Monday, 29 April 2013

QPR weak links cost the club its Premier League status

Queens Park Rangers will be officially playing their football in the second-tier next season following their 0-0 draw away to Reading, a result, which coincidentally, condemned both sides to relegation from the Premier League. It finalises a season which has been nothing short of a disaster for the West London club, despite a string of signings in the summer and January transfer windows. With just four league wins all season, most will question how QPR failed so miserably in what was being hyped up as one of their most highly anticipated campaigns to date, but the fact is, there have been a number of players who have under-performed  and a long list of poor decisions which have blighted The Hoops' push toward becoming a top-half side in England's top division.

Creative Commons - Source (Flickr: Adel Taarabt) - Author: wonker

Then-manager Mark Hughes and owner Tony Fernandes splashed the cash in the summer, bringing in a host of names to boost the squad. Inter Milan keeper Julio Cesar signed, his fellow countryman Fabio joined on loan from Manchester United, and the recently released Jose Bosingwa made the move from West London rivals Chelsea. Highly sought-after Esteban Granero made his move from Real Madrid, while Park-Ji Sung was made captain after completing his move from United. Andy Johnson, Bobby Zamora and Junior Hoilett also came to Loftus Road. Not a bad crop of players, and while we take a closer look at the deeper issues behind QPR's downfall, let's start with the former Champions League winner, Cesar. 

The Brazilian is a very, very good goalkeeper. He was instantly criticised after a long list of errors and the decision to rotate between him and another error-prone keeper in Robert Green did neither stopper any good. Cesar should have been the number one all season. Despite Green's Premier League experience, the supporters failed to recognise Cesar had until midway through the season. Constant criticism from faithful was never going to help Cesar's confidence, but he's proved his critics wrong and become one of the club's most important players during this dismal season. 

The defence was the main problem for QPR this season. Nedum Onuoha offered some hope of solidity at the back but even he had to endure time in and out of the team, a team so certain of their centre-back pairing of the immobile Clint Hill and the horribly awkward Anton Ferdinand. Hill's place as captain may serve some loyalty to the fans, but his performances demonstrated something rather different, frequently being outpaced by a league far above his own crippling standards. Ferdinand was another who merely fails to have the quality required for the very top division. Jose Bosingwa failed to make the impact really required in the right-back berth while Rafael's twin brother Fabio has also endured a torrid time, struggling for consistency and quality. Armand Traore's inclusion in the line-ups is merely baffling, while January-signing Christopher Samba's Premier League pedigree is remembered highly from his time at Blackburn, his £12m move from Russian giants Anzhi really has failed to live up to its billing of a defensive saviour. The one positive to come from QPR's frail back-line this season would be the wise, old head of the departed Ryan Nelsen. Despite his age proving to be a crushing negative effect on his side at times, his leadership, demonstrable attitude and commitment to the club's relegation battle has been the one good thing to come from Loftus Road's defensive team. His winter departure to become head coach of Toronto FC proved to be a crushing blow to QPR's survival hopes.

In midfield, all the attention centered around the Moroccan Adel Taarabt. His agent stated earlier in the season that his client was seeking a move to one of AC Milan or Barcelona, but his performances this season make him more of a transfer target for the likes of French outfits Saint-Etienne or Evian. His own arrogance highlighted his downfall, and despite being the club's joint-top goalscorer, his obsession with a move to a "big" club was the weakness in QPR's midfield, a midfield crying out for a leader. Park Ji-Sung's experience at Manchester United should have offered his new teammates some guidance throughout a torrid year, but another injury-blighted season combined with losing the captaincy meant his impact in London was more a hindrance than an asset, failing to score all season. Esteban Granero's skill, creativity and experience in La Liga should have made him a fine addition, but questions over his attitude and his commitment to the cause did not go down well with Harry Redknapp when he took over on 24 November 2012Granero's lack of enhancing a side in desperate need of some European tika-taka football was costly, although the 25-year-old still possesses the quality which should see him move on this coming summer. Another summer signing in Stephane M'bia struggled in defence and after being reverted to a midfield holding, his performances improved but really lacked the quality which made him a top transfer target for many clubs during his time at Marseille. Redknapp's insistent use of Shaun Derry proved puzzling, as has the inclusion of Shaun Wright-Phillips. While both players are vastly experienced in England, both players also now lack the quality to cut it in the Premier League and far too often were they used in games where they made little or no impact, except for SWP's single goal against his old club Chelsea in a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge, just Redknapp's second game in charge. 

As for the strikers, QPR's scouts, owner and coaches need a hard long look at themselves. Injury-stricken Andy Johnson has played just three games all season and Jay Bothroyd's time away from the club on loan is a certain sign of his lack of interest, even though he did score once in three appearances for the Hoops. Scottish forward Jamie Mackie failed to make the same impact his did last season with just two goals in 27 games, and Bobby Zamora only scored four all year in what was also a season blighted by time on the sidelines. Highly-rated Canadian Junior Hoilett was heavily linked with a host of top clubs in the summer but just two goals in 23 games demonstrate his true worth with a long line of inconsistent performances. When QPR did eventually make the right signing it was already too late. Loic Remy, a winter deal from Marseille has averaged a goal every two games since his move from France and has really offered a glimmer of hope to the QPR fans. But, it was too little too late. A clause in his contract will certainly see him leave Loftus Road this summer following the club's relegation and rightly so. 

