Tag Archives: QPR

Jay Emmanuel-Thomas: from Arsenal highs to struggling at QPR

In 2009, Arsenal won the FA Youth Cup with an aggregate 6-2 victory over holders Liverpool, who were looking to lift the trophy for the third year running.

After that crushing victory, surely many of those young Gunners were destined for stardom?

It would appear that was not the case. Following Francis Coquelin’s transfer to Valencia last month, Jack Wilshere is now the only player from that Cup-winning side who remains an Arsenal player.

The captain of that successful side, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, scored in every round of their cup run that season, and eventually went on to make appearances for the first team in both the Premier League and Champions League.

However, after loans spells at Blackpool, Doncaster and Cardiff he left Arsenal permanently to sign for Ipswich Town in 2011.

A spell at Bristol City followed before he joined QPR in 2015, but after further loan periods at MK Dons and Gillingham, he is currently out of favour and playing the majority of his football for the under-23s.

So, with his experience of the ups and downs of football, what does the 27-year-old striker think about the English youth academy system?

The 27-year-old has been struggling for game time at QPR

Too much, too young?

“Some players do get too much too young, but it’s not their fault,” he told Elephant Sport.

“As a young kid if you get offered a big contract, you’re going to take it, it’s part and parcel of life. No-one will say that’s too much money, you will take it and there’s then a huge expectation on the player.

“It’s hard for some players depending on where they go. At the end of the day, it’s often down to not being able to turn down such a big contract, especially from the big teams.

“It’s not anyone’s fault, but the bigger the club, the more money they have to spend on players’ wages. Sometimes there is too much weight on players’ shoulders.”

Despite the recent success of England’s various age group teams, including winning the U-20 World Cup, Emmanuel-Thomas believes young players at big clubs stand less of a chance of succeeding at the highest level.

“The boys at smaller clubs will probably have a better chance of breaking into their first team, due to finances, smaller squads and so on.

“It’s all well and good someone saying a player has potential, but it’s in training where it counts, what the player is doing off the pitch, so that they have the right to play on the pitch.

‘I just want to be back playing every week, it doesn’t matter where or who for’

“It’s all a matter of timing, waiting and patience. Some people are more patient than others, some want to just go out and play. When the chance comes, you have to take it,” he said.

Having played with Wilshere at both youth and first team level, the East Londoner is  full of praise for the midfielder.

“Jack was always talented from a young age. You could see the ability he had was more advanced than the teams we were playing against.

“If Jack is at his best and fully fit he is potentially England’s best midfielder by a long stretch. It’s all down to him physically and mentally if he can get into that mindset.”

Wenger: a great mentor

Despite Wilshere being the only remaining player from the Youth Cup-winning side of 2009, the striker praised Arsenal’s youth system, and the effect of manager Arsene Wenger on his development.

“It was a great time for me as a player to be captain of a good team. We had some great players in our squad, and out of that entire team there’s only one player who’s not currently playing in the football industry at some level,” he says.

‘If Jack Wilshere is at his best and fully fit he is potentially England’s best midfielder by a long stretch’

“The youth system we had at the time was excellent. You can see from the players Arsenal have produced, and continue to produce now, the standard is incredible.

“I think Arsene Wenger evolved Arsenal as a club. He changed a lot, brought in certain styles of play, brought in players that nobody had heard of and made them into superstars.

“He’s been given these new contracts for a specific reason. As far as I’m concerned, he was a great manager to work with and to play for, and he should still be in charge.”

Moving on

Despite making his way into the first team at Arsenal, Emmanuel-Thomas believes he had to leave the club to further his career, and has no regrets in doing so.

“From our age group we had several players potentially getting a game for the first team.

“Just before I left, I was getting minutes in the first team, as were Craig Eastmond and Jack Wilshere. Coquelin was in and out. Kyle Bartley and Henri Lansbury played a few cup games.

“But it was a decision that I had to make. I could’ve stuck around at Arsenal, potentially never knowing what was going to happen. For me, I still feel like I made the right decision leaving Arsenal.”

For the man nicknamed ‘JET’, the youth team he captained at Arsenal was also triumphant in terms of players making their way into professional football.

“It was a successful team, I know players from the year above us and the year below us that are no longer playing football at all,” he says.

But what does the future now hold for JET?

“I just want to be back playing every week, it doesn’t matter where or who for. I have a family to provide for, it’s all about playing the game and providing for my family, that’s the main goal.”

You can follow Jay on Twitter @OfficialJET10

Ferdinand ‘hellbent’ on seeing young talent shine

With the current success of Tottenham Hotspur, the calls for more top clubs to give players from their youth systems a chance has never been louder.

