As the nation watched Croatia eliminate us from the World Cup last night, one small corner of West London perhaps felt the pain more than most.
Sat in the manager’s office at QPR, Steve McClaren knows only too well what failure to beat Croatia feels like.
He didn’t even get to the semi-final to experience his disappointment, with defeat at the hands of Slaven Bilic’s side costing us a place at Euro 2008. McClaren was widely lampooned, dubbed ‘the wally with the brolly’ as we crashed out in qualifying.
A decade later and he’s a million miles away from the showcase event in Russia, plotting a rebuild of his reputation at Queens Park Rangers. They’re hoping for a rebranding of their own, having become nothing more than a mid table side under the stewardship of Ian Holloway.
It is a World Cup star that McClaren will be relying on to boost his hopes of Loftus Road success, namely Australian midfielder Massimo Luongo.
He was being pursued by Aston Villa at the end of last season, but one would imagine that has run it’s course considering he won’t be free or loaned out.
It doesn’t mean he isn’t on the move, but whatever happens he is crucial to McClaren and the Hoops.
If Luongo did move on he would provide funds for the rebuilding job being undertaken. QPR have lost a couple of key players this summer, Nedum Onuoha is on the move, Jake Robinson perhaps the most significant loss, but also keeper Alex Smithies departed to Cardiff.
They have signed Toni Leistner but the business has been slow for McClaren. Once the World Cup is over and the Premier League starts to spend money, things might move quickly.
That could include a move for the former Spurs midfielder who joined from Swindon with team mate Ben Gladwin. Any move away from Loftus Road would surely net more than that, giving McClaren a war chest worth having. Maybe, the midfielder’s presence is worth much more than money.
Things are not bleak at QPR despite the summer of upheaval. Ian Holloway had brought through some exciting young players, Ryan Manning, Ebere Eze and Paul Smyth to name but three. They’re all incredibly talented players who were entrusted with second tier football last season and didn’t disappoint.
Their exuberance and energy needs to be harnessed and there’s no better way than to have a player such as Luongo around to show them how.
He’s 25-years old now and approaching the peak of his career. He’s a creator and an architect, a player who has recently emerged in exactly the same way the current trio are doing. His knowledge will be useful to them and as a World Cup star he will be well-regarded. Steve McClaren can talk all he wants, but young players learn as much from their peers as they do the manager, if not more.
Either way, Massimo Luongo is vital to QPR, as a saleable asset or a key player. Whatever happens he is the jewel in the crown and how Steve McClaren chooses to use him will define his spell at QPR.
Football has moved on from the years of McClaren and England, he’s failed a couple of times at Derby and managed across the world with varying levels of success. This is almost certainly his last hurrah as a boss. He’s in last chance saloon and the barmaid has poured him a drink.
Failure at Loftus Road would surely close the doors that open for him whenever he’s a free agent. The barmaid would call last orders, the glasses would be cleared away and he would be out on his ear, left to seek work in Qatar or Vietnam, a million miles from the English game in which he craves success.
However, if he harnesses the young players, makes the most of the talented Australian and gets a little bit of luck, he might just be able to forget that wet night in Croatia a decade ago. If he’s incredibly successful, English football fans might be able to do the same.
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