QPR’s ridiculous Warren Farm pipe dream has gone – the academy should go too

QPR’s pursuit of a training ground at Warren Farm is over. West London Sport’s David McIntyre argues that the project should have been ditched long ago – and that tough choices about the club’s youth system now need to be faced.

QPR: Warren Farm

Scrapping the Warren Farm project has long been in the best interests of QPR and should have been done years ago.

Aside from the legal wrangling and the fact that Rangers were never clear about how a new training ground would be paid for, the whole thing was just a bad idea.

Or became a bad idea, at least.

Those unfortunate enough to have followed my ramblings on QPR for some years might point out I’m contradicting myself here. And they’d be right. I changed my mind.

It’s rare I change my mind when it comes to Rangers matters. But on the issue of Warren Farm, I did.

Back in the day I argued that QPR’s scouting set-up and general infrastructure was comparable to that of a bottom-tier club and was being further eroded. It wasn’t a popular or generally shared view at the time.

When the billionaires took over a few years later, in 2007, and when there was another takeover in 2011, I argued that the club was simply not set up to make big-money signings and that the 2011 spending spree would have disastrous consequences.

I argued that the club was a shambles, its recruitment set-up badly flawed, and that mostly the wrong kind of players with the wrong kind of motives would be brought in.

The lack of a decent training ground was a large part of the problem.

The bottom line is that a good player wants a good club, not just a club with money. They care about their CV and want a successful career.

So the idea that QPR’s money could get them top players was always misguided.

The right players were always likely to swerve them, no matter what money was on offer.

Others would happily swerve bigger, better-run clubs in order to sign for them.  It didn’t take a genius to work out why.

So, I argued, it was crucial that QPR had its own training ground and that it was a facility to be reckoned with. One which convinced top players that Rangers meant business and were a club going places. The building blocks were needed before Rangers attempted to reach for the stars.

Warren Farm looked perfect. It could, it initially seemed, give QPR a quality facility and establish the club as a major part of the west London community beyond W12.

But a number of things changed.

A different era for QPR

Several factors, the most significant being Financial Fair Play, meant QPR began to reinvent itself.

There was a determination to get back to Rangers being the kind of well run, medium-sized club which punched above its weight.

Chris Ramsey and Les Ferdinand of QPR
Technical director Chris Ramsey and director of football Les Ferdinand have changed the course of the club

Simply put, the Warren Farm project belongs in an era where QPR aspired to be big cheeses and were run by people wanting to rub shoulders with top players and, frankly, mop their brows and wipe their backsides for them.

There seemed to be a belief that if you mopped and wiped fawningly enough, those players would be motivated to deliver for you.

Rangers have moved on from that, thankfully.

They’ve gone back to a model – the correct model – of gradual development, hard work and offering chances to talented players for whom playing for QPR is a big deal and a potential stepping stone.

A state-of-the-art training facility where players are treated like pampered stars just isn’t compatible with that. It isn’t appropriate anymore.

Harlington does the job

Another change to have occurred over the years is that Rangers’ current training ground, at Harlington, while far from perfect, has been massively improved from a laughable facility to a pretty decent one.

The club deserves credit for that. It means a new training ground, while necessary, is not quite as urgent.

It’s therefore right that QPR reverse out of the Warren Farm nonsense and take stock.

They considered doing so in the summer of 2014 but carried on, albeit after rightly scaling down their overly grandiose initial plans for the site.

It would have been tough for Tony Fernandes to explain any decision to back out at that stage, given that so much had been made of the Warren Farm issue. But the reasons for doing so would have been sound.

QPR: Harlington training ground
QPR’s Harlington training ground has been improved over the years

Of course QPR still need a different, better, training facility. One fit for an aspiring Premier League club.

But while its importance was generally underestimated a decade or so ago, there’s now a danger of its significance instead being overstated.

A training ground is important but is still just a building and some football pitches.

Over the years, Warren Farm seems to have taken on some kind of mythical significance as a cure for various problems on the pitch. Get Warren Farm and it’ll all be different.

But with that kind of thinking, things wouldn’t have become different. It would more likely have been another waste of time and money. A white elephant.

Past promises

The Warren Farm project needed to be scrapped. The problem was that Rangers were somewhat hemmed in by Fernandes’ promises.

The same is true of the club’s academy – another construct held up by the former chairman to placate fans when the going was tough.

Now Warren Farm has gone, the academy should go too.

QPR: Tony Fernandes and Amit Bhatia
Tony Fernandes was replaced as chairman by Amit Bhatia in 2018

Running an academy is not in QPR’s interests either. But, again, saying so is tricky – a tough sell to fans – because of the club’s many years of promises and self-hype.

A major reason for wanting an A-class training ground was the goal of having the academy on the same site.

But that too needs a rethink.

Hot air

Whether QPR should continue to operate with an academy is a difficult conversation which should have begun years ago, when Rangers were pretending they were building something special with theirs.

In the meantime, neighbours Brentford scrapped theirs in favour of a B-team set-up.

QPR should have done this and should do so as soon as possible.

There’s a common misconception that Rangers’ academy is becoming some kind of amazing success story. It’s pure hype. Hot air.

In reality, the huge cost in no way justifies its (still) very limited success. It’s a burden and one the club would be better off without.

Darnell Furlong, sold to West Brom last year, is a rare example of a bona fide academy product becoming a first-team regular.

Any youngsters of real quality can very easily be plucked by top clubs anyway under the current system, as was seen with Raheem Sterling and even the relatively mediocre Josh Bowler.

A way to address that could be to create a world class, Category One academy, based at a world class training complex.

In theory this could be possible given the wealth of the club’s owners and the fact that infrastructural costs fall outside of FFP. Realistically, though, it’s not how the cookie’s crumbling.

Ryan Manning is not “one of our own” despite the chant. He was signed from Galway United. Even Joe Lumley came via Tottenham, although much of football education has been at QPR and he is therefore an academy product of sorts.

The likes of Ebere Eze, Ilias Chair, Charlie Owens and Conor Masterson have all been signed after leaving other clubs.

Rangers are having tangible success in that respect and it’s helping the club rebuild. But it’s a method which lends itself much more to a B-team than expensive academy set-up.

This reality shouldn’t be overlooked any longer. It’s one QPR need to face, especially given the ever-declining financial landscape.