But is it as simple as doing exactly that? Giving them ‘a chance’.

“A lot of managers don’t work with the under 21s so they don’t see the progress or what they’re getting”

According to ex-Spurs coach, Premier League legend and current QPR technical director Les Ferdinand, it should be no great surprise that so few English talents are given regular opportunities.

Ferdinand, who was part of the coaching set-up at Spurs which saw current golden boy Harry Kane become a regular, believes that for these youngsters to get a chance, managers must be afforded more time at their club.

“When a manager takes over, unless you’re an Arsene Wenger or a Sir Alex Ferguson you know your tenure is going to be somewhere between a year and two years, and that’s being generous.” Ferdinand told me.

“In that time you’re going to play your most experienced players. You’re not taking a chance on an under-21 when you don’t know what his capabilities are.”

Involved

So why then, when Ferdinand was afforded a first-team role in the coaching staff alongside manager Tim Sherwood after the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas, were players like Harry Kane and Nabil Bentaleb given an opportunity?

“It is a concept that makes a lot of sense yet it so rarely acted on. To give the youngsters a chance, the manager must be given a chance”

“The reason we were able to give these youngsters a chance was because we worked with them for five years at the academy, prior to Tim Sherwood. So with myself and Chris Ramsay becoming more involved with the first team, we knew what we were getting.

“A lot of first team managers at clubs don’t work with the under 21s so they don’t see the progress or what they’re getting. They don’t know them well enough.

“How managers view these young players now about sending them out on loan so they’ve played ‘men’s football’ and can then judge them from that.”

It is a concept that makes a lot of sense yet it so rarely acted on. To give the youngsters a chance, the manager must be given a chance.

Opportunity

Was Ferdinand sure then, having worked with the academy at Tottenham Hotspur, that when given a chance, these players would flourish?

“When I was at Spurs the young boys we had, we felt if we gave an opportunity to, they would do well.

“Old-school managers go with old-school players. Their though process is to go with the most experienced players because I know they’ve been there and done it.”

Fast-forward two years, and Ferdinand – a renowned striker for clubs including Spurs, QPR, Newcastle, Besiktas and Leicester (as well as for England) – is now technical director at QPR, temporarily putting his coaching career on hold.

Despite his change in job, ‘Sir Les’ as he is popularly known, is just as determined as ever to see academy players given a chance at his current club.

Constant changes

Of course, QPR have long been a club looking for stability, both on the pitch as well as off it.

“For a club of QPR’s size, we need to have a steady stream of players coming through the system and playing in our first team”

Constant changes in managers and first-team players have seen the West Londoners yo-yo from Premier League to Championship in recent seasons.

However, it is one statistic in particular that sticks out like a sore thumb for Ferdinand.

“For 16 years now, QPR have not had anyone come through the academy system and play for the first team on a consistent basis.

“This is one of my bugbears and one of the things I want to get right.

“For a club of QPR’s size, we need to have a steady stream of players coming through the system and playing in our first team. I am hell-bent on getting the academy structure right.”

Coaching

As I look at Ferdinand, who still has the physique of a 25-year-old Premier League striker by the way, it is obvious he means what he says and that he will do all he can make these changes in his new role.

But does he see himself as being stable in that role for the foreseeable future, or can he see himself go back into the coaching world?

“If I can implant any bit of knowledge from my time playing onto someone else that improves them as a footballer, then I get a lot of joy out of that”

“I like being a director of football, despite the amount of stick I’m taking at the moment!” he said.

“I did enjoy coaching, and I’m sure I will get back into it one day. I’m out there on the sidelines at training every day, have a little bit of input now and again and I do enjoy it.

“For me it’s all about making people better, and if I can implant any bit of knowledge from my time playing onto someone else that improves them as a footballer, then I get a lot of joy out of that.”

It is at this time that our interview was briefly interrupted by a fan wanting a picture with Ferdinand.

If he can help turn QPR into a more stable club and provide England with top-level footballers for the future, requests for selfies might become an even more regular occurrence.

Who knows, perhaps ‘Sir Les’ could even become a reality, rather than an endearing nickname.

Falco hoping Kane earns his spurs as a title winner

In 1984-85, Mark Falco scored 22 times for Tottenham Hotspur in the old Division One.

Falco was, in the words of the song fans sing at White Hart Lane, the last ‘One of Our Own’ to notch at least 20 league goals in one campaign.

Until, of course, last season – where if you fast forward 30 years – Harry Kane achieved the same feat.

It was a long time coming for a club steeped in homegrown heroes – the kind that bleed the blue and white of Spurs and live by their motto: ‘To Dare Is To Do’.

