, I'm still not convinced by Hall although he did play well last night. Up front, people are worried that WBA will recall Miller but I don't think it would be a big loss. He's strong and quick, but also totally one-footed and lacking in vision. Buzsaky provides a better balance, at least until Smith comes back who I think is under-rated by many Rangers fans.

Finally, not for the first time, maximum respect to Shaun Derry and especially Clint Hill, two players I was very sceptical about when they signed. They have been instrumental all season and without them we'd be a long way short of where we are now.

[1] Warnock said afterwards that the main reason was "tiredness", but he has been critical of both Gorkss and Connolly in recent weeks, so make your own mind up :)