Wigan Athletic may have lost a few big players this summer. Joel Robles’ loan spell is over, Antonin Alcaraz, Maynor Figueroa, Franco di Santo have left on free transfers and Arouna Kone has followed Roberto Martinez to Everton. But the players they’ve brought in provide the experience to get them straight out the Championship.
Grant Holt is a fantastic signing and has a lot of experience in the Football League. Scott Carson is a goalkeeper that is more than good enough at this level, and added to Ali Al-Habsi means they have a brilliant choice of goalkeeper. They’ve brought in Celtic defender Thomas Rogne, who if he can stay fit will be a real coup. Blackpool defender Stephen Crainey and Chris McCann are players who have a lot of experience in this league as well.
They key for Wigan though, is it’s unlikely anyone will splash out on their star players. They’re likely to demand £10m+ for winger Callum McManaman and James McCarthy, and it’s yet to be seen if anyone will play close to those fees. The talk of Shaun Maloney leaving has died down, and if they can hang on to him he should excel. Added to this keeping James McArthur, captain Gary Caldwell, Emmerson Boyce, Jordi Gomez and FA Cup star Ben Watson means they will hold on to the basis of their Premier League team.
Compare this with QPR and the difference is huge. Although the basis of their squad from last season remains, the chances are there will be a huge clearout by the start of 2013-2014. Julio Cesar, Adel Taarabt, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Anton Ferdinand, Esteban Granero and Loic Remy are all expected to leave. Added to this there is likely to be interest in Armand Traore, Park Ji-Sung and Junior Hoilett. The problem for Harry Redknapp is he wants to clear the squad out, but other teams are unwilling to match the extortionate wages Tony Fernandes offered them to start with. This means other teams could wait until closer to the deadline to see if wages/fees will drop, leaving Redknapp with little time to replace them.
Reading have done well to hang on to the basis of their team, but their poor performance all round last season, bar a few such as Adam le Fondre, Hal Robson-Kanu and Garath McCleary, means that interest in their squad hasn’t generated that much. Their squad looks a decent one at this level, and Nigel Adkins is someone who can get them promoted again. But if they were to get there, some major investment would be needed to stay at the top level.
I expect Wigan to do well, and they should be in the top two places. That being said, Owen Coyle was favourites with Bolton last summer, but a poor start to the season saw him sacked early on. This time round he should fare a lot better. Reading should finish in the play-offs at least with the squad they have. QPR could struggle though, and I don’t know if Redknapp realises how tough his job will be next season. They need to focus on signing players who are used to this league and aren’t on ridiculous wages. Let’s hope they’ve learnt their lesson from Chris Samba.
Massimo Luongo – Ballon d’Or recognition and QPR ambitions
Massimo Luongo has had an interesting career to date and, at the age of 25, he will be looking to build on his experiences and continue to progress as a footballer. The midfielder is currently on the books of Queens Park Rangers and has emerged as one of the club’s key players under Ian Holloway.
Although the Rs are not currently in a position to challenge for promotion, they are a developing a promising team and the Australian international has impressed this season. In an exclusive interview with The Boot Room, he admitted that the squad feel they should have more points to their name this term. However, he suggested that now they are getting back to the level at which they should be.
“It’s been very up and down. We are probably a few points off where we should be, but there have been a lot of good performances and we picked up a lot of draws early on that could have been wins, which would have put us in a better position. We’ve had a lot of injuries and we are getting back to where we should be, I think.”
QPR are currently in 17th position, 13 points off the pace when it comes to the Sky Bet Championship play-offs. It seems unlikely that they will be able to make that gap up and another mid-table finish looks likely for the club this term. Nonetheless, Luongo is an ambitious player and he will be looking to return to the Premier League in the long-term.
He was given a taste of the English top flight after starting his career with Tottenham. The North London side are now renowned for giving young players a chance, but the 25-year-old was there before that became the norm. Although he failed to make an appearance for the club, he remains grateful for the education that he received.
