Unbelievable that it’s time for another season already. Championship football is just two days away, and we couldn’t be more excited. Monk and Clotet have some heavy expectations on their shoulders, as they try to turn Leeds United into Swansea City, piece by piece by piece, but if that pressure and transformation gets us to the Premier League, no one here will complain one bit.
Sunday at noon, the Whites travel to Loftus Road to play QPR, and we’re not really sure what Monk’s Men are in for. QPR finished 1 point above Leeds in 2015/16, sitting in 12th to our 13th. Do they expect to go up this season? Or stay mid-table? Or are they in danger of relegation in 2017?
Beats me. Let’s ask them.
Last season, we started our "Leeds Against The World" series here at Through It All Together. We find fans and bloggers from around the Championship and ask them a few questions, and for me at least, it was a welcome opportunity to get to know the expectations, frustrations, and passions around the League. This week, we interview Clive Whittingham from QPR blog Loft For Words.
So as we did last season, we hope you find it a worthwhile exercise to see things from the other side before a match. Meet QPR through the eyes of Clive and get ready for Sunday’s match with us.
Leeds Against The World: Queens Park Rangers
Hey, Clive. Thanks for joining us, good luck this season (after Sunday, of course). A new Championship season starts on Sunday, what’s different with Queens Park Rangers in 2016/17?
Well the days of Julio Cesar, Jose Bosingwa and Rio Ferdinand are long gone. We're like the lottery winner who blew it all on the dogs.
We have Financial Fair Play issues. We ignored it once, in 2013/14, and let Harry Redknapp splash £80m on the wage bill and the best part of £20m on signings to squeeze up by the skin of our teeth in the play-offs. Having got to the Premier League, we spent all the money they gave us, and came down anyway, nursing an extortionate wage bill with the Football League lawyers waiting to greet us when we got back. The legal battle about exactly how we should be punished for that rumbles on.
So we're now in a tough spot. We are entering the second of three parachute payments, and they're declining in value. The Premier League money has just got astronomical and every year we're away from it makes it harder to get back. But we've got to try and make the FFP limits in an 18,000 ground, so we're having to offload all the players we had on the ridiculous wages while keeping the team competitive.
The CEO says we did make FFP last season, albeit with the largest of the three parachute payments, some money from selling Charlie Austin and a £10m windfall from Raheem Sterling's move. This year, with no Austin to sell, a smaller parachute payment and no Sterling money, there's already quite a budget gap to make up. We've managed to sign some very decent defenders – Joel Lynch from Huddersfield and Jake Bidwell from Brentford – and added Jordan Cousins to the midfield who I think is a bit of a steal.
But in an era where Dwight Gayle costs £10m, Alex Pritchard is £8m, and you're probably looking at seven figures just to take somebody like Patrick Bamford or Matej Vydra on loan for a bit we're finding it tough to replace the likes of Austin, Matt Phillips and Junior Hoilett who have left the attack.
QPR finished one point ahead of Leeds last season, middle of the table in 12th place. Have the changes been enough to move you up the table?
I think we'll kick around that part of the table again for the most part.
Do you have a favourite QPR-Leeds memory?
There's a couple immediately spring to mind. Roy Wegerle's mesmeric Goal of the Season winner at Elland Road back in 1990/91 when we came from two goals down to win 3-2. Even the Leeds fans applauded that one which was quite something at that time as they were usually too busy trying to kill us.
Then the year after, when Leeds won the league, we turned them over 4-1 at Loftus Road in a midweek match with Ray Wilkins and Andy Sinton in particularly sparkling form and a young Bradley Allen going round John Lukic and scoring from a ridiculously tight angle. Didn't do Leeds too much damage though, as we'd already beaten Man Utd 4-1 at that point and we stuck 4-0 through Man City a couple of days before. A fantastic QPR team that went on to finish fifth in the first Premier League the season after, and should really have done even better than that.
What’s one matchup we should watch for on Saturday?
Whether you'd call it a matchup or not I don't know but Alex Smithies v Robert Green could be interesting.
I was never Green's biggest fan even when he was playing well for QPR, and to be fair in our 2013/14 promotion season he was consistently excellent in a very drab and defensive-minded team. But his final 12 months in our first team, which included six months in a Premier League relegation battle and then the first half of last season, he was costing us a goal a month in a variety of weird and wonderful ways: charging 15 yards out of his goal for crosses that were never his, punching the ball into an onrushing Hull player and back into his own net, trying to dribble round Nottingham Forest players and then wrestling them down in the penalty box when that went wrong, allowing 40 yard daisy cutters from Brighton players to squirm under him and roll gently over the line and so on.
It suits him and his agent to pedal the line that he was dropped for money reasons, as further appearances would have triggered a contract extension we didn't want to give him. But that was a bit rich considering his form, the form of Alex Smithies who replaced him and has been brilliant for us, and the fact that Green only ended up at QPR in the first place (and missed several chances to leave) for his own money reasons.
Smithies has impressed at QPR since taking the gloves up and I think apart from possibly Westwood at Sheffield Wednesday, he's as good as there is in this division. But I just know sod's law says Green is going to be Man of the Match this weekend and Smithies might make his first mistake in our colours. Hope not.
Give us a reason you’ll win:
Smithies is better than Green.
Sorry, childish. We've strengthened our defence. Jake Bidwell is a big step up from Paul Konchesky at left back (I could actually name some inanimate objects that would be a step up from Konchesky) and Lynch looks a good signing at centre back. Stephen Caulker has also come back fit and focused and sober. So we'll be difficult to score against, and may be able to nick one at the other end.
Give us a reason you’ll lose:
Green's bound to have a blinder against us.
Ok, I'll stop. The team looks like it's going to struggle to score goals this season. Concede an early one and a long, drawn out afternoon of us forlornly chasing an equaliser that never comes might transpire.
What’s your predicted result?
I said 0-0 on our podcast this week so I'll stick with that.
Big thanks to Clive Whittingham for responding to our questions and helping with our first edition of the Leeds Against The World Q&A for the 2016/17 season. You can read more about Queens Park Rangers on his website, Loft For Words.
We'll have a full preview of the QPR match coming tomorrow from our own Ben Mallis. But what do you think will happen in our season opener, Leeds fans? We're trying to get some reader conversations going below in the comments after every article this season, why don't you start us off? Think we'll be better off with Monk and Clotet than we were with Evans? Think Rob Green is better than Clive does? Think we’ll win at Loftus Road and start the season off right? Let us know what you think, and as always, thanks for reading. We'll be back with our second LATW of the season next week. For now, as always, #MOT.