Monday, December 10, 2018

The Kenny Jackett Interview

Our latest interview is with assistant manager Kenny Jackett. He talks frankly about our style of play, the start to the season, our injury problems and much more. Many thanks to Kenny for taking the time out of his day to meet with us, we hope you enjoy it Having been a manager yourself, what attracted you to Rangers and to “stepping down” to become an assistant?

KJ: Two things really. One was Ian Holloway as a person, I wanted to work with him and the second was the club itself. Queens Park Rangers is such a big club so I thought it was a fantastic opportunity. You really have to work here to realise just how big this club is and to be honest it’s a privilege to work here in whatever capacity. How does being a manager and being an assistant differ?

KJ: The football world is very focused on the manager and not so much on the assistant, that’s the way it is. Day to day the best managers will work in partnership with their assistant. He’ll need someone to talk to and share things with because he can’t do everything himself. He needs to trust him and let them put their input into things because one person can’t cover every aspect and see everything that’s going on. Media wise the focus is on the manager but at the club, day to day, it’s not like that. The focus is on both of you.

There are different situations of course. When I was at Watford I worked under Graham Taylor and he was a different generation to me, I was in my thirties and he was in his mid fifties. I took the responsibility for the work outside and Graham was more of an old fashioned, behind the desk, office manager.

Coming into Queens Park Rangers, myself and Ian are of a similar age so we both tend to share a little bit of everything. Ian likes to be outside a lot, as I do, so we share everything across the board whereas at Watford there were more defined roles. I imagine the club has changed dramatically from the day you joined, are things easier for the management team now?

KJ: I wouldn’t say life is easy. It’s a precarious industry but I feel the club is in a much better position now. Ian came in about six months before me and he had fifty one professionals and was about to be relegated to the second division. We feel we’ve come a long way since then, financially and football wise. Our squad has gradually improved and we’re quite streamlined now. We don’t feel we’ve got the high earners knocking around who can’t get in the team or people who are lazy or disrespected for not doing a job for the club.

The standard of the squad is getting better and we’re constantly looking to improve it. It’s not easy to do but that’s our aim, it can be from the youth system, loans or free transfers, it doesn’t matter what avenue they come from.

Balance is very important to us, in the early days we had so many square pegs trying to fit into round holes. The aim is to have the balance right so that if we do have someone injured we’ve got someone else who can fit right in and has experience of playing in that position.

Things are encouraging on the youth side though. We feel Marcus Bean has made some progress in the first team this year and we’re very pleased with that. Also we’ve got an under seventeen group who are doing very well in their league. It would be nice to produce some of our own players over the next few years and there’s every possibility of that. How did you and Olly manage to persuade quality players like Chris Day to join the club at a time when our future was so uncertain?

KJ: The club was in administration, which makes it difficult but the players all did very well. If you take Chris as an example he had other offers but he didn’t feel he would be the number one. He’s played for Spurs, Crystal Palace and Watford in the Premiership but he didn’t really get that number one position. Coming to Queens Park Rangers at the time we didn’t have another goal keeper on the books, just one youth team kid. To get a fair crack at the number one spot would have been an attraction for him.

Chris is developing into a very good goal keeper and at twenty eight his best years are ahead of him too. He’s got a good future ahead of him and he’s very popular at Queens Park Rangers with staff, players and supporters alike. I’d like to think he’s a good addition. Steve Palmer was another we brought in at the time and he did very well, he helped stabilise the club and the team in a lot of positions. One of the things you have a heavy input in is our set piece training. Do you feel a sense of personal pride when you see one come off on the pitch?

KJ: It’s very satisfying; we work very hard on them. Choosing the right personnel is very important for a successful set piece. I read a quote from Bobby Robson a couple of weeks ago and he said that one of the first things he does when he goes into a club is if there isn’t an expert set piece taker then go get one. It’s a very good philosophy because your service is only as good as the people you put in there.

Last year we had Richard Langley whipping them in from the left and Gino Padula taking them from the right. We thought we had excellent service and it gave our boys in the middle some firepower to work with. This year all our goals from set pieces have come from Gino on the right either direct from a free kick or a corner.