“It was difficult for me at first, because the direction of the club was different to what it is now. They were always pushing for a Champions League spot at the time. When I came, Harry Redknapp just took over after getting them up from the bottom of the table. The direction they were going was to find a bit of security so it was difficult to break through, but development wise, it was the best place I could have been.
“The coaches I had, Tim Sherwood, Les Ferdinand and Alex Inglethorpe who is at Liverpool now, prepared me for English football in general. I think from then, it has gone pretty well. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve been on loan to Ipswich, which was a good education for me.”
There is often a lot of criticism directed at Premier League clubs for not giving young players a chance in the first team. Tottenham are now famous for getting the most from their academy, but that wasn’t the case when Luongo was at the club. He had to go out on loans to Ipswich Town and Swindon Town to get experience.
Despite not making his Premier League debut at White Hart Lane, the midfielder clearly made an impact, as Les Ferdinand was influential in bringing the player to QPR after taking the post of director of football. Although he didn’t make it in North London, there is no ill feeling from the midfielder and he suggests that they are now the example to follow for other clubs.
“It didn’t work out, but they’ve hit the nail on the head now. They probably realise that they trust in their youth academy and their development now more than they did when I was there. The likes of Harry Winks are doing so well and obviously Harry Kane.
There are a few boys in the Championship from Tottenham that are full of quality. Josh Onomah from Villa. He was there when I was there. I think they are doing it right. If any a club wants an example to follow, they should follow Tottenham.”
There are lots of young players let go by Premier League clubs every year and it can be easy for them to lose faith, but Luongo didn’t take the failure to heart and joined Swindon Town on a permanent deal after a loan spell at the County Ground.
The Robins were clearly impressed by his talent and opted to pay £400,000 for his services, which was too much for Tottenham to turn down considering he was far down the pecking order at the club.
During the following two years, he became an influential midfielder in League One and his reputation grew on a weekly basis. During the 2014-15 season, he helped the Robins to a play-off final, where they were ultimately beaten by Preston North End. This denied them a return to the second tier, but it was Luongo’s performances on the international stage that allowed his name to enter the mainstream.
He had found himself in and around the Australia squad prior to the 2015 Asia Cup, but it was during the tournament itself that he made his breakthrough for the Socceroos. Scoring two goals and contributing four assists throughout the competition, he steered his country to glory, before later being handed the competition’s Most Valuable Player accolade.
“It was good, as I hadn’t really established myself in the Socceroos yet, so it was my first time being called up. The people didn’t really know much about me and it was in Australia. The final was in Sydney where I’m from, so that was pretty cool. It was amazing and scoring in the final of any tournament is big, but the fact it was at home meant a little bit more.”
Incredibly, his performances during the tournament earned him worldwide recognition and, still a Swindon Town player at the time, he found himself included on the Ballon D’Or long-list for 2015. The voting system means that those who impress at international level receive credit for their performances and Luongo was an example to everyone that no matter which club you play for, you can aspire to reach individual goals.
“The Ballon D’Or thing was pretty cool as well. I was happy about that. It was nice to get the recognition from the Asia Cup. Over here, you don’t see much of what happens in comparison to other continents. Being at Swindon at the time, it’s nice that they recognise wherever you are. At any club, you can still get on the Ballon D’Or list.”
After returning from the Asia Cup, it was obvious that Luongo should be playing at a higher level than League One. It would have been special to have achieved promotion with Swindon Town, but their play-off failure left the midfielder with a decision to make. QPR were quick to act, as they paid £3.5 million for the Australian and his club team-mate Ben Gladwin.
As the Rs had recently experienced relegation from the Premier League, Luongo would have seen it as a stepping stone to the top flight. Unfortunately, the club have been through a difficult period of transition ever since, forcing them to re-build and re-stratergise in the Championship.
Despite this, Luongo has successfully continued his development and he is now performing to a very high level in the division. When asked about the influence of the managers he has worked alongisde, he describes Ian Holloway as the one who has been able to get the best form out of him.
“All the managers are different, but at the moment, I’d say Ollie. He’s given me the role that I’m suited to best, the box-to-box role. I’m behind Luke Freeman and ahead of Josh Scowen, so I’ve got the creativity of Luke to combine with and the security of Scowen behind me.
