Having just completed his first media day at Queens Park Rangers' partially complete new training ground Heston, manager Michael Beale sat down with The Sportsman to discuss his new role, QPR and his career so far. In the first part of this two-part interview, he discusses his new club, summer transfer business and ambitions for the season.
Michael Beale has just taken his first managerial job at the age of 41, but he is a man with a whole heap of experience. Having worked with Chelsea's and Liverpool’s youth teams before becoming an assistant under Steven Gerrard at Rangers and Aston Villa, he is now using his wealth of knowledge and contacts to shape his QPR squad.
His two signings so far, Jake Clarke-Salter and Kenneth Paal, have both come off the back of his work as a youth coach. Paal in particular is somebody that he has tracked since he spotted the then-13-year-old at a tournament when Beale charge of Chelsea’s youngsters.
“He played for PSV and I was coaching Chelsea,” Beale says, speaking exclusively to The Sportsman. “The tournament was a great tournament - it was 12 European teams and 12 Turkish teams, and on the Saturday before the final on the Sunday which we won, we beat Besiktas on penalties. On the Saturday you had to pick two teams from each squad and they asked me to be the coach of that European team. So I had to pick some players and I picked Kenneth, he was the left winger at the time.
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“Whenever you go on these tours when you are a young coach, you go around Europe, I always used to write down the names of the best players. Kenneth has been on the list. I came back and recommended him to Chelsea, and tried to sign him for Glasgow Rangers two years ago - it didn't work out at that moment in time. When I heard I was coming in here and I saw that Kenneth was available, one of the first phone calls I made was to his agent. When I came in here and spoke to the staff, the club had also been tracking him for two years, so they had a load of scouting reports as well.
“So it was one of those things that came together. This is a big move and a big opportunity for him. His motivation to come and play in England, specifically London, was huge. He turned down other offers to come, I think in the case of both boys [Paal and Clarke-Salter], there were maybe stronger offers financially, so it shows that we must be doing something right at QPR that it is an attractive proposition.”
Having coached Clarke-Salter in Chelsea’s youth academy when he was 13, he was another who Beale was able to convince to join once he had got the job at QPR. “Strangely enough at the end of the season we were in contact for the first time in a while,” he tells us. “At that moment there was no inkling that I would be leaving Aston Villa and I had to quickly phone him when I got announced here because my advice could change now. I could give him an opportunity. He had a lot of options, and so it was more a case of: look, let's sit down and let me go through where I think you are at right now in your career and where I think you can get to. Let's work backwards, what are the steps in between that we need to fulfil. You need a home, you need a coach who knows you, you need a style of football, you need a platform for you to fulfil your potential. He believes in that as well.”
Beale was one of the most keenly sought-after coaches in England due to his glistening CV which has already seen him work with the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Tammy Abraham and Eder Militao, so what made him choose QPR for his first managerial job?
“The squad. There are some key players in this squad that excite me. Then you couple that with meeting the owners and discussing. I felt the energy towards me and the project from them in the room when I met them. The first one I suppose was the vision. Okay, there is excitement about the players but what are you asking me to do? I thought they were very sensible in their outlook on where the club is and what it can potentially do. There were no massive demands. There were a lot of key things said that made me pick this one over another one.”
This is a squad that is packed full of talent and one that faded away from the play-off race under Mark Warburton last term. Rob Dickie, Ilias Chair and Chris Willock in particular caught the eye last term, but Beale doesn’t believe he will lose any of his star men this summer.
“We are not in a rush to sell anyone,” he says defiantly. “We actually think that these boys have got more to come in terms of raising their potential transfer fee if they were to move on in the future. We are very much counting on them being part of a very good team vehicle here that can take QPR towards where those players want to go, which I'm sure is the Premier League. We are all aiming for that.
“What is for sure is that, like with Ebere Eze, if the offer is right and the player has a real opportunity to go there and be a key player in the Premier League we wouldn't stand in people's way. But the offer has to be right, it has to respect the work that we have done. You are right in those three, but there is more as well, we've got a squad of players that if anything we lack a little bit of experience. We don't lack potential. But I think after last year's season and disappointment, I am hoping that the changing room has grown from that experience and it makes them even keener and hungrier to succeed this year. That's the exciting thing for me.”
Ahead of his debut season in management, Beale is trying to tweak the culture around the football club, implement his style and make sure the entire club is pulling in the right direction. Results on the pitch will follow if he is successful in those goals.
“For me it is really important I create harmony in the club, and a pathway for the young players and the young staff, which is just as important. To create an environment where everyone feels like they can be themselves and then therefore kick on to become the best version of themselves. Then a way of playing football and training that excites people. If you do those things, then this club will move forward.
“Are we guaranteed to go up? No. If you look at the teams that come out of the Premier League with the parachute payments and the teams that came down last year, let's leave the focus on them and we will just remain very humble but very ambitious inside and start working. I think if I put the pieces in place behind the scenes then the results on the pitch will be a reflection of that. They will come over time. I think last year the team did very well, and then finished very indifferently. So what team are we? That is down to the players. They have got to decide which direction they want to go in. So I am excited to challenge them and provoke them and support them to be the best version of themselves. Then I'm sure we will do okay.”
With Director of Football Les Ferdinand sitting above him, and managers rarely given time in the modern game, Beale is unfazed by the task that lies ahead of him and feels he will set his own standards, rather than those above him demanding results.
“The biggest pressure will come from myself and the amount of expectations you put on yourself. It will come from our dressing room. I can assure you that our players are super ambitious. They will come back to pre-season, and I have spoken to most of them, with the biggest ambition in the world. So have the other 23 clubs in the Championship, and it is probably the toughest league in the world because the teams are pretty much on an even keel. We will have to fight, scrap and show quality to get every point we can. There is no big statement going out where we are, but we are certainly going to look at last year and want to kick upwards from there because that is what every club should do every season.”
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