They that the children are our future, and that’s certainly the case at Queens Park Rangers. Steve McClaren’s team boast the fifth youngest squad in the Championship so far this season, with a low of 25.1 years against Sheffield United in their opening home game.
It’s a modern doctrine of the club that once spent £71 million over two Premier League season’s, amassed just 14 wins, and finished bottom in the second season under the man whom many would’ve preferred as England manager over McClaren, Harry Redknapp.
Today however is a different story. As the club regains financial stability following a record FFP fine for illegal transfer activities in the 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons, thought to exceed the £40 million mark, managers at Loftus Road are expected to make use of the youth academy, with a third straight transfer embargo on the club come January.
Having a young squad though does not necessarily win you football matches – to quote Match of the Day Pundit Alan Hansen, ‘you can’t win anything with kids’. The former Liverpool defender was referring to Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United after their opening day defeat to Aston Villa in the 1995/96 Premier League season, which of course they went on to win, along with an FA Cup, with a squad average age of 26 years and 137 days.
QPR though have made their worst start to a league campaign in over 50 years under McClaren this season, losing their first four games in the Championship, notably shipping in six second half goals against the newly relegated West Bromwich Albion last month. This month though sees the R’s remain unbeaten thus far, after a 0-0 draw at Birmingham City on Saturday took QPR’s points tally to four for the season.
But speaking after what was just his third victory as manager, a 3-1 win in the Second Round of the Caraboa Cup over Bristol Rovers last week, the former England boss spoke of the importance of having more aged, and experienced players in the set up too. One player at the club with that experience is Grant Hall. The centre half had spent seven months on the sidelines following knee surgery.
“A lot of the youngsters staked their claim for a place in the side in the league, but I also thought the senior players were excellent and they helped the younger ones” said McClaren, after Hall made his return against Bristol.
Since I have come in Grant has trained a couple of days a week, and he has increased that. He will be so valuable to us because he is a leader, a talker, he’s experienced and he can also play football. We are delighted to see him come through an hour and now we move on. He is still quite a way from playing in the league for us. He has been out for a long time and there is a bit of rustiness but he helped provide a platform for the win.
It was a nice testament to the man who won the Club’s Player of the Season in his first at the club three years ago, and it has to be said that the centre back position has been somewhat of a void with his absence. But the 25-year-old is one of a handful of experienced players in this fresh QPR side.
Joining him this season in defence were the two sole signings that McClaren made – 28-year-old Toni Lesitner from FC Union Berlin, and the 35-year-old Angel Rangel from Swansea, both arriving for a combined fee of £0.
The balance of youth with the more experienced footballer is always going to be crucial to any form of success. United’s Class of ’96 may have helped them win the title that season, but it was done so with the likes of Peter Schmeichel, Steve Bruce and Eric Cantona present, all of whom to be in their thirties at some point that season.
It is not to say that McClaren has to play a certain amount of players above a certain age each game, but frustratingly, Alan Hansen on this occasion is right; You can’t win anything with kids.