“I’d say he’s brought out the best in me, but I learned a lot from [Jimmy-Floyd] Hasselbaink when he was here. The security that he wanted to play with and the discipline needed to play for him. It took me a while to get into his squad and I learned a lot of the game from Hasselbaink.”
This season, Luongo has been a consistent performer for QPR in the midfield and has regularly contributed in the final third. His current haul of a goal and two assists shows that he can offer something in attack, but he will be looking to improve on these during the second half of the season.
It has been his defensive work rate that has stood out most, averaging 3.9 tackles and 1.6 interceptions per game. As he alludes to, he is a box-to-box midfielder and, at the age of 25, there is potential to grow further. The Premier League remains his ultimate goal in England and he is now closer than ever to achieving this dream:
Getting to the Premier League has always been the goal and I’m working hard to achieve it.”
The short term aim will be to get there with QPR and there is no reason why that cannot happen. Paddy Power latest football offers suggest it doesn’t look likely this season, but fortunes in the Championship change on a yearly basis and if they can find some consistency under Ian Holloway, promotion is a realistic aim for the club.
Luongo has stepped up to every new level with ease and has already been nominated for the Ballon d’Or by his peers. He has quite some pedigree, despite never playing in the Premier League.
If unsuccessful in achieving this objective with the London outfit, he might just be worth his weight in gold to any onlooking current Premier League sides.
What will Bright Osayi-Samuel bring to Queens Park Rangers?
Queens Park Rangers finally announced the arrival Bright Osayi-Samuel from Blackpool, almost 24-hours after the transfer window closed.
Hoops’ manager Ian Holloway had tracked the talented winger’s progress at his former club and was impressed enough to make a bid. However, as reported by West London Sport, it was believed that the move had failed.
On ‘deadline day’ both clubs were curiously quiet on the subject, whilst the player himself took to Snapchat to vent frustration at the proposed deal falling through.
Osayi-Samuel certainly has potential, but QPR fans should not expect him to make an instant impact in the Championship. Last campaign, in League Two, he made 31 appearances, scoring four, assisting three and picked up one ‘EFL young player of the month award’.
His most impressive moment was a goal in which he effectively assisted himself. The clip received national attention at the time and can be seen below.
Assist: Osayi-Samuel ??
Goal: Osayi-Samuel ?
— Football League Zone (@TheFLZone) March 22, 2017
The above video highlights the winger’s pace, undoubtedly his most impressive attribute, and something he regularly combines with skill and control to leave defenders on their knees. Of course, Championship defenders will show greater resistance, but Osayi-Samuel’s confidence in taking people on will see supporters rise to their feet at Loftus Road.
Only three years ago, the attacker had never played within a professional setup and was scouted whilst playing in a London park. His remarkable story has been covered by BBC Sport.
Understandably for a young player still new to the game, his talents remain raw. Blackpool fans have seen him frequently squander excellent scoring opportunities and suffer from questionable decision-making.
However, both of those aspects can be improved upon in training. In Ian Holloway, QPR arguably have the ideal attack-minded coach to get the best out of Bright. The Bristolian manager favors a famously gung-ho approach, which will suit a player who offers little in the way of defensive support.
Osayi-Samuel was yet to score on Blackpool’s return to League One, but only four games had been played. Of those, the Tangerines won both which the Winger started. Although his profligacy in front of goal appears to have continued, he has looked stronger on the ball with increased physicality.
QPR fans should be excited by Bright’s arrival, but patience will be key for all parties. The 19-year-old has plenty of time to fulfill his considerable potential and is likely to prove frustrating in the meantime.
His capture, ahead of interest from other big clubs, is a good sign of positive changes at Loftus Road. Those in charge have promised long-term planning and ambition without reckless spending, Osayi-Samuel fits the bill perfectly.
Could Brendan Rodgers’ offer Queens Park Rangers’ Steven Caulker a summer lifeline at Celtic?
The Scotsman is reporting that Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers is ready to come to the aid of troubled Queens Park Rangers central defender Steven Caulker.
