Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Stability and signings

So, what to make of Llambiarse's recent pronouncements in the Ronny Gill (helpfully collected together here by .com)? Let's examine some of the most interesting (and contentious) comments...

"The club has never had stability. It needs it. This is too big a club not to have stability. Do we want to find ourselves in a situation when we have a manager for 15 to 20 years? Absolutely. If the manager works, we work. You cannot get any better than that. ... We started off with Graham [Carr] and he is a major factor for us. We went through the managers and the coaches, giving them long-term deals, and fundamentally that's what we want to do. ... In reality, we do not work like other football clubs. If other clubs bring in a new manager then there are lots of staff changes. When Alan came here, all of the backroom staff were told their jobs were safe. We mean that. It brings a different atmosphere to a club. People then think 'hang on, they want stability here.' Alan, JC, Stoney, Peter Beardsley - they are all part and parcel of planning for the years to come. We do not work any other way. We do not make knee-jerk decisions - we react but we do not knee-jerk."

So, stability's clearly the watchword, then - something preached by many football club chairmen and owners but actually practised by far fewer. In fairness to Llambiarse and Jabba, they do seem to be paying more than just lip service to it - unlike, say, the Al-Hasawis at Nottingham Forest who have been talking about long-term strategies and five-year plans but parting company with managers more often than ASBO gets himself into a physical or virtual scrap.

However, it's overstating the case somewhat to say we're somehow unique - the lengthy reigns of those in the hotseats at Old Trafford, the Emirates and Goodison Park would suggest as much. And to claim not to make knee-jerk decisions is to focus firmly on the present while glossing over the mistakes of the past (such as employing the Poison Dwarf and JFK).

"We weren't prepared for Europe so soon. It's a very difficult competition for us. Even now we have to concentrate on the Premier League. In reality, this year we aren't as ready for it as we'd like to be. ... Next year we will have more depth and we will have a better foundation. Then we can go for everything, then it's different. Once this squad gels, this squad is capable of achieving great things in a very difficult league. If we have this squad and we can add the depth to it, we can give a run to anybody. I really think that, but do I think we're really ready to be in Europe? Talking as somebody who runs this part of the business, we just haven't got enough depth yet."

Of course the league is our bread and butter, but whose fault is it that we were ill equipped to cope with the rigours of European football? Last season's fifth-placed finish might have been a wholly unexpected surprise, but we nevertheless had all summer to strengthen - and failed to do so.

Again, in Llambiarse's defence, he did also go on to concede that a mistake was made - that mistake being "so fundamentally tight on the model": "We just did not give ourselves enough slack." However, he also sought to deflect criticism by referring to the "horrendous injury list" and the fact that we clung on to our star players in the face of "interest and pressure from agents and clubs" - both valid points, admittedly, but neither should be allowed to detract from the club hierarchy's failure to recruit.

"Looking at our working model, I had planned for two of [the January] signings to arrive in the summer. We missed out on two others by the way. The other two would have been on top of the five we brought in. ... We just had to bring things forward. Normally we would not do that. I spoke to Graham Carr and he said in football you will not see this again. He felt what was happening with our squad was unprecedented as far as injuries were concerned."

This squares with the Silver Fox's comments about us having "accelerated" deals for certain players in January - though interestingly the reason Llambiarse gave for doing so was the acute injury crisis rather than simply our league predicament.

"[The new signings] did not just crop up in November, we identified them a long time ago. If you look at Sissoko, Graham's first report was from 2010. Graham knew about him from when he was 18 - we follow players for years."

Evidence of extensive scouting and due diligence? Very much to be welcomed at a club famed for its short-sightedness. I like the image of Carr secreting himself in bushes and peering at the cream of young European talent through his binoculars, or hailing cabs and saying: "Suivez cette voiture-la, s'il vous plait!"

"At the end of the day [France] is a market which excites us. We have to explore other markets, though, which we do. ... We keep an eye on the UK market too. British players are very expensive, which is a factor for us."

