Football: Francis feels way towards richer future: QPR's manager lives with success and the calls for his promotion to England No 1. Trevor Haylett reports

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The Independent Online
TWILIGHT hour on another international-squad Monday finds the sensible choice for the next England manager still inside a tracksuit, still deciding the next day's training schedule while finding time to deal with commercial queries and this newspaper's questions. Sidetracked, you could say, by the kind of things that might tempt him to jump should the Football Association dispatch an application form marked 'for the attention of G Francis Esq'.

First as a Rover and more recently as a Ranger Gerry Francis has confirmed that the brainwork he revealed as a player and England captain would also give him a head start in management. Like Mike Walker and Norwich he and QPR are challenging the theory that success comes to those with the fattest wallets.

Rangers are equal fifth in the Premiership, have been defeated only once in 10 games (at Manchester United) and have scored 16 goals in their last five appearances at home. On top of that, and this is an important consideration in the present England debate, they also play a brand of football we all can watch and enjoy.

'We have exactly the same amount of points as at the same stage last season which is a terrific achievement considering we had to sell Andy Sinton just before the start,' Francis said. 'We were also without David Bardsley and Alan McDonald and lost Ian Holloway after the first game. We were beaten in three of the first four and some clubs would not have been able to recover from that but we dug in and now we are doing quite nicely.'

Yet around the corner a crisis looms. The final term of Francis' three-year contract takes him back to that period of uncertainty he was all too familiar with at Bristol Rovers. Next summer he might stay to sign a new deal or he might go elsewhere. Or he might get out of the game altogether.

'I've got a baby boy now and it is fair to say that my life has changed and my values have altered,' he said. 'Players tend to have their children when they have time in the afternoons to spend with them and now it has happened to me at 41 I don't want to miss out on his growing up.'

Six-month-old Adam is not alone in exerting a pull on Francis's emotions. The affinity for Loftus Road is strong, after all as a player and then as manager he has given 17 years of his life to the club, but he is nobody's puppet and only if the ground rules are to his liking will he remain.

'Richard Thompson (the chairman) has had several conversations with me in which he has mentioned a new contract but it's not quite as simple as that. There are a lot of complex situations to do with the club and to do with my own position which I have to give serious thought to.'

Beyond that Francis will not venture but attempting to fill in the gaps it seems as though Les Ferdinand is a crucial factor. Had the most improved striker in the land gone last summer as he was close to then Francis would also have departed. Should lethal Les move on next summer then his manager looks certain to be behind him out of the door.

'People thought I was being clever at Rovers when I signed 12-month contracts but it put me in a very precarious position because if we had a poor season I might have been out of a job. I won't break a contract so only if I had short-term agreements would I be able to decide my own future.'

A favourable report including the words 'silk' and 'purse' in connection with sows' ears might look good on the CV but it will not give him a place on the honours' board and having tasted success on a smaller scale downstairs he would not mind some more.

'I will always remember helping Rovers to the old Third Division championship and taking them to Wembley for the first time in 100 years or more. It's a wonderful feeling but it is becoming harder all the time to get success. Just two teams won big prizes last year, that's how difficult it is. To get to that level requires a lot of sweat, toil and positive thinking. You have to get the players believing not only that they can do it but that they can do it over 42 games.

'To say that a small club in terms of stadia and resources could finish fifth in the table last season, London's highest, having spent only pounds 160,000 and having sold pounds 3m worth of players is the kind of story people make up.

'To be fair it's even harder for us than Norwich because we have players here who have made the England squad, and I am delighted for them both personally and for the club, but nothing in the game turns heads as much as international involvement. When it happens the papers are full of stories that so-and-so club are chasing them while he discovers the vast sums he can earn elsewhere.

'The job is now a 25-hour-a-day graft, Sundays and Christmas Day, too. I've had only one week off in each of the past two summers, I've been a manager for 10 years and maybe it's time for a rest.'

Happiness is dealing with the players, out on the field with a ball, not in his office talking Shearer-size salaries. Apart from his tactical acumen the way he handles his men is clearly one of the main planks of his success.

'The art of man-management is to make individuals believe in themselves and to make the team as a whole believe in itself. Players have to play for you as well as with you and you have to foster a spirit of togetherness which is not easy when you send out 11 on a Saturday and disappoint 20. I try and treat them the way I wanted to be treated as a player and if their only argument is that I have not picked them enough times then I know I have done my job properly.

'Les Ferdinand was a player who had been at this club a long time and wasn't really going anywhere. He was a nice guy, a bit too laid-back and I felt he needed someone to believe in him but also someone who would be behind him all the way. It's funny because when I was at Rovers I tried to take Les on loan and now look at him.'

It will not be funny for Rangers if Ferdinand goes at the end of the season, less so should Francis depart. Then again should he turn up at Lancaster Gate wearing an England blazer we might all have reason to smile.

(Photograph omitted)

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