Spurs legend Falco says the fact that it took three decades for his mark to be equalled speaks volumes.

“I’m very proud of my record playing for Spurs. It took 30 years for Harry Kane to be the next homegrown player to score 20 league goals, so you see it’s not that easy.”

Team spirit

“Not that easy” is still putting it pretty modestly, but then Falco is one of the gentleman of the game.

Aside from the obvious comparisons between him and Kane, there are also many similarities to the team Falco featured in during the 1984-85 season and the one Kane is currently thriving in.

“I think some of us played nearly 70 matches, so we just ran out of steam”

“The current team is doing extremely well and looks like it could be a very successful season,” said the Bethnal Green-born striker.

“They seem to have the same spirit that we had as a team and are playing some very exciting football which we tried to play.”

That Spurs side, like the current one, were pushing for the league title. Unfortunately, arguably due to the sheer amount of games including European commitments, they fell away in the closing weeks of an arduous season.

Accolades

Were Falco’s personal achievements in front of goal rendered meaningless as his team fell short?

“Obviously it was a very big blow not to have won the league as we were so close, but then we didn’t have the big squads they have now.

“We were also in every competition and into the final phases of the cups. I think some of us played nearly 70 matches, so we just ran out of steam.

“It’s always nice to have personal accolades, but the team is more important. Besides, if the team is doing well then accolades normally follow.”

Now 55, Falco can certainly be proud of his career at his boyhood club.

Disappointment

Making his debut for Tottenham in 1979, he went on to score 98 goals in 236 games for the North Londoners, helping them win the 1984 Uefa Cup with one of their successful penalties in the shoot-out against Anderlecht in the final.

“It was a very great honour to be chosen, considering how many great players have played for the club and didn’t make the top 50”

“Goals mean different things,” he reflected. “I suppose my best goal was when we beat Arsenal 5-0, but my most important was certainly scoring that penalty to help win the Uefa Cup.”

It was, Falco admits, a real disappointment when Spurs told him he was surplus to requirements in 1986, but he went on to join Watford, followed by a successful spell at Rangers and then QPR before finishing his career at Millwall.

“It was very difficult as I had joined Spurs as a 13-year-old and made my way into the first team and was leading goal scorer at the time.

Fondness

“It was a bit of a surprise to be told that the club didn’t need me anymore,” he recalled.

“But that happens when a new manager comes in and has his ideas on how he wants his team to play. If you’re not in his plans, it’s best to move on.”

However, what is certain is that this decision hasn’t damaged his fondness for the club he loves.

In 2009, Falco was voted by supporters as one of the top 50 greatest Spurs players of all time.

“It was a very great honour to be chosen, considering how many great players have played for the club and didn’t make the top 50.”

Falco remains a familiar figure at White Hart Lane, working as a club ambassador on matchdays.

Will his successor Kane be the next name to oust a great from that list – and perhaps go one better and do it with a league winners medal in his back pocket?

Image courtesy of Tottenham Hotspur

Diakité’s career at the crossroads

Samba Diakité heads into 2016 with a renewed sense of optimism after a 2015 that was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

On the pitch, the Malian midfielder continued his struggles at QPR where a succession of managers have remained unconvinced that he has what it takes to hold down a regular first team place.

“I am Muslim and it’s not Islam that teaches us to do that. It has got nothing to do with the Islam but unfortunately it has now tainted our reputation beyond repair”

Off the field came the horrors of the Paris terror attacks in November which claimed the lives of 130 innocent people. They happened in and around the Saint-Denis district, close to where Diakité did most of his growing up.

“It is so sad, it still haunts me,” he said. “It happened just 10 minutes by car away from where I grew up. It could have been me or someone I know who passed away.

“I don’t have words left for what happened. I was in Paris that weekend to visit my family as I had a few days off. I saw police and ambulances everywhere. Then I saw the incidents on television. I could not believe my eyes.

“I am Muslim and it’s not Islam that teaches us to do that. It has got nothing to do with the Islam but unfortunately it has now tainted our reputation beyond repair. There are good and bad people from every religion. Hopefully we can find a solution and live happily.”

Security

Of course, the northern suburb of Paris has known happier days. When his idol Zinedine Zidane scored a brace in the World Cup final 1998 against Brazil at the Stade de France , Diakité was nine years old and celebrated wildly with his family in Saint-Denis.

A bomb exploded outside the stadium during a friendly game between World Cup 2014 winners Germany and Euro 2016 hosts France during the November attacks, and Diakité fears this summer’s tournament will be a target.

“There will always be risks, unfortunately. There are many bad individuals in the world so it can happen at any time,” the 26-year-old told me when we met in Chiswick, west London.

