The QPR captain explains why the pundits have got his side all wrong
WE ALL know why QPR aren’t going up. Too many egos. Too many big earners dividing the dressing room. Too many mercenaries eking out their contracts.
Harry Redknapp couldn’t hack it. Chris Ramsey fared even worse. All Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink can do is wade through to the season’s end and hack out the deadwood. Right?
“Totally wrong,” insists an exasperated Nedum Onuoha, the Hoops’ 29-year-old captain. “I get so frustrated hearing that stuff. I have done for many years, actually.
“Yes, the club had problems in the past. That’s no secret. But I can honestly say that this season has been amazing.
“OK, we haven’t played as well as we
could have done. But in terms of spirit and the people I go to work with, I’ve enjoyed it more than any other year of my career.
“Ask the guys who left in January. They may have gone on loan or maybe stepped up to the Premier League. But they all went with a heavy heart because they enjoyed the environment here.
“You listen to the views of socalled experts and they’re people who’ve been out of the game so long they don’t even know what’s happening on a daily basis.
“We’ve got some really, really good people so when people start saying it’s rotten or any of this other stuff, they lose a lot of credibility in my eyes. How can they speak with such authority about something they clearly don’t understand?
“I can only assume they’ve been asked a question, not known the answer and reverted to old stereotypes. People can listen if they want but it doesn’t affect us. We know the truth. ”
QPR’s hard-to-shake reputation stemmed from chairman Tony Fernandes throwing good money after bad in a misguided attempt to buy instant success. The net result was two relegations from the top flight and a plethora of unsavoury headlines.
Lessons have clearly been learned. Gone are fading stars like Shaun Wright-Phillips and Chris Samba. In are lower league men on the rise in Conor Washington and Nasser El Khayati.
Even manager Jimmy Floyd-Hassel-baink, a former Premier League golden boot winner, was plucked from Burton Albion in December.
It has taken a long time for this slimmed down, stripped back QPR to adjust but, after a painful seven-game wait for victory under Hasselbaink and the sale of top scorer Charlie Austin to Southampton in January, the Hoops, pre-weekend, boasted three wins from their last four games.
“Jimmy’s very demanding,” said Onuoha. “That’s his biggest characteristic. We’re working a lot harder now. That’s not to say we weren’t before, but it’s a com- pletely different level. It isn’t just physical either – it’s mental and psychological in terms of learning what he expects from us.
“Most people watching us can see that the tempo has gone up. And the numbers don’t lie – if you look at the stats after the game, we’re covering a lot of ground. We’re working to a structure and an idea.
“At times this year, it hasn’t been that way. Now, you go into games feeling that you can com- pete against anyone. And not because you’ve got better players. Because of the way you’re set up and the fact everyone knows their job the moment they step onto the field. ”
If defender Onuoha is currently trying to undo the damage wrought by bad investment, he has also witnessed the joy – albeit at a personal cost – that a mega-backer can bring.
A childhood Manchester City fan who was on the club’s books from the age of ten, he made his
debut in 2004 and, by 2009, had played almost 100 Premier League games. And while the arrival of Sheikh Mansour’s billions would ultimately see him shoved aside by a succession of superstars, Onuoha isn’t bitter about the club’s stellar ascent leaving him in the dust.
“The club did change,” says the 20-cap England Under-21 star, who joined Rangers in 2012 after a year on loan at Sunderland. “Every so often, I speak to a member of staff who misses the old days and I do, too. Coming through, playing alongside Richard Dunne and Sylvain Distin at the peak of their careers. They were my first and second seasons as a pro and, thanks to them, it was the easiest time I’ve ever had on a pitch.
“The old days were great but they were also about seven trophies ago. And those trophies will be in the cabinet a lot longer than my name would ever have been on a locker. It’s the price of success.
“I mean, it was only 1998 when the club was in Division Two. I did an interview recently and somebody asked me about my memories of the Manchester derby when I was growing up. I told them I couldn’t remember many because United were usually a division above!
“Those supporters were very loyal because they weren’t ever surrounded by glory. For the people who stayed with us when we were rubbish to see a Premier League title and Champions League quarterfinals – I can’t begrudge them that. I just hope all the younger fans enjoy what they’re seeing now because it wasn’t always like that. ”
Nor does Onuoha regret a lost career in athletics. At 14, he clocked 11. 09 seconds for the 100m and was also amongst the UK’s finest juniors in the 200m, long jump and triple jump.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision to choose one over the other,” he explains. “I used to do the athletics in the summer, then the football in the winter.
“But when I was 15-16, one of the coaches at City said ‘Right, pre-season starts in July’ and that kind of brought the athletics to a natural halt.
“Could I have made it? Who knows. I was in the top ten in the country for the sprints. Some of the people I knew have gone on to have very good careers. Craig Pickering – who I still speak to now – was a direct rival when we were 15-16. He’s been to World and European championships.
“But I wouldn’t change it for the career I’ve had. Football was always what I enjoyed most and it has given me a great life.”
GOOD NIGHT: Nedum Onuoha celebrates scoring QPR’s lastgasp winner at Reading in December with team-mate Leroy Fer, now on loan at Swansea. Inset, top right: Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink GONE: Defender Chris Samba failed to impress at QPR
NEW HOPE: Striker Conor Washington