Charlie Austin is saviour of QPR, and England’s search for local forwards
The Queens Park Rangers striker has become one of England’s hottest properties with his finishing and the London club are reaping the rewards, writes Richard Jolly
For large parts of the past three years, Queens Park Rangers have been emblematic of much that is wrong with football.
They have had ambition but not judgement, money but not the sense to spend it well.
They pursued the rich and famous on the basis of past performances rather than wondering what they might bring to Rangers or whether they even wanted to play for them.
They were relegated in 2012/13 with a higher wage bill than Borussia Dortmund, who reached the Uefa Champions League final that season.
While football’s reluctance to disclose salaries makes it hard to state either as a fact, Julio Cesar and Christopher Samba were surely the best-paid goalkeeper and defender, respectively, to be demoted from England’s top flight.
They are thought to have failed last year’s Financial Fair Play tests by a spectacularly large amount after paying through the nose for a promotion their performances, either over the season or in the play-off final, did not deserve.
They spent as though they had a divine right to be in the Premier League.
Charlie Austin knows he does not. It is one of the paradoxes of life at Loftus Road that whatever QPR symbolise, Austin stands for something else altogether.
He represents much of what can be right in a sport where the gulf between the haves and the have-nots, the players and the supporters, has never been bigger.
He is restoring some social mobility to a game where the footballing upper class seemed separated from their inferiors.
Austin plies his trade in a division where many were groomed for greatness from an early age.
But not Austin.
As recently as 2009, he was playing in the Wessex League Premier Division, otherwise known as England’s ninth tier.
When he was 20, he made his money as a bricklayer. Now, at 25, he occupies a podium position in the top scorers’ chart in the Premier League.
Only the striking superstars, Sergio Aguero and Diego Costa, have more than his 11 goals and they benefit from playing alongside a better calibre of teammate.
A growing number of pundits say Austin’s CV could read: Kintbury Rangers, Hungerford Town, Poole Town, Swindon Town, Burnley, QPR and England. There may yet be another, more glamorous club to be inserted near the end of the list.
Whereas QPR have made a habit of taking the top teams’ cast-offs, often failing to notice the evidence of their decline, they have a player in Austin whose career is on an upwards trajectory.
It could take him beyond QPR, though not, manager Harry Redknapp insisted, in January’s transfer window.
“If we sold Charlie Austin, we might as well go home,” Redknapp said.
Little wonder as, arguably, no player has made a bigger contribution to his side’s season.
Austin’s 11 goals are 55 per cent of QPR’s total: a distant second in Rangers’ scoring charts is own goals, with opponents donating three.
QPR’s five wins have come at home and Austin has scored in each. On four occasions, he has provided the decider.
Saturday’s victory against West Bromwich Albion came courtesy of his hat-trick – a predatory instinct has served him well at every level.
Given the premium placed on scorers, it is strange that some were overlooked for so long.
It is also notable that they can rise through the divisions in a way their peers in other positions do not.
Austin could take the place of Rickie Lambert – the Liverpool forward who was still operating in League Two at 25 – in the England squad.
Meanwhile, when Austin left Burnley in 2013, the Clarets had a ready-made replacement in Danny Ings, another who has played non-league football and who is also thought to be prime for an England call-up.
Ings and Austin represent typical Burnley signings. They are a club who scour the lower leagues in search of bargains, who prioritise footballers with hunger and give them an opportunity to reach new levels.
They could not compete financially with some of their Championship rivals, let alone the Premier League powerhouses, and much of the comparatively small amount they have spent in recent years has been paid not just for strikers, but for players on the up.
In many respects, Burnley are the anti-QPR. They would have posted a profit last season but for their promotion, requiring them to pay out substantial bonuses.
QPR have much greater resources, but if they are likelier to stay up it is simply because of Austin’s potency.
In a year when QPR repeated the mistakes of their past by signing another big-name busted flush – Rio Ferdinand – their chances of avoiding another relegation rest with his antithesis, the ever-improving Austin.
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Published: December 22, 2014 04:00 AM