Amidst the hype of the World Cup, teams in both the Premier League and the Football League are well underway in their pre-season preparations, and that familiar feeling of hope and expectation is already fuelling the nation’s football fans.
Whilst most English football fans, myself included, are gripped by the already-impressive achievements of Gareth Southgate’s fresh, young England team, the excitement that comes with the pre-season still claims some of footballing attention.
The transfer gossip, the managerial merry-go-rounds, and the inter-fan debates of the forthcoming season are once again filling the newsfeed’s of football lovers.
For QPR, their pre-season fixtures are underway, having returned from their pre-season training camp based in Lagos, Portugal. The team, under new boss Steve McClaren, resided for a week at the Cascade Wellness & Lifestyle Resort.
Though this sounds like the sort of place you’d head to if you were seeking spiritual enlightenment, or something similar, McClaren, it would seem, is very happy with the way his squad has acted, trained and communicated during their time at the camp:
I’m delighted. The facilities are great and it’s been excellent footballing weather… There’s been a great attitude from the players and we’ve fitted in a hell of work in seven days – double sessions every day.
For most managers, pre-season is all about regaining peak physical form for the long seasons that lay ahead of teams in the Football League. McClaren though has been focussing on creating a unity at the club, a sense of ‘connectedness’ which we’re witnessing in Southgate’s World Cup side.
I think that connectedness is what brings a team together. We try as much as possible, on and off the pitch, to get as many opportunities as possible to get them to connect with each other, to get to know each other, and where they’re out in situations where they have to work together to win together.
It was a squad of 28 players that travelled to Portugal, a higher number than expected given the number of departures from the club in recent seasons and the lack of incoming players during the period of club-budgeting.
Though in Portugal McClaren made his first signing of the summer transfer window, and his first signing as QPR manager, German centre-back Toni Leistner from FC Union Berlin in the Bundesliga 2.
You can see the team has good spirit, especially the younger group. They all get along together very well and have great banter among themselves, and what we need to do is surround them with good experience. Toni is a perfect example, a typical German.
When McClaren says ‘typical German’, he means not the lederhosen-wearing, stein-drinking type, but the commanding, brick-wall type, a role donned by the likes of Oliver Khan and Franz Beckenbauer throughout the years.
The signing of Leistner came at a time when the QPR Twitter-faithful were crying out for a centre-back. Leistner joins Alex Baptiste, Joel Lynch and the club’s 2016/17 Player of the Season, Grant Hall on the list of the clubs recognised centre-backs. All three of whom had their spells in and out of the QPR team last season after continuous battles with injury, but all proved their worth at some point last season as reliable defenders.
McClaren has already said that the club will not be spending huge amounts of money this summer, and will rather look at brining in quality over quantity. Having said that though, he already has a strong starting eleven, a strong ‘spine’ as he put it. It follows a season of minimal expenditure under Ian Holloway, as the club continues to recover from the record-breaking FFP fine dealt to the club over three years ago, a fine estimated to exceed the £40 million mark.
I think the first and foremost in any team or in any organisation is discipline. To get discipline you need to know what the rules are, to know your job and then to do your job. It’s pretty simple but difficult to actually get in a squad of 28 players.
Connectedness and discipline then are the key to success at QPR for Steve McClaren, a man who I continue to grow fond of with every interview. It’s easy to forget the experience that he’s gained in his lengthy as understudy to Sir Alex Ferguson, and in his own managerial career which has taken him across the continent.
Though Derby and Nottingham Forest fans may have held the same sense of optimism during their respective preseasons under McClaren, there is the sense that the current squad at QPR fits McClaren down to a T.