Behind-the-scenes tensions meant Warburton was finished at QPR once results went against him

QPR manager Mark Warburton

Not since 2005 has there been such a disparity between the perception of QPR and the day-to-day reality.

Back then, Rangers fans had been relentlessly fed a tale of a happy, united club, embarking on a fresh start with new directors in place after the Chris Wright era.

So I understood why my reporting of the fact that these people were actually at each other’s throats, and that a bitter power struggle was taking place, was greeted with incredulity.

Seventeen years later and the level of acrimony behind the scenes hasn’t in any way been comparable.

But there have been problems. A disconnect which belied the popular perception of a club with a common purpose and its house finally in order.

As a consequence, Mark Warburton needed to deliver at least a play-off place in order to keep his job.

Communication problems

It was not a case of particularly bad relationships as such, but weak relationships, or in some cases no real relationship at all.

For starters, the relationship between Warburton and director of football Les Ferdinand has not been particularly close. It certainly hasn’t been like the one Warburton enjoyed with Uwe Rosler at Brentford when they held the positions of sporting director and manager respectively.

While Warburton’s communication with Ferdinand and the board has been limited, communication with Under-23s boss Paul Hall and his staff has been virtually non-existent.

That’s a problem when the mission is supposed to be the development of youngsters into first-team players and saleable assets.

Part of Warburton’s brief was to embrace the academy QPR are very keen to portray as a roaring success. With his background in youth development, it seemed like an obvious fit.

The fly in the ointment was that he wasn’t at all impressed with what he found.

He demonstrated this with a host of choices he made. But nothing encapsulated the situation more than Warburton turning to Lee Wallace and later Moses Odubajo – two seasoned pros he had worked with before – while overlooking Niko Hamaleinen and Osman Kakay, who had both been given four-year contracts by the club.

The likes of Faysal Bettache and Stephen Duke-McKenna were similarly felt to not be equipped for Championship football, and Conor Masterson for a promotion challenge. The manager wanted alternatives brought in.

He was backed in doing so, but not unconditionally.

Out on a limb 

Quite simply, he needed promotion, or to at least go close, in order to weather the storm brewing as a result of his negative judgement of the set-up Ferdinand, Tony Fernandes and technical director Chris Ramsey have been so keen to extol the virtues of.

The average age of the side was going up, not down. The pathway to the first team, which Ferdinand and Ramsey have been determined to widen, was narrowing again. This was not how it was supposed to be.

But Rangers were playing good football and challenging for promotion. Needless to say the attitude was one of ‘long may it continue’. But if it didn’t continue, Warburton was always going to be on very thin ice.

Naming just six substitutes rather than including an academy product on the bench against Stoke in December was also significant. It underlined the them-and-us divide between the management team and others.

Again, Warburton was making it clear that, despite the club’s rhetoric, he did not believe youngsters of sufficient ability were in the system.

And in doing so, he was marking his own card.

When results spectacularly declined, in large part because of horrific luck with injuries, there was only going to be one outcome.

His dismissal of suggestions he might consider giving teenage striker Sinclair Armstrong a try didn’t go down well either.

On West London Sport’s QPR podcast, Kevin Gallen, himself a product of Rangers’ youth system, argued that Warburton’s stance was spot on and that young players should have to earn the right to be in the squad.

QPR manager Mark Warburton and coach Neil Banfield
Warburton brought in Neil Banfield as first-team coach

Warburton could argue that players, albeit not homegrown ones, have been developed on his watch.

With Ebere Eze having moved on after making great strides, Chris Willock – picked up largely because of first-team coach Neil Banfield, who worked with him at Arsenal – has been the talisman, while Seny Dieng, Ilias Chair, Rob Dickie and others have progressed.

But it wasn’t enough to keep Warburton in the job.

There had been rumblings of discontent with the manager for some time, but the dismal home defeat against Peterborough in March took matters to the point of no return. The club hierarchy were furious. It seemed Rangers would not make the play-offs. Warburton was going at the end of the season.

QPR in freefall 

Rangers’ season had totally disintegrated. As well as the obvious effect of injuries, there were other factors in the decline.

