Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Ian Holloway Interview

At this crucial stage of the season it was a pleasure to meet and talk to Rangers boss Ian Holloway. Olly talks passionately about his hopes and dreams, looks back over his time as manager so far and looks forward to the rest of the season. Olly you’re three games away from being the first QPR manager to win something in twenty odd years – what are you thinking right now?

IH: I’m thinking that most of them have been too high up to win anything and we slipped down to the second division under my time and I want to put it right. I’m totally determined to turn that round. I’ll never forget the Huddersfield situation, how they cajoled and barracked us and now they’ve been relegated twice, funny how life works out. When you looked around the seven man squad you had three years back did you think you could get us in the position we’re in now?

IH: You have to feel you’re going to be successful and that you can come through difficult situations, cope with them and still be positive. I’ve had a few of them in my life and I’ve always tried to keep upbeat. To see the players we’ve got now though makes me immensely proud. I believed we could do it, I believe Kenny was a huge part of it, I’m sorry to see him go and I thank him very much for his involvement. At the time there was no staff either the club had run down so much, I lost god knows how many players and had no staff so I started with a blank sheet which is really unusual. Was there any kind of three year or five year plan when you came on board?

IH: There was absolutely no plan whatsoever, except to stay in business! The finances were that dire, we’ve had days and weeks where that was it, we nearly stopped. None of us has ever shown it, we’ve just got on with it. It’s the Men in Black thing, sometimes you’re better off not knowing. It hasn’t been easy but it’s been thoroughly enjoyable. Obviously now we’ve got to worry about Fulham not being here next season but I think we’ve turned the corner and we’re almost out of it. We’ve suffered some terrible blows this season, in a way though do you think that has helped foster a greater team spirit?

IH: Team spirit is really something the lads have to be responsible for and it’s something the fans can help or hinder. It’s like when we were in administration, we banned the word from round here. We all remained positive and although people at the club were worried you waste energy thinking about it, it’s all about what we do on the pitch. That spirit has been united with the fans realising how much the players are playing for the club now and there must have been a time when the fans didn’t feel that and the players didn’t show that.

I believe it’s been a joint effort and the board in amongst all of that have desperately tried to support what I want to do. Sometimes they couldn’t afford it but I’m a crafty son of a bitch who goes around trying to get other people involved. The fans have been fantastic what with little kids giving their pocket money in and other people with money who helped out because they want us to succeed so badly. It’s been an unusual situation but the spirit I’ve felt here shows the club is special.

There are people behind the scenes who’ve been here for years and years, who care about the place so much and they make it what it is. None more so than Shelia Marson, I’ve got so much time for that lady it’s frightening. Any player gets any problem with anything and she helps them way above and beyond the call of duty. As far as I’m concerned there’s some fantastic people at this club, they’ve had some hard times and deserve some success and hopefully that’s just around the corner. Kenny seemed to work more in hand with you than under you, how much do you miss his input?

IH: I believe long term that we made a mistake letting him go but Ken wanted to be a manager and the way the lads have performed and conducted themselves made him sought after. I wish him all the best, he was someone I hadn’t worked with before, he was incredibly professional and he deserves to get on. This club has had blows before and lost good people but the club is always bigger than any one individual.

On a personal level I’ll miss him and it’s meant I’ve got to do a bit more than I had to do before. The structure when Kenny was here was good, everyone was doing their own job and I was overseeing things so I’ve had to step up and do one or two other things.

Change can frighten people though and I think perhaps the players were wobbled a little when they heard a rumour on the Saturday of the Bristol City game about Kenny going. Maybe we should have told them before the game but Ken didn’t want it that way, he thought it would affect them but half of them found out anyway. That’s hindsight though, it’s easy to say after the event “Holloway should have done this, Holloway should have done that” but that’s after the event and funnily enough that’s when Holloway realises it as well! You’ve mentioned criticism there, how do you guide players through when they get a rough time from the crowd?

IH: I stick up for them if I feel it’s right and the stick they’re getting is unjust, sometimes you do it publicly, sometimes privately to the players. You have to use every situation as a manager to your advantage. I’ve only felt once or twice in my time here that the stick we were getting was unfair. I think the expectation level is so great now because of the players we’ve got here; we’ve almost got hero worship back again whereas when I first came here it was all about the players we used to have. Everybody would say “oh we used to have him and him and him” and nobody ever talked about the ones we had and that’s when I knew I had to change a fair few of them and bring in some new heroes.

