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Monday, September 24, 2007

QPR, John Gregory and The Future

The Times - Gregory’s hard times over with QPR in fast lane again
The manager can put his credit card away with an affluent new ownership team in place to pick up the bills instead - Kaveh Solhekol

Where do you start? John Gregory has been the manager of Queens Park Rangers for 12 months but he already feels ten years older than he did last September. As a football reporter you get used to asking questions that you already know the answer to, but Gregory has a lot to get off his chest.
QPR nearly went out of business before Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore bought the Coca-Cola Championship club for £14 million three weeks ago, and there have been plenty of mornings during the past year when Gregory has looked in the mirror and wondered whether he could carry on. Last month, one of his star strikers died in a car crash, in February his players hit the headlines for kung-fu fighting with the China Olympic team and the threat of administration and relegation have been haunting him nearly every day.
“We couldn’t pay our hotel bills on away trips so I had to get my credit card card out,” Gregory said. “That’s how bad things were before Bernie and Flavio arrived.”
As well as dipping into his own pocket, Gregory had to dismantle the club’s scouting system - “what’s the point of having scouts when you don’t have the money to buy anyone”, he said – and get rid of half his first-team squad. Just when he thought things could not get any worse, the photocopier in his office broke down last Christmas. When he tried to get it fixed, he was told that it would be impossible because the last repair bill was six months overdue.
“That was scratching the surface of the problems here,” Gregory said. “When I arrived the whole place had relegation written all over it. There was no love. No one cared. The players hated Saturdays. Twenty of them were injured because they didn’t want to play and they didn’t want to be associated with our problems.”
Showing demoralised players the door was the least of his problems. When he tried to sign replacements – on free transfers – he discovered that word had spread about the club’s financial problems and that players were reluctant to sign on the dotted line when their contracts might not be worth the paper that they were written on. “It was bloody hard,” Gregory, who played for QPR from 1981 to 1985, said. “I had to tell the players that we signed that everything was wonderful here. They kept telling me that they had heard that we were close to administration but I’d say no, no, no, where did you hear that? That was three years ago, everything is fine now, of course you’ll get paid next month.”
While Gregory demonstrated his ability to be economical with the truth, Gianni Paladini, the chairman, rang up everyone he could think of to try to raise funds to keep the club going. When Paladini rang Gregory and told him that Ecclestone, the Formula One ringmaster and one of the richest men in Britain, and Briatore, the managing director of the Renault Formula One team, wanted to buy the club, he could hardly believe what he was hearing. “I told Gianni he was living in a fantasy world when he mentioned their names,” Gregory said. “I told him to ring me back when he had sobered up. He was trying to convince me that they were coming but I refused to believe it until the deal was signed, sealed and delivered – what has happened is beyond our wildest dreams.”
At a meeting with Gregory last week, the new owners explained what was expected of him. He would be given money to spend in the transfer window in January, but in the meantime QPR had to start winning games. Unfortunately for Gregory, his team have not won this season, leading to speculation that he would be replaced by somebody with a higher profile, such as Gianluca Vialli, the former Chelsea manager. “I’ve been given no guarantees about my future,” Gregory said. “I was just told to carry on doing my job and to prepare the team as best as I can.”
Even if the worst comes to the worst and the club’s new owners opt for a quick fix and show him the door, Gregory has at least repaired some of the damage done to his reputation after his acrimonious departure from Derby County in March 2003. “The allegations against my role in transfers started when I left Aston Villa five years ago,” Gregory said. “Then Derby threw allegations at me which I proved were totally false and I won my case against them for unfair dismissal. I got paid a seven-figure sum in compensation. You don’t get that if you are guilty of anything.”
The photocopier in his office is fixed now and new scouts are being employed, but one thing Gregory cannot change is what happened on August 25, when Ray Jones, the club’s highly rated 18-year-old striker, died in a car crash in East London. “I’ve lost a few friends in the past but to lose one of your players was unbelievably difficult,” he said. “We had to go and bury one of our teammates – that was really tough.”
As his voice trails off, Gregory glances at the tape machine recording our conversation. “I’m sure you’ve got enough in there,” he said. More than enough, John. More than enough. The Times

