Date: 14th October 2011 at 9:32am
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So it’s back to Premier League action tomorrow and the return to action for Rovers sees a trip to London to face newly promoted QPR.

With QPR starting promisingly and acquiring new faces such as Joey Barton (yes I know) and Shaun Wright Phillips it is fair to say they have announced themselves well into the big time.

But they will want to get back to winning ways after a comprehensive 6-0 drubbing at Fulham last time out.

Prior to the clash we roped in Loft For Words’ Clive Wittingham who writes a blog dedicated to the hoops to ask his thoughts on all things QPR, Rovers and football.

1) How has the season started for QPR? After promotion did you wish for this sort of start?

Well, as ever at QPR, it’s been eventful. We spent the summer in the tail end of the Flavio Briatore/Bernie Ecclestone regime at QPR.

They blatantly knew they were selling and didn’t want to spend a single penny more on the club this summer because of that. We built a side to win the Championship last season with players like Shaun Derry, Clint Hill and Heidar Helguson all key figures but with the best will in the world that team was never going to be good enough for the higher division.

They gave Neil Warnock £1m to sign DJ Campbell, and I strongly suspect they only did that because he agreed to sell Kaspars Gorkss to Reading for roughly the same amount, but otherwise he was forced to rely on picking up the likes of Danny Gabbidon and Keiron Dyer on free transfers.

We lost the first match at home to Bolton 4-0 and had things remained as they were we would have been bothering Derby’s points record come May.

Then Flavio and Bernie (Tango and Cash) sold up to Tony Fernandes who immediately threw a big wadge of money Warnock’s way to completely revamp the team. We now have a very competitive starting 11 (ed – sounds familiar Clive) – as we showed against Wolves, Villa and Newcastle – but almost nothing beyond that so if we happen to pick up a couple of injuries and suspensions in the same area of the field as happened with the defence at Fulham we’ll take a few shallackings.

2) A lot was made of Neil Warnock’s position at the club during the summer… is he well liked amongst the Rangers fans?

Neil Warnock arrived at QPR at a point where we had rattled through seven permanent managers in three years.

Flavio Briatore was hailed as a saviour when he rescued the club from the brink of bankruptcy but he seemed to think that gave him the right to do whatever he liked with the club – the best analogy I saw was when somebody said if you rescue a stray cat and give it a nice home that doesn’t then give you the right to kick it to death.

The pattern at Loftus Road was for a manager to arrive saying he was the manager and in overall control, then Flavio would remind him that he’s actually only the head coach, then we’d sign a load of unknown foreign kids on loan from clubs that Flavio’s mates own, then stories about Flavio trying to pick the team would surface and then the manager would either leave or be sacked.

This (surprise, surprise) quickly had us heading for League One – the only club to get billionaire owners and actually get worse. At the point where Paul Hart lasted five matches and Mick Harford not much more than that it was clear that the ‘project’ as Flavio liked to call it was dead in the water and he either lost interest or deliberately withdrew from the situation.

That left Amit Bhatia to run the club. He is the son in law of Britain’s richest man Lakshmi Mittal who owns 33% of the club. The first thing he did was appoint Warnock under a promise of him having transfer funds and total control of the team and the signings.

This worked like an absolute dream. The fans like Bhatia and, although it may just be clever PR, he really seems to ‘get’ the club and understand what football is all about in a way Briatore never did. Warnock promoted the team as champions on a much smaller budget than he’s ever given credit for within 14 months of arriving. Of course with a big wedge of Premiership television money suddenly heading our way Flavio then turned up again – Ishan Saksena, Bhatia’s ally who served as CEO, was sacked and stories started surfacing again linking us with foreign kids and washed up former Italian internationals.

Then, as Briatore and Ecclestone did consistently throughout their time with us, they hiked the ticket prices to ridiculous levels – match tickets for category A games were going to cost us upwards of £70 and my season ticket went from £530 to just shy of £800 overnight.

Warnock of course had come to work under certain promises from Bhatia (who resigned in the summer in protest at the way the club was being run) and was suddenly faced with the Briatore nightmare all his predecessors had to deal with. He spoke out, repeatedly, about this during the summer to the point where it seemed he was trying to talk himself into a nice pay off because he knew full well had things stayed as they were we wouldn’t have had a prayer this season.

Thankfully the takeover has given us, and Warnock, a fighting chance. QPR fans, like everybody else, hated Warnock before he arrived but he is revered in West London now. I cannot tell you just what a fantastic job he has done, and the football we play is a world away from some of the dire stuff his teams of old served up. He was exactly what our club needed at exactly the right time and I’m thrilled for him that he’s now getting a proper shot at the big time.

3) You seem to have had a big influx of players later on in the transfer window, is there one in particular who excites you?

Shaun Wright Phillips has hit the ground running, he’s been really impressive. Joey Barton needs to step it up slightly and perhaps do some talking with his feet for a few weeks rather than with his gob or on Twitter – he’s not playing badly, but he’s not showing the form he produced last season for Newcastle yet.

Armand Traore has impressed at left back, more with his attacking than his defence, but he does take some big risks in bad areas. Luke Young has been very solid indeed and Anton Ferdinand is playing better than I ever thought he could.

The fans are turning on Jay Bothroyd, who hasn’t scored yet, but he’s playing as the lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation and his job is more to bring the three behind him into play rather than score bucket loads of goals himself and he’s doing that pretty well.

I think we’d all like to see a little bit more of DJ Campbell who has looked good as an impact sub and scored at Wolves last month.

