(Image credit to Associated Press, AP)
Richard Langley made his full debut at Rangers 19 years ago, since then the academy production line has froze, a problem that is widespread across academies all over England, especially in the top flight.
Raheem Sterling was very much the one that got away whilst Ray Jones and Kiyan Prince were unfortunate tragedies.
However, QPR’s academy has recently been showing promising signs of life. When Tony Fernandes took over in W12 in 2011 he said: I want the fans to be proud of what we’re doing…I am keen to create a good academy, so that there’s a constant supply of players.
All good things take time, whilst mistakes have been made along the way, concentration and investment throughout Tony’s 6 years as chairman are finally showing signs of life. I think we have finally turned a corner, at present two youth players in Manning and Furlong have established themselves as first time regulars, with Manning being one of the first names on the team sheet.
Let’s take a look at some of QPRs most exciting prospects:
In January 2015, then manager Harry Redknapp bought in Irish teenager Ryan from Galway United for a reported £60,000.
Holloway gave him his full debut in December, a 1-2 away win to Wolverhampton Wonderers, a debut that Holloway said was the “best he had ever seen”.
Since then memorable moments include Ryan’s fantastic assist for Mackie in the 0-1 away win to Reading and his first goal in the 1-1 West London derby against Fulham.
Ryan has looked comfortable from his first game and I’d say at the moment he is one of the most consistent performers, definitely one of the first names on the team sheet and is quickly growing into a fans favourite.
His mature performances recently earned him a new contract, keeping him at Loftus Road until the summer of 2019.
Darnell joined Rangers academy at the age of 10. Fast forward 9 years and 19 year old teenager Darnell made his breakthrough, notably playing in the games against Hull City away from home and Arsenal at Loftus Road, finishing the season as winner of the EDS young player of the year award, an award voted on by R’s fans.
Now 21, Darnell has benefitted from loan spells at Northampton Town, Cambridge United and Swindon Town. Holloway made it clear early on that he was keen to recall both Furlong and Michael Doughty from their loan spells.
His return to the club saw him thrown straight into the starting XI in the 1 nil win away to promotion hopefuls Reading, his first league appearance for the R’s after almost 2 years away. What impressed a lot of Rs fans was how quickly he slotted in and immediately forged a good partnership with his wide man on the night Pawel Wszolek.
His energy and pace on the right flank has impressed the R’s faithful, also the loan spells have improved the defensive side to his game. After his return, a number of impressive performances, has seen Darnell rewarded with a new contract also keeping him at the club until the summer of 2019.
19 year old Mide joined QPR’s academy at the age of 15, impressing in his professional debut against Leeds United, this season’s opening fixture at Loftus Road. He went on to make a further 13 appearances before moving to League one outfit Port Vale on loan.
Rangers fans have always loved an exciting winger with pace, trickery and the ability to beat his fullback, and Mide certainly ticks all those boxes.
Offensively Mide is very talented, however it is the defensive and tactical side of his game that Holloway wants to fine tune: “He’s brilliant going forward, but needs to work on the defensive side of his game. He’d probably do better with a little bit of a loan spell.”
Hopefully Mide will do well and gain good experience in what is a difficult league and then return to QPR in the summer. With a solid pre season under his belt I believe Mide could establish himself as a first team regular at Loftus Road next season, something I am sure the fans would love considering he is one of our own.
After his breakthrough and string of impressive performances Mide also was rewarded with a new contract, keeping him at Rangers until the summer of 2019.
Nicknamed ‘Ozzy’, Kakay has been at QPR since the age of just 8 years old.
The 19 year old made his debut in the EFL cup, on the night he looked bright and energetic, impressing at RB against Rochdale. Notably he played 90 minutes against Premier League opposition in Sunderland in the third round of the EFL cup and I felt he more than held his own, and definitely did not look out of place.
Osman primarily plays as a RB but can also operate in midfield. Darnell currently has a 3 year advantage on Osman and currently has the shirt as the clubs first choice right back.
Consequently, Osman recently went out on loan to League one Chesterfield to gain some experience of playing so called ‘mens football’ as oppose to the more comfortable u23 reserve level.
Hopefully Ozzy can benefit from a loan spell or two in a similar way that Darnell has and come back and fight for his place in the first team.
Reason for optimism:
Whilst the players listed above are currently the ones that have been in and around the first team, I think it shows how far QPR have come when there are also many other players who I could have included that are exciting prospects.
For instance, in this article we have not even spoke about the likes of Michael Doughty, Joe Lumley, Michael Petrasso, Reece Grego Cox, Niko Hamalainen, Axel Prohouly, Ebere Eze, Brandon Comley, Gianni Crichlow and so on.
It has been well documented that Fernandes has made some mistakes and spent a lot of money doing so. He is often the target of at times very harsh abuse on social media.
In 2011 Fernandes wanted to create a supply line and a path for academy players to break into the first team. He also wanted to build something that the R’s fans could be proud of. In more recent times the club has become something that fans are recognising again and can say they are proud to support QPR. I certainly feel a sense of pride when I see passionate blue blooded youngsters fighting for the badge.
The academy has also shown that it can produce first team players elsewhere. The likes of Josh Laurent, Max Ehmer, Michael Harriman have moved on in search of first team football. The recent selling of Cole Kpekawa for £500,000 shows signs of progress. In years gone by a lot of youngsters have been released or sent back early from loans. The academy seems to have grown, not just in providing players for our squad but also producing players who can go on and carve out a decent career for themselves.
Despite all the criticism that Tony gets I think he is now starting to deliver on the academy front. Progress was slow and very much done in the background, however I feel we are now starting to see the results of the commitment and investment put in, so credit to the co chairmen and the likes of Steve Gallen, Perry Suckling, Chris Ramsey, Paul Hall, Paul Furlong and Andy Impey, to name a few.
Come on you R’s!