Telegraph - Vultures circle over John Gregory at QPR - By Sam Green

Flavio Briatore is renowned for his love of fast cars, glamorous women and exotic locations. The prospect of trips to Hartlepool, Walsall and Yeovil will not excite the new QPR owner's palate.
This should be of major concern to manager John Gregory, who has presided over a winless start to the season that has left Rangers second from bottom. A scan of the directors' box on Saturday suggested he was a dead man walking. Gianluca Vialli and Martin Allen were the latest potential replacements to enjoy QPR's hospitality after Micky Adams last Tuesday.
It was hard not to feel some sympathy for Gregory. What other profession allows the vultures to circle its vulnerable quite so blatantly?
But the man himself was simmering with defiance after his team's gutsy display. "I don't worry about it, there's no pressure on me at all," Gregory said. "It doesn't bother me. You lot can say what you like."
Aidy Boothroyd, whose Watford side remain top, expressed his sympathy in his own idiosyncratic way. "You've got to be stupid to do this job first of all," he said. "If you win a lot of games, you know there's a fall coming, and if you're not winning, you're under pressure. So you can't really win. Unless you're winning."
There was no paucity of drama on the pitch — "It could have been a 7-6," said Boothroyd — but when on-loan Middlesbrough winger Adam Johnson headed Watford in front after the break you feared a QPR collapse. However, 10 minutes later Stefan Moore crashed home a deserved equaliser.
Briatore, the managing director of Renault's Formula One team, and Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One's commercial rights holder, paid £14 million for QPR and have already spoken to the players.
"They said all they have ever done in their lives is win and they expect the same here," said Moore. And that, for Gregory, is the bottom line....

Independent - QPR 1 Watford 1: Gregory feels the pressure By Andrew Warshaw

A first home point of the season may not be enough to keep John Gregory in the job of Queen's Park Rangers manager. Rumours persist that the Renault team principal Flavio Briatore and his partner at Loftus Road, the Formula One rights holder Bernie Ecclestone, are considering a new face. Four prospective candidates, including Gianluca Vialli and Martin Allen, were in the directors' box on Saturday.
No one would deny that Gregory's players did their best, fully deserving to hold the Championship leaders. The man himself says he is unfazed by the speculation but it is clear he is getting rattled. "It doesn't bother me one bit," he said. "I worry more for my players because they're the ones who have to go out there and perform. It has maybe been a little bit unsettling for some of them.
"I just get on with the job. I don't care what the media say about me ... just leave my players alone. You lot killed [Jose] Mourinho, you loved and welcomed him for the first 18 months, then people turned on him when he started winning everything. You were always looking for blood."
Gregory stressed how the recent death of the 18-year-old England youth international Ray Jones in a car accident had "hit the dressing room really badly".
The veteran Gareth Ainsworth inspired his team-mates and when he went off at half-time Rangers missed his drive and motivation. Still, it was his replacement, Stefan Moore, who earned a point, drilling home a rebound after Dexter Blackstock's looping header came back off the bar.
That cancelled out Adam Johnson's close-range effort and, although Rangers played the last nine minutes with 10 men after Mikele Leigertwood was sent off for a second yellow card, Watford could not capitalise.
Watford's manager, Adrian Boothroyd, said: "We've learnt lessons and the players have got themselves off the floor [after relegation] but many teams have set a pace and not gone up."
Rangers' players have met their new owners. "They will obviously bring funds to the club, which will help everyone," Moore said. "They want us to have a winning mentality and we all want to be part of it." Whether that will include Gregory remains to be seen. Independent