I’ve said to this lot that they’ve got a great chance to put themselves on the QPR map and be part of a promotion winning side, I’ve done it once and it’s tremendous, I still talk about it now and I want them to share in that experience. Not everyone can do it, I know players that go through their whole careers without winning a promotion. I still believe we can be champions, so do the lads but that just words: it’s all there to do. We’ve got three games to go, nine points to go for and if we can get all of them we’ll be automatically promoted. I know it’s a big if, but with our players, why not and that fills me with pride to be able to say that.

We won’t have done it if we beat Plymouth, we might if we then go and beat Swindon as well but for me people celebrate far too early. We scored after three minutes last week and everyone was singing about scores from the other places, we don’t need that we need to focus on what we’re doing. I swear we took our foot off the gas, you can’t be totally focussed thinking “what’s going on over there”. You’ve got to make sure you do the job, if I’m disappointed about anything this season it’s that we’ve given ourselves a lead so many times but we haven’t seen it through and good teams learn how to do that, they learn how to win and they keep doing it. In the past QPR have half done it and half took their foot off the gas and I don’t want the players to think like the club used to.

The attitude of the players at the moment has shone out of late, no hesitation, go and get it and if you get knocked down get up and go and get it back and that’s what makes this little fella from Bristol feel the way he is feeling at the minute. I’ve never ever felt like this, I never felt I was good enough as a player, even when I came here but at the moment I’m looking at my team and my squad and I am filling with pride because I believe that they are moving the right way. I keep telling them everyday how lucky they are to be in this position at this club. I believe they treasure that, they appreciate it and they just want to finish it now. Do you think it helps having so many supporters of the club in the team: do they encourage the others on more?

IH: That’s a difficult one because in this type of run-in they might care too much and lose a bit of focus, run off and do someone else’s job instead of calling them, staying calm and doing their job, you can’t do two peoples jobs because you’ll be out of position.

No one wants it more than Kevin Gallen but I don’t want him to get tense or he won’t be able to produce what he needs to. I just believe it could be our time; it could be Kev’s moment to be part of the good times at QPR rather than part of the bad times.

My Dad taught me life is about people, it ain’t about where you come from or who you are. You should be able to stand in a room and talk to anybody, learn from everybody and love them for who they are. That’s what we’re trying to get here with the players we’ve got, we care for the people that get criticised and we’re there for them and one day they’ll be there for us. That’s what you need and when I first came to this club it wasn’t like that. How do you explain the gulf between our away form last season and this season?

IH: It might be our away form that actually secures promotion and then would you be talking about the gulf between it?

I believe the status of our club has made it very difficult on the road, I feel every game we play away from home is the biggest the club we’re playing has and I believe the referee’s sub-consciously balance it up a little bit because we are a massive club in this division in everybody else’s eyes.

I also believe some of the players haven’t had their focus right and got too wound up with referees’ decisions that cost us. Some of our away performances have been better than some of the games we’ve won at home but we haven’t seen them through. Last week summed it up for me, we should have had two penalties and we didn’t get them. Looking ahead to Plymouth I think it’s fair to say that they’re not the greatest squad of individuals but they are a great team. What do you think about what they’ve done down there?

IH: Again it’s spirit, they’ve got standards set by their former manager and they’ve grown strong because of it. I think they’re very difficult to break down, they’re excellent at set pieces, they’re big, strong, committed and to have any chance of beating them you’ve got to work as hard as they do to start with and not many people have matched up to that. We’ll have our work cut out but I believe that if anybody’s made to do it, it’s us.

On our day we’re big, we’re strong and we’ve also got talent on top of that that can come on and unlock a door. It’s all about being solid and I try to surround myself with talented players and get them to work hard.

Who knows what’s going to happen, people keep asking me “what do you think, what do you think?” but I’m just fed up of talking, I want my actions to speak for me. I believe in this lot and I believe they can achieve something. If I could give it to you now I would because you all deserve it but unfortunately life doesn’t let you do that so we’ve got to take what we want. We’ve got to stay focussed and never believe we’ve got it in the bag because the second you do that, you take your eye off the ball and it goes. I don’t want them thinking like that, I want them totally focussed on the next time that ball moves, even if it’s after we’ve just scored.

