Football: Gerry builds from the basement up: QPR's financial resources may be limited, but sound footballing principles are, as usual, serving Gerry Francis well, writes Matthew Sturgis

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The Independent Online
QUEEN'S PARK RANGERS may have started the season after everyone else but already they have made up ground. The pundits, fans and bookmakers have been taken by surprise. And so has Gerry Francis, the manager. Before a ball had been kicked he was forecasting doom with the energy of an Old Testament prophet. The demands of the Premier League's BSkyB paymasters meant that Rangers - and Manchester City - had to play their first three games over six days.

Rangers complained bitterly about this schedule, claiming that it could take a heavy toll on the players. It did: on the players of Manchester City. By the end of the first week Rangers, unbeaten, were third in the table; City, still without a win, were two off the bottom. But Francis admits: 'It could easily have happened to us. That it didn't is a great tribute to the players' fitness, organisation and resilience.'

Francis, while counselling caution, sees his side's promising start as a continuation of the form they achieved in the second half of last season. 'We ended last season with a run of about 25 games with only three or four defeats and now we've added a few games to that. We're beginning to develop consistency. 'Consistency' is the one word. In whatever division you're in, if you want to win anything you must have consistency.'

Francis readily points out that this is 'the easiest thing to say but the hardest thing to do'. He himself, however, has achieved it both as a player (in 1975-76 when QPR were runners-up in the First Division) and as a manager (when he steered Bristol Rovers to the Third Division championship two years ago). He sees the route to consistency in good organisation and clear instruction.

'Having been at QPR for 12 years as a player,' Francis says, 'they were 'my team', and I always looked for their result. I would notice how inconsistent they were. One week they might beat Liverpool, and then they would go for five games without a win.'

In the couple of seasons before Francis's arrival as manager they had flirted with relegation before pulling away to safety at the end of the season.

Since taking over in the summer of last year, Francis has worked hard to instil good habits and bring a measure of stability to his side's performances, without losing the high spots. Last season's good run included thrashings of both Leeds and Manchester United as well as the gratifying, but less flamboyant, victories over humbler opposition.

One only too consistent feature of Francis's QPR side is the line-up. 'Over the summer,' Francis laments, 'I've had to sit back and see all my competitors spend millions. Look at Howard Wilkinson; Leeds won the Championship, and he's been able to spend three or four million improving the side.' Rangers, however, don't have any money to spend. The pounds 1.2m they raised by selling Roy Wegerle to Blackburn went on modernising the stadium at Loftus Road.

Instead of passing the close season writing large transfer-cheques, Francis spent it 'persuading the likes of Andy Sinton, Alan McDonald and Ray Wilkins to sign new contracts'. That they did is a telling tribute not so much to the manager's powers as a deal-maker as to his infectious commitment and vision.

Around a core of seasoned professionals Francis has gathered a promising squad. Some - like Bradley Allen - have risen through the youth ranks, as Francis himself did. Others have been bought from the bargain basement.

Francis admits: 'I don't see myself in such a different position from when I was at Bristol Rovers. I'm used to working with limited resources. If you can't buy the finished article you have to find players from the lower divisions and teach them.'

Apart from a walloping pounds 625,000 to bring Gary Penrice (a not-quite- finished article) from Aston Villa, Francis's purchases have all been for less money than a Blackburn player's signing-on fee: pounds 100,000 to bring the 'outstanding' Ian Holloway on from Bristol Rovers; pounds 175,000 to Birmingham for last season's top scorer, Dennis Bailey; and a lavish pounds 60,000 for Brian Croft, a winger with Chester City. 'That one nearly broke the bank,' Francis claims proudly. Despite their humble origins, they, with the rest of the squad, are rapidly learning the manager's creed of consistency.

One of the side's most consistently consistent players is Clive Wilson, the unsung full-back voted the supporters' Player of the Year last season. He is quick to praise the manager's practical ideals - the desire always 'to play football when it's on to be played', coupled with the recognition that results are even more important.

He enthuses, too, about the atmosphere in the club. 'Even when we were struggling last season,' he recalls, 'and after eight games were bottom of the league, we felt we had the players to turn things around.' This season, having made a happier start, he feels that the same players can sustain the momentum.

Queen's Park Rangers may be a Gerry-built side, but they are all the better for it.

(Photograph omitted)

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