The 25-year-old has seen a promising career stall and stagnate since bursting onto the scene in 2011 and has recently revealed that he has been driven to the brink of suicide by severe alcohol and gambling addictions.
He joined Queens Park Rangers in the summer of 2014 for £8 million, but has struggled to retain a consistent place in the first team, despite the club dropping into the Championship.
Caulker remains a final lingering reminder of the club’s recent failures and has issued a ‘cry for help’.
Rodgers has revealed that he has spoken with Caulker, although he insists that discussions have been firmly focused on the player’s well-being and recovery, which opens up the opportunity for the former England international to move to Celtic Park.
A promising start to a career
Steven Caulker was once widely perceived as being one of the brightest, most promising young defenders in England.
Rising through the academy ranks at Tottenham Hotspur, the centre half possessed the technical and psychological qualities that perfectly complimented his imposing six foot three inch frame.
By 16 years of age, he was a regular feature in the under-18’s team and within eighteen months he was captaining the side on a regular basis, although a route into the first team remained out of reach. The club opted to send him out on loan order to gain first team experience with spells at Yeovil Town and and Bristol City providing Caulker with his first taste of the professional game.
However, it was not until 2011 that another spell out on loan provided Caulker with an opportunity to gain national recognition. Swansea City, then under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers, were preparing for their first season on the Premier League and opted to take the central defender on a season long loan.
The deal would be mutually beneficial and hugely successful for all concerned. Caulker became the mainstay of Swansea’s defensive unit, helping the club to an 11th place finish and receiving call-ups to Stuart Pearce’s Great Britain Olympic team and the senior England international side during 2012.
In November 2012 the central defender was handed his England debut in a friendly fixture against Sweden and got on the score sheet when he converted a Steven Gerrard free-kick. However, this would be the pinnacle of his career – he would not represent England again.
Drink, gambling and mental health
Steven Caulker was unable to force his way into the Tottenham Hotspur first team following his successful loan spell at Swansea City. The next four years saw him make big-money transfers to Cardiff City and Queens Park Rangers, with both moves ultimately ending in relegation and failure.
Short terms loan deals to Southampton and Liverpool during the 2015/16 season, an attempt by then relegated Rangers to remove the 25-year-old from the wage bill, were equally as unsuccessful. The one-time England international had suddenly become the unwanted man of English football.
In an honest, open interview with The Guardian, in June 2017, Caulker revealed that he had been battling mental health issues that had stemmed from severe drink and gambling addictions. He spoke of waking up in a prison cell after a heavy night of drinking, of frittering away thousands of pounds in casinos, and of anxiety, depression and self-loathing. He candidly admitted that he had been driven to the drink of suicide by his off field issues.
Football is still coming to terms with mental illness and Caulker’s story is a timely reminder of the struggles that many players undoubtedly have to face off the pitch away from the television cameras.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Steven Caulker’s current contract still has one year remaining, but Queens Park Rangers have made it clear that he no longer has a future with the club.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has refused to rule out a possible move for the central defender and a deal could suit all involved. It was under the Northern Irishman’s management at Swansea City that Caulker produced some of the best football of his career six years ago and the admission by The Hoops boss that he has already spoken to the 25-year-old indicates that a positive relationship still exists. R
odgers has a reputation for being excellent at man-management and his guidance could be hugely beneficial as the player looks to resolve his off-field issues.
A move could also be prompted by Celtic’s lack of defensive cover. The Hoops have already started their season as they face a Champions League qualifying tie against Linfield and Rodgers is keen to add further quality to his squad despite last season’s unbeaten domestic campaign. An injury to Dedryck Boyata, who has suffered knee ligament damage, leaves the current squad short of central defenders and Caulker, who has played 123 games in the Premier League, could fill the void.
Steven Caulker undoubtedly possesses an abundance of talent and experience of competing at the highest level, but personal issues have resulted in his career stalling. A move to Celtic, under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers, could provide him with the perfect opportunity to resurrect his footballing life.
Featured image all rights reserved Dan Westwell.
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