4) And of the new owner, how has he come across in his short tenure at Loftus Road? Can he improve on the old F1 guy regime?

Like Warnock, Tony Fernandes was exactly the right man at exactly the right time and he hasn’t put a foot wrong yet. He immediately strengthened the team in every area with some impressive signings.

Off the field the club is in the middle of sending out vouchers of between £50 and £100 to spend on away tickets and merchandise by way of apology for the sky high ticket prices imposed by the previous regime, he has also slashed the match by match prices although they are still expensive. The black cat mascot that the previous owners banished in favour of a Hull City tiger has been returned and they are looking at getting us a new badge (or returning the old one) to get rid of the current monstrosity which is decorated with Flavio Briatore’s hair.

They are also actively looking at sites for a new stadium. He has also brought Bhatia back on board with him which is terrific news.

Perhaps most importantly though we now have a competent and experienced CEO in Phillip Beard who worked for the O2 Arena and London Olympic bid before coming to us – usually an executive appointment would barely register with supporters but we have been at the mercy of former football agent Gianni Paladini who has been running or helping to run our club for the last seven years.

Paladini specialises in extra long, extra lucrative contracts for Italian players you’ve never heard of who, when they arrive, appear never to have played the game before in their lives. He also almost cost us our promotion last year by doing the dodgy deal to end them all to sign Alejandro Faurlin from Argentina.

Faurlin was owned by a third party a la Tevez, Paladini knew this to be illegal so got the owners of the player to write the club a letter saying they would relinquish all rights over him while he was at QPR. Paladini didn’t inform anybody of this arrangement, stuck the letter in his desk drawer, and we illegally fielded the player for 18 months before the FA realised what was going on.

Even then, they only started paying attention because Paladini and the board had told the official website to report the signing as a £3.5m record deal when it actually cost less than a tenth of that. The FA saw the report, looked at the paperwork, decided it didn’t add up and charged us.

Even though the hearing found we had gained an illegal competitive advantage they declined to deduct us points.

A cynic would suggest that was because they’d allowed it to drag on right to the morning of the very last game of last season and any deduction would have plunged the whole Championship into absolute farce. That same cynic may also suggest it was rather convenient that a ‘comfort letter’ clearing the whole thing up suddenly materialised in Paladini’s desk drawer, especially as the secretary who was said to have drafted it in Argentina could not be traced to give evidence at the hearing. Reading the official report, we should have been heavily docked.

So Phillip Beard could turn out to be the best signing we made in the summer.

5) What do you make of the Venky’s/Steve Kean/Blackburn dynamic as a neutral?

I feel sorry for you guys. We know a farce when we see one at QPR (as you can tell) and to an outsider looking in Blackburn Rovers certainly now comes across as an absolute disaster zone.

The Walker Trust may not have been very exciting or ambitious, but they maintained Rovers as a Premiership club and in the modern era that’s all clubs like Blackburn, Fulham, Wolves etc can really hope for.

The Venky’s don’t seem to have a clue what they’re doing and they’re making your club a laughing stock – there are regular threads on our message board along the lines of ‘look what the mad chicken farmers have done now’ and we’ve got no connection to Blackburn at all really apart from both enjoying Simon Barker’s performances and enduring a spell with Marcus Bent.

The influence of Jerome Anderson in the takeover, the signings and the appointment of a manager who is plainly out of his depth was crying out for investigation.

Sadly the FA were too busy hauling us over the coals. And that advert for Venky’s chicken? quite apart from anything else there’s no way David Dunn would have taken the theft of his dinner with such good grace in real life.

6) Have you caught much of Rovers? Any players you particularly like the look of?

I saw the Arsenal game which, tactically, was like a Sunday League game but tremendously entertaining and Blackburn were good value for the win.

I also sat through the Fulham game and how you didn’t go for four or five that day I’ll never know. I like Scott Dann and wanted us to sign him this summer instead of Anton Ferdinand but he didn’t look particularly comfortable in either match.

Junior Hoilett was the best player on the pitch when we played at Ewood in the FA Cup last season and he seems to be progressing to the point where the dreaded offers from elsewhere will start arriving soon.

Ruben Rochina looks like he knows what he’s doing on the ball, but doesn’t seem to work very hard without it and that might make him a bit of a luxury away from home.

7) If you were to create a starting X1 made up purely of QPR and Rovers players who would you use? (Seven maximum from one side please)

In the tried and tested 4-2-3-1 that QPR like to use (mainly because we don’t really have a decent Premiership striker between us!)

Paddy Kenny – you may laugh but he’s very underrated, which we realised after we bought him, and he swept the board at our Player of the Year awards last season.

Luke Young

Scott Dann

Anton Ferdinand

Armand Traore

Joey Barton

Alejandro Faurlin

Junior Hoilett

Ruben Rochina

Shaun Wright Phillips


8) And finally can I grab a prediction please for Saturday’s game?

It’s worth saying at this stage that QPR played 48 league and cup games last season. I wrote the match previews for 46 of them that always ended with a prediction and I got one (a 2-2 draw at Cardiff) right in the whole campaign.

So I wouldn’t rush out to the bookies with this but I fancy QPR to come out on top in a tense game and win 1-0.

We’ve given a Blackburn manager a final shove towards the exit door once before in recent times so hopefully for your sake such a result would see Kean suffer the same fate as Brian Kidd.

Thank you to Clive for sharing his thoughts and taking time out to speak to us, a thoroughly good read I am sure we could all agree.

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