If Plymouth have any advantage over us it’s that they’ve learned through success together before. We’ve not had that, when you get success you know you can do it and you understand what it took to do it. Once we get it we’ll move forward. I don’t know what’s going to happen but I’m looking forward to it! Is it better in a way going into games like this knowing we have to get a result?

IH: If you lose too many of these last three you’re not going to do it are you? That’s the facts, if you can win the first two, we might well go up. Sometimes after a defeat you have to stop and look at what you’ve achieved because it’s easy to get caught up in the disappointment just like it’s easy when you’ve won four to think “oh we’re so great”. It doesn’t work that way, you have to step out and see the overall picture.

I got angry the other night at the do, a fella told me that if I’d left McLeod on we’d have won on Saturday but I do apologise to him because he has every right to say that.

They’re a good bunch of lads and I’ve got to treat them right but sometimes, if they’re not doing it, you’ve got to trust me to sort them out and make them do it. It’s like having kids, I’ve got four at home and a load here. It’s about rewarding good behaviour. At the end of the season when we sit down and sort out the contracts I’ll be in a position for the first time in my life to reward the ones that have done really well. If we have to go through the play offs will it be harder to deal with a second time, is it an advantage, or are you not even thinking about them?

IH: That’s not even concerning me at the minute because it’s still all to play for. Last Saturday though we were already confirmed in the play offs with four games to go. Last year we secured that at Colchester and that was good enough for us at the time. Now it’s not good enough for us and that shows the steps forward we have taken. Whatever it is and whenever it is we’re going to be good enough to get there. I would dearly love it to be the championship because I think we deserve it. If we can go to Plymouth and win and beat Swindon and beat Sheffield Wednesday then we will deserve it, if we don’t then we won’t. It’s in our hands, as long as we don’t roll over and die because I won’t put up with that and you lot wouldn’t ever forgive us.

Around the time we lost Danny I thought “here goes my luck again” lost a huge player and we couldn’t replace him because we had no money. Then the next thing we ended up bringing in Arthur Gnohere, then the fans got together and bought in Jamie Cureton. Then I started believing.

IF we have to go through the play offs, IF we have to have another Cardiff, IF and IF and IF and IF. You’re wasting your time and energy dealing with all that. I was stood at the reserves the other night and I heard this kid saying “well if Bristol City do that and if QPR do this” IF IF IF IF IF! Let’s just look forward to each game as it comes. We won’t roll over and die, we’ll keep going whatever and we’ve got a chance to pull it out of the fire with the talent that we’ve got and the people I’ve got on the bench.

I remember Alex Ferguson saying that he always believes one of his players would score from thirty five yards and he never knew which one it would be. I always used to think wouldn’t that be nice but I know how he feels now because that’s what we’re trying to do just at a lower level. For the first time in my career I sit there and I’m really excited thinking about who I have to leave out today. I think to myself how’s he going to take it, cos if I was that good I wouldn’t be happy being sub but hang on, wait a minute, I was in a stronger squad than this at QPR and I was delighted to be bloody sub!

I wish it was there and I wish it was already done and celebration time but it isn’t and we’ve got some big things to do yet and it’s no good counting your chickens. Even if we’re two nil up with five minutes to go on Saturday don’t think we’ve already done it, we’ve got to kill it off, hold people down and strangle the life out of them. If you could pick one moment from this season and change it what would it be?

IH: All the games that we were ahead in games and dropped points. I would give every single one of my players the knowledge as to why we let them slip because we’d already be up now. You have to have enough people who are strong to lead the others when they are wobbling and then you all get stronger. Once players have lost something they learn and I don’t think they all realise yet that every single yard of every single game matters. Every single second of every single game matters. Once they’ve got that and they realise how important it is, just a couple of yards to get back in shape, just a couple of yards to run into an attacking position (like we didn’t do against Bristol City) once they realise that it’s absolutely vital on both sides of it, then I’ll be happy. We’re not there yet but we’re working towards it.