The Guardian - Gregory looks nervously over his shoulder as Vialli waits in the wings - James Callow at Loftus Road
Forgive John Gregory his paranoia. The Queens Park Rangers manager had already had to come to terms with the arrival of ambitious new owners and his team's poor form, and on Saturday his position was further undermined by the presence of Gianluca Vialli only yards behind him in the stand.
Martin Allen, recently freed from his contract with Leicester City, also sat among the directors as his former club battled with the division's leaders, but it was Vialli, whose success at Chelsea was followed by an erratic stint with Watford, who caused the more speculation.
Gregory joked "Has Vialli been in yet?" at his post-match press conference. He had not, but the incumbent's position is under review by Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone - the formula one impresarios and new owners - and it seems they have begun their succession planning. A source close to Vialli said he was at the game as a guest of Briatore in a personal, not professional capacity. The source added that the Italian would consider the job if it became available but there had been no discussions yet.
In Briatore and Ecclestone, who had watched as Rangers lurched to a 2-0 defeat by Plymouth last week, Gregory has employers who are both unaccustomed to and intolerant of failure, and he expects to learn his fate in the next few weeks.
"I've not spoken to them much," he said. "When I have seen them we have discussed the direction that we want the club to go in but they are extremely busy with formula one and when that tails off I'm sure they'll spend more time here."
When that time comes, Gregory will hope to have banked several more performances of the calibre of this one. After falling behind to Adam Johnson's 49th-minute goal, Stefan Moore fired in Dexter Blackstock's rebounded shot 10 minutes later to hand Rangers their first home point of the season, and it might easily been three had they converted any of a clutch of first-half chances.
"The players were outstanding today. People who aren't connected to QPR would never believe what the lads went through when they lost one of their team-mates," said Gregory of the recent death in a car crash of the young striker Ray Jones. "They had to overcome that and I think they have done. Watford are top of the league but there really wasn't anything between the two teams and I think we should have won the game."
On a day where flamboyance was confined to the Loftus Road directors' box, Rangers relied upon energy and emotion to carry them through, with Adam Bolder and Danny Cullip outstanding, not least when Mikele Leigertwood's 81st-minute dismissal left them short-handed.
Watford were more calculating, even if Aidy Boothroyd's series of equations for once failed to add up. "We dropped ourselves in it. We got in good positions and then we let ourselves down. I certainly expected a better performance, but the important thing when you're not playing well is that you pick up points," he said.
In Marlon King, Darius Henderson and Nathan Ellington he has three coveted strikers, but arguably Boothroyd himself is the team's star. His enduring presence has given the club sufficient credibility to lure this game's outstanding player, Johnson, on a three-month loan from Middlesbrough. Johnson's goal, a far-post header, was unbecoming of a winger whose deft skills set him apart from his team-mates.
Watford missed that kind of guile in their short Premiership stint but according to Boothroyd this side has far more to offer. "We weren't disciplined enough today, but we will be. It's a very young team and I don't think we'll see the best of us until we get to February."
Whether Gregory has the security to plan so far forward is another matter.
Man of the match: Adam Johnson
Redolent of a bygone age, the on-loan Middlesbrough academy winger barely fills his shirt and at times he lacks urgency, but he moves with deceptive speed and his jinking left foot has the ability to mesmerise defenders.
Best moment: His corner gave Dan Shittu a clear sight of goal and one weaving run left QPR grasping air. Guardian

MIRROR - GREGORY'S BIG FIGHT - Press 'killed' Jose, rages QPR boss
By Michael Martin

Good old John Gregory. Not for him the placid, philosophical approach to impending doom favoured by the likes of Martin Jol.

Not for him the unflappable civility of Wenger, Eriksson and Co.
When cornered by the baying press pack on Saturday afternoon, you could see the fear and loathing in Gregory's eyes as he came out fighting in true British bulldog style.
The QPR boss (below) would reportedly have been sacked had his side lost to league leaders Watford - and the presence of high-profile jobseekers Martin Allen and Gianluca Vialli in the directors' box would hardly have set his mind at ease.
However the response Gregory got from his players suggests there could be life in the old dog yet.
And the manager's performance post-match suggests that, if he goes, he will not be going quietly.
Amid lavish praise for his players there were claims that the media "killed" former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, as well as some gnomic utterances about the Bernie Ecclestone-Flavio Briatore regime now in charge at Loftus Road.
Gregory snarled: "You lot can say what you like. I don't give a s***. It does not bother me one bit - but just leave my lads alone.
"You lot have killed Mourinho. You loved him and welcomed him for the first 18 months, he was writing copy for you right, left and centre.
"Then you turned on him when he started winning everything.
Everything that went on at Chelsea - the media could smell blood and the media should take some responsibility.
"I didn't see anyone in the directors' box - I was facing the pitch. I've not spoken to the new board too much.
"When I have seen them we have discussed the direction we want the club to go in, but they are busy with Formula One.
"When that tails off I'm sure they will spend more time here.
The players were outstanding, 100 per cent committed. You people who are not connected with QPR would not have any idea what those players went through when Ray Jones died last month.
"It hit this club like you would never believe and it hit most of the people in my dressing room.
They had to overcome that, which they have."
Gregory's side had to face adversity on the pitch too. Gareth Ainsworth, in his first game back after breaking his leg, was a breath of fresh air in the first half but lasted only 45 minutes. And four minutes after the break Watford took the lead.
Marlon King's looping cross was hooked back across goal by Tommy Smith, leaving Adam Johnson with the simple task of nodding it over the line.
The visiting fans chanted "Bye bye John Gregory" but their gloating was premature... Mirror

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