As for his prediction for the tournament itself? “France and England won’t win it. Their teams are not good enough. In my opinion, Germany will win Euro 2016. They are still the team to beat.”

Ligue 1 on the rise

Diakité honed his skills at FC Nancy between summer 2010 and January 2012, the time preceding Paris Saint Germain’s Qatari-funded rise to become one of Europe’s strongest teams.

“The differences between football in France and England? In France it is tactical, technical and physical at the same time while here it is just physical with a lot of spaces for creative players. In France games end 1-0, 1-1, 2-1 most of the time, while here they often end 3-0.

“QPR decided he was the man to run the midfield for years to come. Ever since, however, Diakité has drifted off the radar at elite level”

“The Premier League is one of the best in the world but the Ligue 1 is on the rise, thanks to PSG. It is broadcast almost all over the world. Ibrahimovic, Cavani, Silva… there are many world-class players in France now.”

In the winter transfer window of four years ago, Diakité’s star was on the rise as clubs such as Olympique Lyonnais, Arsenal and QPR competed to sign him from Nancy.

The Loftus Road outfit won the race and turned his initial six-month loan into a permanent deal that June following his mouthwatering contribution to the team’s Premier League survival that season.

The club’s hierarchy decided he was the man to run the midfield for years to come. Ever since, however, Diakité has drifted off the radar at elite level.

Loan spells at Watford and Al Ittihad, and a lack of consideration by QPR managers Harry Redknapp first and then Chris Ramsey, plus a series of injuries have all seen his career on a downward spiral.

A fairytale 2012

How different things seemed in 2012, when Diakité hit the winning goal against Arsenal in March and played a big part in helping Mali to reach the semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations.

“The goal against Arsenal in March 2012 was the most important goal of my career,” he recalls fondly. “Firstly because it gave us the three points which at the end proved vital for us to stay up.

“For Mali, he was the catalyst and the leader of a very young and inexperienced side. Against all odds, they reached the final four”

“Besides, that goal earned me a new four-year contract at QPR. Wherever I go now, people recognise me because of it and always speak to me about it.”

For Mali, he was the catalyst and the leader of a very young and inexperienced side. Against all odds, they reached the final four.

“I got first called up by Mali when I was still at Nancy. It was a great moment for me and my family. Representing Mali was a dream that came true.

“I was very disappointed when we got knocked out by the Ivory Coast in the semi-finals. It’s like a derby match, but we were very happy to have gone that far. Who would have expected it?”

Heart beats for Mali

Who would he would support if France and Mali ever met at the World Cup? “That’s actually a really good question. I would say Mali because I feel Malian. But I owe everything to France.

“However I can’t see it happening that an African team will ever win the World Cup. There are Nigeria, Ghana, Algeria, very good teams, but are they good enough to go all the way in the world’s greatest tournament? I doubt it.

“Africa has produced some of the biggest strikers ever like Samuel Eto’o, Emmanuel Adebayor, Didier Drogba, Adel Taarabt and George Weah but it’s more difficult to produce world-class teams. Eto’o, for me , is the best African player ever.”

The Taarabt enigma

A hero at AC Milan in Italy during the second part of the 2013-2014 campaign, Taarabt could not keep his promise in England and got shipped off by QPR to Portuguese giants Benfica last season, where he is currently struggling for game time as well.

“Benfica are a big club where you have to prove yourself all over again, but I’m sure that once Taarabt learns Portuguese football he will be the difference”

Diakité, a former team-mate and close friend of the Moroccan regards him highly both as a player and as a man. “I have played with many top players in my career but Taarabt is the best of all,” he insisted.

“What he could do on the pitch was incredible. Only he could do certain things. Off the pitch he is a great guy too. We are great friends and he is someone who cares about you off the pitch if you have a problem. He is a fantastic guy.

“I’m surprised that he does not play at Benfica, he has what it takes to be one of their best players. But Benfica are a big club where you have to prove yourself all over again but I’m sure that once he learns Portuguese football he will be the difference.”

New year, fresh hope

Like his friend Taraabt, Diakité has a point to prove in 2016. He turns 27 this month and his contract runs out in June.

“Who knows, maybe Diakité will earn his chance to once again let his skill and talent do the talking for him on the pitch”

As things stand, few teams would be prepared to take the risk of signing him after languishing on the margins for most of his last three seasons.

However, Diakité firmly believes that better days are around the corner. “I would like to stay in England and in the Premier League and preferably also in London. I love life here,” he told me. “I also have the level to play in the top flight. I am sure better days will come.”

With QPR now managed by Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who knows? Maybe Diakité will earn his chance to once again let his skill and talent do the talking for him on the pitch.