The playing squad generally believe the lack of clarity – or any discussion at all – about the futures of players soon to be out of contract had an unsettling effect. It was perceived as a failure to do the right thing by solid pros who had served the club well.

One player has had most of his belongings in storage for some time while waiting for an indication of where his future might lie.

There was tension over the future of Yoann Barbet in particular.

Warburton regards Barbet, a fixture of the team during a sustained period of good results, as a key player. But some of the top brass don’t see it that way and there has been no attempt to extend his contract.

Some of the club’s transfer dealings also contributed to the slump.

It was suggested to Warburton in January that signing a striker would be a good idea. He felt a number 10 should be more of a priority as Rangers played with just one up front but two number 10s, Chair and Willock, whose importance was obvious. Warburton was worried about what might happen if one of them suffered an injury.

Both camps clearly had a point. A lack of vibrancy up front has certainly been costly, while Willock tore a hamstring and his absence was a hammer blow.

With the budget having already been stretched to bring in Warburton’s number one summer target, Stefan Johansen, and Fernandes’ target, Charlie Austin, it was not possible to bring in either Derby’s Tom Lawrence or Swansea’s Jamie Paterson.

While a move for Lawrence was always somewhat audacious, it seemed until 48 hours or so before the transfer deadline that a deal could be done to sign Paterson. But it didn’t happen. How well he could have compensated for the loss of Willock, we’ll never know.

Andre Gray played under Warburton at Brentford and Ferdinand recommended him to QPR’s owners straight after being brought in. Both men were keen to get him on loan from Watford. He hasn’t delivered.

Austin’s second spell at the club has been a disappointment and his name can be added to the list of ill-advised deals pursued by the vice-chairman.

And with Lyndon Dykes having not recaptured the form he showed towards the end of last season, Rangers simply didn’t have enough, especially without Willock.

The parachuting in of Dion Sanderson and Jeff Hendrick to play ahead of existing QPR players was also a bad move and backfired.

There were solid reasons behind it.

Conor Masterson’s limited game time and Jordy de Wijs’ injury record meant Warburton wanted an experienced, reliable centre-back for the run-in. A deal was agreed to sign Steve Cook from Bournemouth but he opted to join Nottingham Forest.

QPR defender Jordy De Wijs
De Wijs was loaned out to Fortuna Düsseldorf

Even so, Sanderson’s performances on loan at Birmingham suggested the Wolves defender, although not the old head Warburton ideally wanted, would be more reliable than the fragile De Wijs. He wasn’t.

Warburton also felt inexperience cost Brentford when they lost in the play-offs under him. So when the opportunity unexpectedly arose in the final hours of the window to bring in a vastly experienced player in Hendrick, there was a thumbs-up despite there having been no previous interest in signing a midfielder of his type.

Regardless of the reasons for the slump, long-standing tensions behind the scenes meant there was no inclination to stand by the manager when the tide of results turned against him.

Competing narratives

Warburton being jettisoned after tangible progress during his tenure will be seen by many as surprising. It is certainly a bold decision and one which will inevitably come under real scrutiny in the months and possibly years ahead.

But with a move to a new training ground, there will be a high emphasis on the management team and academy staff being together, both figuratively and soon literally. So the nature of the divide between Warburton and other key figures means it’s perhaps not surprising at all that the club’s tone is one of seeking a fresh start.

This is largely about two competing narratives.

One, nurtured by Ferdinand and Ramsey, is that the set-up at QPR is primed to succeed, with an emphasis on developing players through a successful academy by ensuring a pathway to the first team.

The other is that there is an awful lot of hot air around the subject of the academy, that it is not producing players, that the real success of the Ferdinand/Ramsey era has been the signing and development of players from elsewhere, and that the club should hone in on this rather than continue to perpetuate a myth of a strong set-up and successful academy.

The bottom line is that the club’s owners, who ultimately make the decisions, fundamentally accept the Ferdinand/Ramsey narrative.

By not singing from that hymn sheet, Warburton put noses out of joint and needed spectacular success this season in order to be kept on.