Unfortunately we’ve not had the same consistency from the left this season. We’ve needed a right footer coming over to take them and we’ve not been consistent at it. I feel Martin Rowlands has got that type of quality, he’s got a very good right foot and can hit good free kicks and corners, we just need to get him being a little more consistent with them. Going into the Grimsby game we didn’t have Gino and I don’t think we had the same quality as we’re used to, which was disappointing.

We work very hard at them though, we practice every day and you’ll see us practicing before every game in the warm up. Practice makes perfect! The tactics employed by the team are often criticised for being too direct, how would you describe our style of play and is the direct style something dictated to the players or something that pans out as the game goes on?

KJ: I think it’s realistic to getting results in the second division. It’s sometimes very difficult to play in this league because sides work so hard at closing you down. If you go up into division one you come across better teams and better players and they concentrate on what they are doing because they have the talent to be able to do that. In this league people worry about what you’re going to do, particularly when they play us.

We found in the second half of last season we had to battle first then play on top of that. If you can do both you’ll do well so that’s what we do, we look to battle and mix it up with anybody but to play football on top of that.

If you just try and play and don’t battle I think it would become difficult to get out of this division, which is our priority. If you come and watch us in training you’ll see we like the ball, we like to pass, we like to play and work on touch but it’s being able to marry the two, that’s myself and Ian’s ideal.

If you go in with a team of ball players, small, skilful lads you’ll get beaten up in this league. If you go with all big players and scrap it out like a lot of sides do I don’t think that would be quite enough to get promotion. We feel when we’ve got everyone fit we’ve got a great mix in the squad to get us out of this division.

We’re in the results business and to get results at this level you need a certain amount of physical presence. As you move through the leagues, and hopefully we will, you have to adapt your game again. Someone like Paul Furlong must be vital to that ethos then?

KJ: I think he epitomises it for me. Big centre forwards are common at this level but most don’t have any touch or receiving skills and can’t bring people into the game. Paul Furlong is the ideal man because he can battle against a centre half who is trying to go through him at every opportunity but he’s also got terrific touch, he can pass the ball and he can finish. That’s what you’re looking for in a player.

We want to start to bring the likes of Danny Shittu and Clarke Carlisle on the same way now. They get paid for clean sheets first and foremost but on top of that can they give their midfielders and centre forwards a better service? Can they start to bring the ball out from the back and pass it? They’re young players and they’ve got it physically but the reason they’re playing in the second division is there is something that needs to worked on. When Furlong is out of the side we lack something in height and power so a lot of people would ask why we would lob long balls up when we have Gallen and Thorpe upfront?

KJ: Quite often what happens in the second division is the ball goes long from the keeper because it’s hard to throw a ball out when you’re being closed down all the time. So then you’ll need some physical presence to pick it up. It’s the player after that who’ll need to be able to pass it, play the one two’s or hit the perceptive pass.

If we play Gallen and Thorpe together we feel we need to slide balls down the side, quite low balls at chest height and below and they’ll be bright and sharp enough to deal with it. However on a long ball Kevin Gallen actually does quite well. He pins against the centre half and lays it off to a midfield player and that’s where we start to play.

From the moment Kevin, or Paul Furlong for that matter, bring the ball down that’s when I come alive on the side because I can see the next pass going to midfield or wide and through and we can make a chance from there.

If you take Gallen out of the front two as we had to at Grimsby we lose all of that. Then we didn’t have any options for receiving the ball upfront either from short or long balls. We were poor at Grimsby as a result of that and created very little. Don’t get me wrong Kevin plays well in midfield but with him or Paul upfront the ball sticks and then the passing starts. We’re working very hard with Tony Thorpe to do the same thing and he’s capable of doing it. How happy are you with the start of the season?

KJ: Reasonably so, it’s all there for us. With our best side fit we’re a dangerous force. There’s been times where we’ve been short but still scrapped a result out. Once everyone is fit and playing I think we can do what we’re capable of and that’s consistently put together runs of four or five wins on the trot which we haven’t been able to do yet. If we do that it will start to take us away from the pack, it’ll breed confidence in the team and you’ll see a different level of performance.