Remy's heroics for a desperately poor QPR side are a highlight for the club, as well as the impressive performances of former Spurs man Jermaine Jenas and Spurs loanee Andros Townsend, and when the highlight is a man who's made just 10 league appearances this season, then you know you've had a terrible season. Queens Park Rangers have had a terrible season. They made the wrong decisions early on and failed to accept responsibility for their mistakes. Players like Taarabt and Bosingwa were more concerned about potential summer moves away rather than fighting for a club they themselves put deep into the relegation mire. Only a minority of the current crop will stay, while the rest will flee without flinching. There are a small few who should never look back. Remy, Granero, and even Cesar know their qualities and deserve to be at bigger clubs. The likes of Johnson, Hill, Ferdinand (now on loan at Turkish side Bursaspor), Derry and even Zamora should go to the Championship and stay there. Some may feel sorry for the club, others may feel sorry for Harry Redknapp being forced into a nightmare role, but most of all I feel for the supporters. A spirited bunch, and worthy celebrators of Premier League football, the Loftus Road faithful has had to suffer an embarrassing, gut-wrenching season from their idols, and responsibility must come from the very top. Tony Fernandes must accept his role in his club's demise. He allowed excessive funds to be spent on building a squad, and while his managers this season, scouting staff and board of directors all noted their opinions on potential money-making players, at exactly the right time, he sanctioned the wrong decisions. Fernandes loves his club and will fight to see them back in the Premier League but a catalogue of mistakes and a lack of on-field passion has sent QPR back to the despair of Championship football - a level in which, I'm afraid, they now deserve to be.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Why has the Premier League's bargain buy missed out on a PFA nomination?

It's a curious question, and one I'm sure even the man himself is asking. But for all the illustrious talent up on the shortlist at this year's PFA Player of the Year award, the sheer professional who perhaps deserves an overwhelming amount of praise, has slipped embarrassingly under the shadows at the hands of his Premier League colleagues.

Spanish outfit Rayo Vallecano must be kicking themselves for the rather minimal fee they received for one of their star men. A simple £2m paid by Swansea City for, at the time, a 26-year-old who's move to the quiet hills of Wales seemed nothing other than ambitious. But nobody would predict the sheer impact Michu would have on the white side of the Welsh territory. 

The inclusions of Robin Van Persie, Luis Suarez, Juan Mata and Gareth Bale were heavily expected to appear on the shortlist for this year's most prestigious individual footballing prize, and many more believed that Swansea's talismanic Spaniard would also pave his name into the reckoning, but this appears to not be the case. Mata's Belgian teammate Eden Hazard and Manchester United's midfield lynchpin Michael Carrick make up the six up for the award. 

It begs the main question as to what else Michu could have done to earn the respect of his fellow professionals. With a more-than-impressive record of 21 goals from 38 appearances in all competitions under Michael Laudrup's management, the 27-year-old has exceeded all expectations when bought for the measley £2m. Further to this, he also acquired his first professional winner's medal guiding his Swansea side to a Capital One Cup victory over giant-killers Bradford City, scoring three goals in six competitions matches. 

While Michu has been receiving all the plaudits for leading Swansea's charge this season, his exclusion from the 40th anniversary of the award is a mystery to the masses. His commitment to the cause has seen him sign a one-year contract extension at the Liberty Stadium despite a host of clubs in England and Spain preparing big money moves to acquire his services. This should scare off any potential buyers who, according to boss Laudrup, would have to pay a fee in excess of £30m. If a bid of that nature was lodged, Michu would have increased his value 15 times and all in a season's work. 

The biggest surprise on the shortlist is Carrick. The experienced centre-midfielder has enjoyed a prosperous spell back in the United line-up making 41 appearances and once more proving his worth with an impressive string of performances. Eden Hazard is also another surprise but his impact on the Chelsea has really hit the headlines. At 22, the Belgian has really stamped his authority in that midfield which is becoming more and more creative by the minute. But whilst it's understandable as to why all six candidates deserve their place, the man most deserving has failed to make an impact of the Premier League's most important talents. 

Michu's 17 league goals, making him the 4th highest goalscorer, have gone unaccounted for. His exclusion is an unjust insult to his value as a Swansea City player. However, with a trophy, worldwide interest and a new found love in Wales, I'm pretty sure Michu's more than content out of the limelight and focusing on what he does best - football.

Friday, 12 April 2013

INTERVIEW: Guillem Balague

Gareth Messenger and Liam Garrahan met up with Sky Sports' Revista de La Liga pundit Guillem Balague for LaLigaNewsTV at Temple Walkabout, London.