Fair enough - it's not that we wouldn't like a predominantly British squad, it's just that Europe (and France in particular) seems to offer far better value at the moment. Given the strictures of that self-imposed financial model, we haven't got quite the purchasing power of yore so need to make the most of our connections and contacts.

"We put a lot of work into [the Loic £emy] deal. It is like everything else, we do not really want to break our policies. If you do not want to come here and play then it is is your choice. He made the decision, so there you go. What can I say? We put our work in, we lost it and we moved on. We did it before with [Modibo] Maiga. ... Let's not forget Loic is a very good player. Unfortunately he is now injured, but he has had a season of injuries. Sometimes you have to take that risk because you might not get value in a player."

Spot on - it's £emy's loss, and if he'd rather trouser all that cash while QPR slide towards the Premier League trapdoor, that's his lookout. I'm not sure what that last sentence means, though - sometimes you have to take the risk NOT to sign someone with a track record of injuries? Ultimately that's not the reason why the transfer to Tyneside didn't happen. Nice use of the word "unfortunately", mind - I assume (and sincerely hope) this was uttered with a smirk...

Speaking of taking a risk on players with injury records...

"I wish [Demba Ba] well. You have to understand if you go back to the basics of the deal, we took a chance on Demba and Demba took a chance on us. ... People criticise us for the clause, but it was part of the gamble for Demba as well. ... Maybe he wanted to prove himself, but for us I have no regrets on the Demba deal or Demba leaving. We have to move forward. With Demba we had him for 18 months and he scored 29 league goals. He went out of the club his way, and we have replaced him."

Again, this neatly summarises my take on the situation. The initial deal suited both parties (we didn't want to be lumbered with a permacrock on a long-term, high-salary deal) and, while we were entitled to try to renegotiate terms when things worked out well, Ba was within his rights to assess his options and it was no real surprise when we couldn't compete with Chelsea's allure. We should be grateful for those 29 goals and move on.

That said, whether we're moving on with a replacement in position is another matter. Goofy may have got his first goal in black and white (well, maroon) on Saturday, but Llambiarse is counting his chickens long before they've hatched if he's suggesting that the Frenchman is Ba's heir. In truth, given that Goofy's playing out wide, the onus is on Papiss Cisse, now operating in his favoured role through the centre, to up his game considerably and step into his compatriot's sizeable shooting boots.

"The Europa League needs fewer games - that is really the way I see it. The competition needs to be shaved down and reshaped. The incentives need to be different. The Champions League is worth around £44.3m if you win it, but the Europa League is £8m if you win it."

Fair comment I suppose (though the discrepancy will always exist, given the prestige surrounding the premier club competition) - but it would perhaps be nice to have a bit more recognition for the non-financial benefits of European football such as the experience gained by the players, using it as a carrot to entice potential new signings and the simple, good old-fashioned excitement of there being a trophy up for grabs. If Llambiarse was determined to dwell on the monetary value of participation in the Europa League, then he could at least have mentioned the additional gate receipts.

And finally, some comments on QPR following on from the discussion of the failed £emy deal:

"I would not want to criticise the passion QPR owner Tony Fernandes has, he is very communicative and has a flair and understanding of what the fans want and what he wants for the good of the club. ... They played down Chris Samba, but if we were in a similar position? ... If Mike and I were in that position we may sit back and say: 'Do we need two players to push us away from relegation?' We might have taken the gamble too, but not irresponsibly. Tony is not being irresponsible. He is giving himself and his club a chance. If he did not do anything then he would be criticised too."

Aw, c'mon - give 'im both barrels. Quite how signing a player for £12m on £120,000 a week when you're bottom of the table and play in a stadium with a capacity of around 18,000 isn't irresponsible I'm not sure - and neither am I certain how a prophet of stability and financial prudence like Llambiarse can apparently condone it. That said, do I detect a subtle dig at Fernandes in the comment about him being "very communicative"? Better that Jabba stays quiet, using Llambiarse as his mouthpiece only occasionally, than he blabbers on incessantly on Twitter like Fernandes...

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