If you look at Kevin Gallen and how he trains now, the way he’s living and looking after his body compared to how he was last time he was here. That’s why he’s one of our best players. I used to keep on at him as a player that it’s about what you put in during the week that you get out on a Saturday. Wigan, Cardiff and Crewe have done well since last season. How well do you think the current squad could cope with division one?

IH: I think what they’ve all had is a winning spirit and when I first came here that’s what was lost. When you’ve had success and you keep that squad together they realise what it’s all about. They’ve had some money to add to it, Wigan have got Jason Roberts, and I think Cardiff added four players, including nicking Langley off us.

We’ve been trying to bring first division quality players here, we’ve begged some of them, we’ve borrowed some of them and we’ve stolen some of them more or less. You only have to look at Richard Johnson from Stoke and Watford, Jamie Cureton was at Reading and Arthur Gnohere from Burnley. We’re trying to add that sort of standard and it’s not easy when you’ve got a limited budget but if you can create an atmosphere at work where everyone wants to come in because they see they are benefiting whether they are playing or not then it becomes somewhere people want to be for the right reasons, to work, to get better, to move forward.

When I came here I thought it was a place where people were just picking up their money and were happy to do that. Gerry was in a situation where he inherited that problem and if he hadn’t added the ones he did, Jermaine Darlington, Peter Crouch and Stuart Wardley we could have had problems. We got 1.4 million for two of them and we got fourteen goals in the first division from the other one and without that money we could have well gone under.

I don’t believe the gulf is massive between divisions one and two and I’m trying to bring players in who will be good in the first division but we’ve got to get out of the horrible second division first. We have a promising youth team and players like Scott Donnelly, Stefan Bailey, John Fletcher, Scott Mulholland and Jake Cole have made their mark on the reserves this season, how excited are you about their potential?

IH: I’m expecting these lads to come through and knock for a first team position, hopefully some of the names you’ve said there will do that because that’s what I want, some youth, hunger and desire coupled with decent, proper pro’s. These lads have got a hell of an opportunity to be a part of something that’s done right whereas the crop I had before, I felt, had an attitude problem. They were promised too much and gave us little back.

It’s all about attitude, we’ve got some exciting ability in some of the names you mentioned there like Scott Donnelly and Stefan Bailey, I think Jake Cole has been very unlucky because he did really well out on loan and had he been fit I might not have had to get Campy in, he might have been given a chance.

The attitude of those kids is fantastic and that’s what makes a player and I want to bring through as much home grown talent as possible. Will you say to Tim and Gary that you want to see x player in the reserves or will they come to you and say “you should have a look at this lad”?

IH: it’s structure you’re talking about, it’s all about the first team really and that’s where it was wrong before I took over. We had a youth structure where everyone was held back to their own age group because they felt results were important but it’s about producing players.

We’ve culled a lot of the age groups because financially it wasn’t right, we kept the best of each group and moved them up so they’re being stretched every week. That’s when you find out about someone’s character and that’s why the likes of Scott Donnelly and Stefan Bailey have played a fair few reserve games this season. What I’ve got to try and do is bring them through and give them decent opportunities to step up the ladder and keep going. It’s been an ongoing thing but I will only give my first team group to the reserves if I feel they need a game. Last week we had Day, Forbes, Johnson, Thorpe and McLeod all playing because I wanted to watch and assess where they are for the first team. Anybody who’s on board and I don’t feel is taking us forward I might loan out and that frees up a place in the reserves for a youngster, because it’s not about results, it’s about experience.

The brilliant thing though is the club is united from first team down to under nines. We’re all singing off the same song sheet and that wasn’t happening before. Hopefully there will be room if they are good enough to come through. Look at Marcus Bean, no one expected him to have as many first team games as he has had. We know he still has to make progress but I’m delighted in the progress he has already made. He’s given us something that we sorely needed, which is a bit of steel and anger in midfield, he breaks up things and he gets there and his desire shows through. I think we missed him when he was out, we lost Marcus and Danny Shittu and both of them have pace and power and you can’t have a team in the second division without that. The kid has been excellent and there’s potential there to improve. Hopefully some of these lads will have the opportunity to step on and do that for us as well.

