Paulo Sousa came to QPR just one month ago, on 19th November 2008. Little was known about this Portuguese ex-midfielder, other than that he had an incredible C.V. with respect to his playing career.
But Rangers` fans were worried! After all, Sousa`s management skills were limited to the Portuguese U-15s and working as assistant to the highly-experienced Luiz Felipe Scolari, who was then manager of the Portuguese national team. What could Sousa possibly bring to the Loftus Road outfit that a manager with Championship experience, let alone experience of English football, couldn`t?
Well, in one month, I believe many of the questions have been answered, including who actually picks the team!
Although unable to attend the Platinum Evening in person last Thursday, I listened to the Q&A session on QPR.co.uk. The impression I was left with regarding Paulo Sousa was that this was a person who was definitely his “own” man and would not tolerate anyone pulling his strings! At the same time, he appears fiercely loyal, always referring to “my team” and “my players”. He spoke after the Preston game that: “We are a squad, not a team, and every player counts for us.”
He is also humble and funny, and has quickly adapted to the English sense of humour, which seems to sit well with him – particularly when teasing Gareth Ainsworth about his role as lead singer with Dog Chewed The Handle!
It should rightly be assumed that Sousa did as he said and left Gareth Ainsworth in charge for the Watford game on Saturday 22nd November. Although Sousa was sitting in the stands that day I think he can be believed in saying that he had nothing to do with team selection or formation.
On that basis, Sousa`s record, to date, is: played 6 – won 3, drawn 2, lost 1. The wins came against Charlton (2-1 at home), Wolves (1-0 at home) and Preston (3-2 at home). We drew with Crystal Palace (0-0 away) and Plymouth (1-1 away); and lost away to Sheffield Wednesday (1-0).
That is 6 goals scored and 4 conceded with 11 points out of a possible 18. We currently sit in 9th position in the league but are only 1 point behind Preston in 6th place. In other words, we are only 1 point behind a play-off berth coming into the Christmas period!
More impressive though is how he is clearly asserting himself at the club. Fans seem relatively happier than they were a few weeks ago and, importantly, so does Flavio Briatore, who is clearly a very hands-on Chairman. Briatore has always said he wanted to have in place people who were expert at their particular job so that he could trust them to get on with their task – leaving him to do what he does best in building up the club financially and as a brand-name.
In Sousa, Briatore seems to have found the right man for the manager`s role – at last. (Is this a case of 5th time lucky for Briatore?!) On Thursday night, when asked who picked the team, Sousa stated categorically that it was he, Paulo Sousa. The emphatic manner in which he answered the question left no room for doubt. And events at Loftus Road recently seem to back that statement up!
For one, Daniel Parejo has been allowed to return to Real Madrid – something that could not be foreseen under Sousa`s predecessors as Briatore pushed for the likes of Parejo to be included in the starting XI – or so the rumours told us!
But Sousa didn`t seem to find any value in Parejo – at least, that`s how I read his comment on Parejo`s departure: “I am sure that with a good professional attitude, he (Parejo) has the talent to achieve at the very highest level.” I am clearly not the only one who did not think that Parejo exhibited the correct professional attitude whilst at QPR.
I have heard that Sousa does not like to change his team unnecessarily – and I am all for a settled side! At the same time, he is trying to build the players` confidence. But I do wonder why he still persists with Damian Delaney at left-back – particularly when Gary Borrowdale played successfully in that position for us during the week in the Reserves. Well – not everything can be perfect about the new man, can it?
Sousa is building a family – and that is evident even to radio commentators such as those on BBC Radio London yesterday. Co-commentator Brown commented, at the end of a game which saw us lose the lead twice before getting the late winner thanks to a Dexter Blackstock header, that we are so “together” that it seemed like we were “15 men” out there! And that is down to Paulo Sousa.
Sousa is proving that he can adapt to the English Championship – unlike the “doom and gloom” prediction of Crystal Palace chairman Simon Jordan on Sousa`s appointment to QPR. Against Preston, for example, although under pressure in the 2nd half, Sousa did not panic into making rushed substitutions. He first brought on Leigertwood for Mahon on 62 minutes. When that didn`t work, he took off two defenders and brought on Hall and Blackstock, on 80 minutes. I wondered what on earth he was doing!
But, he didn`t just change the personnel – he changed the formation! We have all been treated to Sousa`s so-called “diamond” formation but, on 80 minutes, he went 3-4-3 – and it worked! He knows when to change players and when to change formation – a rare combination which his predecessors did not seem to have the ability to do! And yesterday`s game is not the only time Sousa`s substitutions have proved sublime or timed to perfection, either.
Sousa is a shrewd tactician and is incredibly knowledgeable. His lack of experience in the English game appears irrelevant. He is also clearly a great man-manager. Yesterday, he talked about his whole First Team squad and stated: “I am proud for all my players. They are all important for the team?” Sousa would not single out any one man and is clearly breeding confidence in all the players as they learn to adapt to the new man-in-charge`s ways and methods.
Sousa also includes our invalids: Akos Buzsaky and Rowan Vine. He has visited Buzsaky on several occasions, the latest being after the Magical Magyar had a second operation to relieve an infection following his initial operation last month. He includes Rowan Vine in all team talks and meetings, even though Vine is not yet ready to return to first team action. And his reasons? So that, when Vine does return, he understands exactly what is expected of him and the team, and from the manager. And, at the same time, both players feel, and know, that they are very much part of the QPR “family”.
Sousa will not talk about the January transfer window. But in his press conference after the Preston match, he emphatically stated that Helguson is a Rangers player – is “his” player. He would not be drawn on whether that meant Helguson`s loan deal would be made permanent – but he did explain that it meant that, right now, as far as he is concerned, Helguson is one of our players and, as such, is treated no differently from anyone else at Loftus Road.
I know it is early days yet, but I do think that this time around, Flavio Briatore may well have unearthed a rare gem in our new, young, Portuguese manager. It is not only the “diamond” formation which is sparkling at Loftus Road these days!! At the end of the game today I heard that he ran out of the dugout to salute us fans. The man is clearly a P.R. expert – I have been “sold”! Anyone else?!
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The Joy of Dex.
Sousa`s Tactics Save The Day.