QPR will now think twice before taking youngsters from top clubs, according to technical director Chris Ramsey.
A couple of years ago, Ramsey admitted Rangers would “kiss a lot of frogs” while making the transition from big spending to polishing rough diamonds.
The strategy has, overall, proved to be a success.
Ebere Eze, Ilias Chair, Conor Masterson and others have caught the eye since being picked up.
And Luke Amos’ season on loan convinced Mark Warburton to sign him on a permanent deal from Tottenham.
But others, having arrived from clubs such as Spurs and West Ham, have not progressed beyond Rangers’ Under-23 side.
Then there were loan deals for the likes of Matt Smith and Jan Mlakar, who were touted as top prospects but failed to make an impact after arriving on loan from Manchester City and Brighton respectively.
Usually at this time of year there is a clamour to sign players on loan from leading clubs or look at trialists who have been released by them.
Not this time, Ramsey says.
That is largely because QPR believe the standard of their homegrown talent has risen in recent years.
He explains: “There are over a thousand players available at the moment and we have loads of agents ringing us up about players.
“But this year we have actually got quite a big Under-23 squad so we’re going to wait and see how they fare in terms of who Mark wants in the squad or what loans come our way.
“Then, within the next month or so, I’m sure we’ll have some players coming in for some trials.
“The main thing is, though, that we’re trying not to be the kind of club that, because we haven’t got money, act in a desperate way and just take anybody in.
“Whoever comes in will have to be better than the players that we’ve got.
“Sometimes in the past we’ve brought in mediocre people and the players that were at the club could quite easily have done that job.
“We’ve ended up with our players having to prove that they’re better than the ones coming in rather than the other way around.
“We need the mentality that if you want to come to QPR and, for argument’s sake, we’ve got a kid that’s a six or seven out of 10, you’re going to have to be at least an eight or else we might as well keep our player.
“You’ve seen that over the years we’ve brought players in and people have rightly asked ‘can’t they produce that in the academy?’
“Those players have maybe been a six out of 10 but because they’ve come from a Category One club we’ve lauded them and they were no better than players we had at the club.
“We have to make sure that coming to QPR is the jewel in the crown – we’re not looking up at you just because you’ve been at a top club.
“We’re at a point now where people have to come and prove themselves.
“They can’t just come and be six out of 10. If they are, they’re not going to benefit us because we can easily produce players who are just as good.”
After a troubled spell as QPR head coach in 2015, Ramsey reverted back to the kind of role he was initially given by director of football Les Ferdinand. The pair previously worked together at Tottenham.
Four managers – five if you include Neil Warnock’s brief return to the helm – have since followed.
But Ramsey believes current manager Warburton can now benefit from the work done behind the scenes during a difficult few years for Rangers.
And he believes this will help the club attract more young players.
“Last year we had the third highest number of academy minutes (in the first team) out of the Premier League and Championship,” Ramsey said.
“Out of the 44 teams, we came behind Manchester United and Swansea. We were second in the Championship.
“But this year I think we’ve smashed that figure with at least 20 more appearances.
“There have been times this season when we’ve had seven academy players involved in a game.
“In terms of attracting players, I think the fact that the club have utilised the academy and played so many players from there means people on the outside have to think this should be a club where they would send their sons to or the agents should be looking to get their players developed at.”
QPR ‘need to steer away’ from B-team set-up
Most of the success stories have been the result of snapping up young players from other clubs or those who have been released after time at other academies.
The likes of Eze, Chair, Masterson and Ryan Manning did not come through the Rangers academy system as such.
Goalkeeper Joe Lumley was on Tottenham’s books, while Olamide Shodipo joined QPR at the age of 15.
Strictly speaking, Darnell Furlong, now at West Brom, and Osman Kakay are the only true academy products to have played a significant number of first-team appearances in the past couple of years.
A B-team structure, such as the one in place at neighbours Brentford, could still have unearthed Eze-style gems.
But Ramsey does not believe QPR should follow a similar path.
“We understand that a lot of players we’ve had haven’t come right through the academy – I’d say they’ve come through our development programme,” he says.
“Apart from people like Ossie and Darnell they haven’t come from the Under-9s. Most of them have come at different times of their career.
“I know a lot of people say they didn’t really come through the academy, the likes of Eze and Ilias and players like that.
“But at the end of the day they were people that no other clubs wanted, they were still young and we had a development programme that could find their strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses.
“So the academy’s development programme, which goes all the way up to 20 or 22, is what I’d look at as the biggest positive thing.
“When I was at Tottenham with Les, we started the development programme in 2005. It took 12 years to come to fruition.
“Players like Harry Winks and Josh Onomah have gone through 12 years and it’s unrealistic for a club like us at QPR to wait.
“Therefore the development pyramid goes on its head and you’re almost recruiting at the top (age bracket) and developing those players – microwaving them, so to speak.”
He added: “A B-team structure is something I think, at the moment, the club needs to steer away from.
“It’s not as cheap as people think. In fact it can be quite expensive.
“I think that while we’re still plucking people from different clubs, or bringing in late developers, then we can keep the structure as it is.
“I can see the point about how long it will take, say, the Under-8s to come though.
“But I think that for the community and in terms of having some kind of pyramid, and for the club to move forward, it’s important to keep the academy.
“With Brentford, they bought a lot of the players in their B team. We wouldn’t be able to do that at this moment.
“If we can keep being cost-effective, then for the long-term development it’s better to keep an academy.
“It’s only when it starts becoming a financial burden that we’d need to change.”
The need to adapt
One of the main messages Ramsey relays to youngsters – and coaches – is the need for adaptability.
He cites Furlong, who is set to play in the Premier League this season, as an example of the kind of player Rangers need to keep producing.
Ramsey says: “At QPR players have been all about the manager that’s in place, whereas at Spurs our development programme was constant and we developed players that were adaptable for any manager that came in – and during that time we had several managers.
“We weren’t developing the Under-9s in 2005 for Martin Jol, who was manager at the time. We were developing for whoever came in after myself, Tim (Sherwood) and Les, which was (Mauricio) Pochettino.
“So that player had to be adaptable enough to play for any manager that came in.
“Now at QPR we have good coaches in Paul Hall, Andy Impey, Paul Furlong and Micah Hyde and their job is to try to make sure we don’t pigeonhole the players so that they can only play for one manager.
“Darnell played for every manager since I’ve been here. He played for myself, Neil Warnock, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Ian Holloway, Steve McClaren and last season he would have been involved with Mark Warburton had he not been sold.
“So he’s had to be adaptable. Each manager has their own style or own way of doing things and you have to fit in with that.
“Also, these days players move clubs more often. Players are staying at clubs two or three years and moving on.
“You have to have the skills to move on and play at different clubs.”
‘It could be an exciting time’
As for the future, Ramsey believes a new Rangers training ground at Heston, where the academy is currently based, could have a significant impact.
Having the academy and first-team squad at the same facility has long been a key goal for the club.
He is also hopeful of some short-term success if Warburton is able to improve the squad this summer.
“The development programme stays constant wherever we are,” Ramsey says.
“But being on the same site gives the manager the opportunity to quickly see players, whereas that’s difficult when you’re on more than one site.
“If a player maybe gets injured you can call someone from another pitch, which is easier than when you’re on different sites.
“It’s all part of a programme to try and improve the structure while taking the club forward.
“I think if you look at last season, we overachieved in terms of the budget.
“We had a bottom-six budget but I don’t think there was ever a time we really looked like being dragged into the relegation battle.
“At the moment we have coaches who are really good at what they do.
“And if Mark can get some players in to complement the younger ones we have then I think it could be an exciting time for us.”