In the future I hope to be able to pluck from the youth team rather than going out into the loan market. Before there was no way through to the first team, there was no togetherness. Now we’ve got say Scott Donnelly, who’s already trained and played for Tim in the reserves, if he carries on like that he’ll be in his first year with us next season and we’ll be moving him on with us. There is the opportunity to progress and move on and Marcus Bean has proved that. If the second division is more of a physical division do you think division one will be more of a footballing division and therefore easier to bring youngsters into the first team?

IH: That’s a very good question. I think you have to have the right standard of player first. You have to keep the commitment and the work rate in division one, but some teams might back off you a little bit more and give you more space to play. I think you have to do both sides but do them both better. I don’t think you can suddenly say we’re going to play more football because we’re in the first division, if you play in the wrong areas you’ll lose the ball. You have to keep playing and working off a decent shape and the football will come. It’s about developing but you have to keep the qualities that get you up.

All the best teams do it, you only have to watch the champions league the other night, every time a Chelsea player had the ball Monaco were all over them like a bad rash and they only had ten men. You can’t step off of people, you have to keep pressing and closing and I don’t know if enough is made of that.

If you look at Arsenal when they haven’t got the ball how hard do they work as a group to get it back? Some of the lads have got to realise that. For example with Kevin McLeod, its not the first thing he does that’s the problem it’s if he stops and sulks about it and if you give him stick it affects him even more. So all I say to you is please don’t do that shout “unlucky Kev” instead and that’ll pick him up.

You have to do the same things in division one which is close down, keep it tight and play off your front with quality. People said halfway through the year there was too many long balls and we should keep it on the floor but when teams press on you because they realise how dangerous you are they force us to hit a long ball and when I had Gallen and Thorpe upfront I didn’t want to hit long balls but they made us and that’s good play on their part.

It’s all about selection and the higher up the divisions you go the more you have to select the right pass. We’re not about smashing it long, squeezing up and chasing it, we’re about looking forward. Your first look should be can I get my centre forward in, cos normally they’re your best players, and then get your wide men joining them. It’s about playing in the right areas and using that to put them under pressure. You watch Plymouth they will hit it to Mickey Evans, hit it to Mickey Evans, hit it to Mickey Evans. We’ve got to deal with it and then break off on it Do you want to stay whatever division we’re in?

IH: Yeh I don’t want to go anywhere else. I don’t feel I’ve achieved what I can at this football club yet. I want to be here for as long as their ambition matches mine. I wouldn’t be happy to get in the first division and just sit there, I want to push towards the top of it and I know that means a lot of money to bring in better players but that’s what I want to do. I don’t want to sell my best players, I’ve had enough of that. I want to be somewhere that’s moving forward and I think the potential at this club and the excitement we could generate is fantastic.

You haven’t asked me anything negative yet? Don’t you want to have a go at me about something? OK! Well if you took a straw poll at Loftus Road most people you asked would say we should be more attacking at home and look to be playing Rowlands central with Bircham and two wide men.

IH: Who’s going to win the ball back then? Birch wants to go forward and so does Rowly. We played that against Man City and they did us twice and none of our midfield saw any danger whatsoever when it went over their head. The last goal summed it up when the central midfield player run off the back of Rowlands and Bircham and slotted in the winger who ran off the back of McLeod and that shouldn’t be happening. When the ball goes over your head any midfielder worth his salt does both sides of the job.

Look at Patrick Vieira, what’s his best attribute? Everyone sees how he flicks it over someone but what about how he gets the ball back. He technically could play centre half and who does Wenger play him in there with? Edu and he’s practically a defender. It’s about both sides of the game, in that midfield area you’ve got to have balance. Truthfully speaking would you have played Simon Osborn and Ray Wilkins in the same team together? Who’s going to win you the ball back?

It’s all about balance when you’re in and out of possession and what I love about Rowly is he does both sides of the game in a wide area cos he wants to get forward. The way I play, if I put him in the centre and he bombs forward there’s too big a gap left and someone will hurt us. If he does it at the right time and gets on the end and scores, great, but what about if it happens at the wrong time? You’ve got to be solid up the middle.

It’s all about opinions, at the end of the day I’m the one who picks the team. I don’t expect everyone to agree but I’d like people to understand. Eventually I haven’t got a problem playing Rowlands in the centre but it’s about timing and having the right blend and balance to do it.

