MARK Hughes likes a good leader in his sides. Someone who can defend well, and have a multiplier effect on those around him. Someone to lead by example by blocking a shot, or simply to talk team mates through situations. When to stay on their feet, when to foul, when not to foul, and so forth. It’s the reason John Terry was his number one target when he was City manager, and why QPR made bids last January for Alex and Chris Samba, both aerially and physically dominant players. It’s the reason why QPR targeted Michael Dawson this summer, agreeing a fee but not personal terms with the Tottenham captain. None of these deals materialised and the club were left rudderless.
QPR have since made Park Ji-Sung, a great pro and example to team mates, the club’s captain. What Park does not bring is vocal leadership, a particular ability to organise those around him, or the ability to do things like talk to the referee. With Park missing from QPR’s trip to Arsenal, Ryan Nelsen took over the captaincy of the side. Now, no disrespect the veteran New Zealand defender, but Nelsen is no longer a particularly good player and was signed this summer as much for his dressing room influence and experience as his actual defending.
Beyond that, there are few candidates for a leadership role. In it a sad indication of QPR’s footballing character of the last few seasons that their previous two captains were Adel Taarabt and Joey Barton. Of course, Taarabt was never captaincy material, but the armband lifted his game and he played a massive part in getting QPR in to the Premier League. After his outbursts about departing the club, Joey Barton took over as club captain. QPR struggled massively, Barton performed poorly and the side very nearly went down. Another club who made a new signing captain, Wolves, were relegated. QPR have now done the same for the second season in a row and have started poorly and look more likely to be in a relegation scrap than in a comfortable mid-table position.
Any side without a good organiser in defence will struggle at defending crosses and set-pieces. These have been QPR’s biggest issues this season as opponents have lost their markers. Every player appears concentrated on their own jobs, and not able to cover for those around them. The poor disciplinary record is alarming – 11 red cards since the start of last season. This appears to stem from a lack of on-field leadership, and Mark Hughes must take some of the blame for this too. His Blackburn side were overly physical at times, but they had the football intelligence to make sure there were not too many red cards. Stéphane Mbia’s frankly ludicrous sending off may very well have cost QPR a point at The Emirates. This was from a player who has spoken in the past about not wanting to play in central defence for Marseille. You can’t help but question whether frustration over his position played a part.
The results on the road have been extremely poor. In Hughes’ 14 away league games in charge, the side have picked up only 2 points - draws at Aston Villa and Norwich. Away trips are about defending well and being tactically intelligent. It’s also about keeping your emotions in check, and using some important tools to stop opponents – occasional tactical fouling, slowing the game down, wasting time, and drawing fouls. These can all be done within reason without cards being shown. However, there’s no player to be the manager’s on-field incarnation. Experienced managers can pair up weaker personalities with a stronger one on the field to talk them through games, remind them of their responsibilities, ensure they’re picking up their man at set-pieces etc. QPR are lacking in any types of these players, never mind having enough to have a leader in each department of the side.
The next 8 games may very well decide Mark Hughes’ future at QPR manager. Reading, Southampton, Aston Villa and Fulham all visit Loftus Road and this means a good chance to pick up some wins. If they don’t pick up in the region of 10 points from those 8 games, Hughes might find himself getting the sack. Not a lot can be done about the team lacking a literal and figurative spine until the January window opens.