No disrespect to the boys that have come in but I think we would need almost a fully fit side to select from. With Shittu playing in the reserves this week and the likes of Bircham, Padula and Edghill all coming back to fitness and Paul Furlong about two weeks away we’re almost there.

We’re not disappointed with the start at all, we had a great result in the cup at Sheffield which helped us financially and we’re in a good position in the league but we could have done better and during the course of the season we’ll be looking to aspire to that.

At times our understanding on the pitch and knowledge of where each other are has been very poor, at other times we’ve been very cohesive. If you look at the Sheffield United game we were strong enough to stand up to them physically but we were also capable of getting the ball on the floor and playing them as well. That’s our aim, it might not be easy and I feel with everybody back we’ll see that type of balance and the level of performances that could take us away from people in this league. Do you think we’ve been unlucky with injuries?

KJ: Possibly yes. If you look at the start of the season we thought we’d be strong at the back with a pairing of Carlisle and Shittu, a good base for clean sheets and two players who’d cause problems in the other box as well. How many times have we had both of them playing? It’s not been enough. The stand ins have done very well, Gnohere in particular was a loss when Burnley recalled him because Clarke Carlisle was just coming back and we were hoping that his loan would have seen us through to around now when Shittu’s due back. It hasn’t worked out that way but that’s football. We’re in a situation where by the end of the season we want to get promoted and if you look at the big picture we’re still in a very good position to achieve that. Did you think the Blackpool game set expectations too high?

KJ: No not really. I know the fans expectations are promotion but that’s the players and management staffs expectations too! We’re not saying it’s going to be easy and we don’t think we’ll do a Wigan but promotion is a realistic opportunity. The Blackpool game didn’t change that, myself and Ian want it as badly as any fan. How do you think the players would cope if we had to go through the play offs again? Will it be an advantage going into it knowing what’s it like or not?

KJ: I think so, you do see sides being successful by keep getting there, Ipswich Town and Bolton Wanderers for example benefited from doing it a couple of times. If we had to do it through that route then fine but we want to do it automatically. If we get to the end of the season and find we can’t do it then fine we’ll aim for the play offs but at the moment the division is wide open to ten or twelve teams. Look at the amount of points still to be played for, there’s still ninety points to be won or lost. How disappointed were we to get knocked out of the FA Cup?

KJ: It’s interesting; Plymouth, Brighton and Queens Park Rangers have gone out. All three clubs will be saying similar things, like let’s concentrate on the league. You could say that the LDV trophy is important because we have a realistic chance of winning it, have we got a realistic chance of winning the FA Cup? I don’t know but what I do know is I’d rather have played well at Grimsby and won. I don’t think you can pick and choose the games you want to win and lose. Cup games do put a load on what is essentially a small squad here so it might prove to be a blessing in disguise but it doesn’t feel that way when you lose the game. The LDV Trophy gets a lot of criticism, where do you place it as a priority?

KJ: Well we’re into the last eight of the regional section now with a home draw before it goes national. It’s a good position to be in. We’ve got the Brighton game to come which we’re hoping to play on a free weekend if we can work it round the Fulham game that weekend.

If we could get through and it’s Queens Park Rangers versus Sheffield Wednesday in the final for example it would be a fantastic day. With the size of our support it opens it up to being a very useful competition for us. We feel we’ve got a realistic chance of doing well in it and we’re looking forward to playing the next game.

Also with the way the reserve league has been restructured you don’t get as many games so it’s good for players like Dennis Oli, Richard Pacquette etc, who are quite regularly subs for us, to get appearances and it’s interesting for us to assess them during games that are better than reserve team standard. Looking into the future then, do you want to stay a part of this club for a long time?

KJ: Yep. I’m not just saying it; Queens Park Rangers is a fantastic club and I’d love to be a part of its future. Obviously in this job you can’t predict and see where it’s going to go but I feel very privileged to be able to come to a club like this. It’s got a lot of passion around it, fantastic supporters and a terrific stadium.

In terms of the playing staff right now I would argue with anybody who says that it hasn’t moved in the right direction. Things need to keep moving onwards and upwards but I feel Queens Park Rangers is ready to take off again and I’d love to be a part of that.

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