Everyone wanted me to play Langley in the centre but sometimes his head was about going forward and he wasn’t that switched on out of possession. Isn’t it funny how Cardiff played him on the wing? Richard looked great in Gerry’s old system, Gerry stood him in the middle of a centre three and told him to get on the ball and ping it everywhere but that’s a luxury. The best midfield players in the world do both sides of the game – Steven Gerrard, Vieira, Roy Keane. That’s what we have to do, be solid up the middle and get flair on the outside.

If we need anything right now it’s a free kick specialist and that’s where we miss Langley. Rich used to practise and practise and believe in himself and I need someone with that mentality towards it and I haven’t quite got there yet. We need that at the minute, when it’s tight knock one in under the bar, lovely jubbly. With three games to go what’s your message to the fans?

IH: Enjoy it, sing your heads off for the lads and whatever the score keep believing. Keep believing that one of them is going to get the goal that does it for us. Be proud of your club, don’t sit there and worry – enjoy the moment because this could be the best time of your life so why waste energy worrying.

I expect people to have their own opinions but I believe that everyone deserves to be encouraged. If I stood and moaned at my kids when they got things wrong and grumbled to them while they were doing it I don’t think that would be positive, I don’t think that would help them at all. Don’t take your own fears and worries out on your own team. If you must voice it then let it be afterwards, in a bar with your mates but while you’re there just encourage the living daylights out of them because I know from my life’s experience when you can do that in the face of adversity you get much better results.

You can turn a bad ball into a good one by being positive and it really does help when you get that all around the ground. I said all that “come round my house stuff” before and the next game the noise was fantastic. Even if we’re three nil down with your encouragement I believe we can come back. I know our players don’t deliberately mean to get it wrong, this group aren’t like that. They might be feeling nervous, however nervous you are how do you think they’re feeling?

The first thing anyone asks me when I meet them in the street is “are we going to do it then?” I don’t know, what am I a fecking mind reader! My names not Derek Acura and I’m not on Most Haunted, I don’t know! But I believe we can and if you’re a believer like me then let the lads know cos that might well be the difference. It was in the team I played in that won promotion and I would dearly love to bring that feeling to this club.

I’m delighted with what’s happened over the last couple of years and I was delighted with the atmosphere after Cardiff because I know what we all felt like. It was an injustice because we outplayed them in the second half. Should have squared it, should have shot, Kev should have scored, Thommo should have scored. Then they stick a 1.5 million ginger centre forward on and he scored. In years to come, how do you hope to remembered?

IH: Not about the bloke in the taxi and the bird, I don’t want that! If I’ve ever regretted any one thing I’ve said in my life, Jesus what the hell was that all about! And not as the idiot on soccer am who talks with a dodgy accent either!

In seriousness it’s not for me to say is it? I’ll remember it as a good period in my life, if I ever do leave it’ll be because I can’t take them any further and I’ll be happy with what I’ve achieved. The hardest thing in my position is you can be sat here one minute and gone the next but I hope people will appreciate how difficult the job was, how many people didn’t want it in the first place but how much enthusiasm I’ve given it. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it even in the worst times cos I believe in this place. It’s the best club I ever played for in a million miles, I never forget the first game I came on as a sub here was Arsenal away and this little kid from Bristol replaced Ray Wilkins. I almost asked for his autograph when he came up to me!

The cruellest thing about football life is you’re only ever appreciated when you’re gone. I’ve appreciated ever cheer I’ve ever had from the crowd, every person who’s come and bought a season ticket, even if they have moaned a bit.

I want to leave something, whenever that is and hopefully it’s a long time in the future, but I want to leave something behind that everyone talks about in the right way and even maybe some of the people who aren’t appreciative of it now will say “hang on a minute, that weren’t bad”. Everything I’ve ever done is genuine, if I’ve made a mistake it’s because I was trying to make things better and it didn’t work. That’s what they’ll put on my tombstone “here lies Olly, he tried”.

I don’t want to go though, I want that to be a long time in the future but right now we’ve got a massive 10 days in front of us but what an opportunity it is.

All I’m going to be saying on Saturday is “c’mon lads, don’t let your fears stand in the way of your dreams. Let’s go and do it, lets make it happen. You deserve it”. That’s it in a nutshell.

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