After a difficult start to the new season, Queens Park Rangers are hoping to get back on track with the appointment of former Holland and Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink as their new manager. The 43 year old joins the club after an impressive year at Burton Albion during which he steered the brewers to promotion from League Two at the first attempt. Hasselbaink was confirmed as the Hoops new boss earlier today and replaces Chris Ramsey who was sacked by the club a month ago. Since then Neil Warnock has been in interim charge whilst Director of Football Les Ferdinand identified and interviewed potential candidates. Several big names were touted as potential replacements for Ramsey but in Ferdinand’s mind there was only ever one candidate.
Unlike most former high profile players who fall into management due to circumstance (like Alan Sherear), Hasselbaink’s route to QPR has been progressive, choosing to start from the bottom and work his way up. His first job was at Royal Antwerp in the Belgian Second Division. To suggest that it was a steep learning curve is an understatement. Despite his lack of experience, much was expected of Hasselbaink by the club who had just been relegated to the division the year previously. The target was an ambitious one – bounce back into Belgium’s top league at the first attempt. Hasselbaink however saw the project differently as a two to three year rebuilding exercise changing the philosophy of the club from the ground up by introducing free flowing attacking football with younger players on a reduced budget. With a difference in objectives, the project was always likely to fail and in his debut season he finished in seventh place. The owners however by that point were coming around and offered Hasselbaink a new deal but the Dutchman rejected it fearing that what they were saying was different than what they actually wanted.
A move to England seemed like a logical step but again Hasselbaink wanted to start small and build his reputation from there. Joining Burton may have seemed a step to far down the ladder but the former striker saw stability and a willingness to adapt to new ideas and signed on immediately. It proved to be the right decision with Burton earning promotion in their first season under Hasselbaink, playing some attractive football along the way. With the League Two title now in the trophy cabinet, realistic expectations were to fight for survival this season in League One but Hasselbaink wanted more. When QPR came calling, Burton were sitting top of the division two points clear of Coventry. What amazes most people who look at what Hasselbaink did at the club was his ability to get the defence to play well. Many assumed that as a striker by trade, Hasselbaink’s teams would attack with the philosophy of scoring at least one more than they conceded but his work on his back line has been superb with Burton possessing the tightest defence in the league to date.
This will come as good news to QPR fans who have suffered through too many edgy games this season. Out of nineteen fixtures to date, ten games have been won or lost by a single goal. Whilst this is a reflection of the competitiveness of the league, its also a worrying trend that many points have been dropped thanks to a momentary lapse in concentration. Indeed out of the seven defeats and five draws so far, four have been effectively lost by goals in the dying few minutes of games. This will be something that Hasselbaink will be keen to resolve quickly. With the defence sorted, he will turn to his front line and that’s where he faces potentially his biggest problem. Charlie Austin is a man in demand with several clubs in the Premier League ready to swoop for him in the January transfer window. With eight goals from 14 appearances, he is QPR’s leading marksman and indeed one of only two strikers at the club to have found the back of the net (Junior Holliett being the other one). Hasselbaink has one month to persuade Austen to stick with QPR and be the catalyst for their promotion push. The difficulty will be that in a season that ends in the European Championships in France, Austin may be tempted to jump ship in order to push his way into the England squad. At present he is behind the likes of Harry Kane, Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Jamie Vardy and many others so his chances are limited. But the player will know that they are more limited playing in a division below his rivals. It will be interesting to see what Hasselbaink does with Austen, whether he lets him leave in order to reinvest in other players for the squad or attempts to retain him at least until the summer. It could be a defining decision for the former Holland frontman and for QPR as the push for promotion back to the Premier League.