Here’s a bit of groundbreaking, earth-shattering analysis on the eve of the new season: if their players play well, QPR will be ok. If they don’t, Rangers will be in trouble.
While that might seem a case of stating the absolutely bleedin’ obvious, the point is that it’s not obvious – despite the damning verdicts delivered by many, particularly on social media – how capable a number of key QPR players are of proving the doubters wrong. And that makes this season tough to call.
Many would have you believe that last season’s brush with relegation and the failure of many of the club’s signings of the last year or two to pull up any trees – yet – means the writing is very much on the wall.
To some extent it is. Any repeat of what occurred during the second half of last season after Ian Holloway’s return as manager and QPR are sitting ducks for relegation, no question.
But it’s not inevitable. There are many unanswered questions ahead of the new campaign and if enough of the answers turn out to be positive, the doom merchants could well be proved wrong.
Capable of better
The attempt to re-position QPR as a club that picks up unfinished articles and develops them was always going to be tough, even acrimonious. Nothing highlights this like the often furious reaction of many fans to signings that have been dismissed as failures.
Conor Washington, like so many signings before him, wasn’t helped by being massively over-hyped. He was playing non-League football and working as a postman not that long ago.
Ariel Borysiuk came and went. Jake Bidwell has attracted criticism for being the six-out-of-ten-every-week left-back he was signed to be. Even a moderately successful signing like Massimo Luongo, who is improving all the time and has shown a great attitude in embracing a more defensive role for the team, has seemingly failed to convince many.
The key question is whether such players can now take their game up a level. The thinking when they were signed was that, in time, they could. The harsher judges among the fan base will tell you they’ve seen enough already. Who’s right?
The likes of Washington and Luongo have already shown signs of development. It’s been patchy, but now the hope must be that they can produce, say, 15 to 20 more of the kind of displays they showed at their best last season. That’s what developing players is all about.
What about Yeni Ngbakoto, a player with real talent who didn’t settle last season? What if he can find some form now?
Then there’s Jordan Cousins. If anyone ticked all the right boxes in terms of the kind of player the owners and many fans were saying they wanted 18 months or so ago, he’s it. He’s another player who didn’t fare well last season but is capable of much more. His latest injury is dire news for Rangers – he’s one of the players they really need to kick on this season.
Banking on Steven Caulker wouldn’t be prudent for obvious reasons, but while he remains a QPR player an element of ‘what if?’ still exists. Then there’s Jack Robinson.
Relegation certainties without significant signings? No. There are too many variables and unanswered questions ahead of the new season for that to be the case.
Flavour of the month
On the other side of the coin though, there’s the separate question of whether some of the better performers can be counted on to keep delivering.
Rangers’ results without Grant Hall speak for themselves, so his ongoing injury problem is a worry. Then there’s the question of where Holloway chooses to play him when he is available.
Ryan Manning’s stock is currently high and he has just signed a new long-term contract. Will he remain flavour of the month?
Luke Freeman made a brilliant start at Rangers, having looked at Bristol City like the Championship was too big a step up for him. Hopes are pinned on his better form continuing.
Pawel Wszolek is always willing but can look limited. Idrissa Sylla got 10 goals last season despite limited game time, but the manager isn’t a huge fan.
So there are questions too over whether some players can maintain a higher standard of performance. If they don’t, Rangers surely don’t have a chance. And that’s before the question of whether any keeper can be expected to carry on performing in the way Alex Smithies did as he stood between QPR and relegation last season.
Not heaven, not hell
There’s also the very important question of how Holloway handles the road ahead.
The owners, egged on by many fans, appointing him last season was understandable given the malaise that had set in. But it was also totally contrary to what the club were supposed to be striving for in terms of stability and reducing the seemingly never-ending turnover of players.
Although a different scale of spending was involved, Holloway’s first spell as manager did much to cement a culture at QPR where if a signing didn’t perform, or when results dipped, it was assumed the club would simply go and get more players – the very culture they are supposedly trying to end.
Holloway, for all his many strengths, can be extremely volatile. He also tends to say one thing and do the opposite and be prone to constant, often drastic, changes of mind.
This was all evident throughout his first stint at QPR and his time elsewhere – and again when he returned.
He spoke of being focused on working with the current squad and of his journey towards a more progressive style of football. However, there was soon a glut of signings, with one of them being a target man in Matt Smith, brought in for an emphasis on a much more direct style.
Another hallmark of Holloway’s managerial career has tended to be a constant cycle in which a straightforward, motivational approach brings some success, and with it praise, leading him to redefine himself as a deeper-thinking manager, producing horrendous results until he goes back to being Ian Holloway and the cycle starts again.
True to form, this again happened last season. First, it was a technical information overload spewed at a squad low on confidence. The outcome: a six-match losing run. The response was a back-to-basics approach which inspired a cracking run in which Rangers looked nothing like the relegation candidates they’re now touted as. But that prompted a series of unnecessary changes – in other words, another attempt to be overly clever – and another six-game losing run almost put the club in League One.
So QPR’s prospects hinge largely on Holloway keeping things on an even keel and making good on his recent soundbites about patience.
It’s important that if Rangers start the season badly he keeps calm, and if they start well he doesn’t once again attempt to cast himself as the second coming of Bill Shankly.
When on top form during his first spell as manager, Holloway would often say “It’s not heaven and it’s not hell” – a spot-on retort to the fickle response to results. That mentality is needed, and needs to hold, now more than ever.
At his best, Holloway is an inspirational leader and he has a proven record of overcoming the odds. Many things need to fall into place for it to happen again, but it is possible. Don’t write Rangers off yet.