Queens Park Rangers have been one of this season’s surprise packages. With their Sky Bet Championship status hanging in the balance just eight months ago, the West Londoners have set their stall out early this year.
Mark Warburton’s men started the season brightly, embarking on a six-game unbeaten streak, before high-flyers Bournemouth brought an end to QPR’s impressive run of form.
That defeat sparked an unfortunate run of three straight defeats, but they got themselves back on track in midweek, returning to winning ways in a 2-0 win over Birmingham City, and stalwart Charlie Austin had a thing or two to say about it.
“You have to be nasty sometimes and you need to have the dark arts, and you know what, you need to be told the truth every now and then,” Austin said, speaking on the Official EFL Podcast. “Not everyone can take it but that’s what I did when I first went in there to the football Club.”
“I was very honest with the lads. I said, ‘listen, I need you to help me as much as I’m coming in to help you, but at the moment you’re underperforming and that’s why you’re in the situation you are. As a team, and not as the group of individuals I’d watched over the last three or four games, let’s stick together and try and get out of it.’”
The 32-year-old rekindled his love affair with the West Londoners earlier in January, when he was loaned out to his ex-employers by West Bromwich Albion mid-way through the 2020/21 season.
QPR, who were two points above the drop when Austin re-joined, finished the campaign in ninth place, with the striker contributing eight goals to Rangers’ survival bid, but it was his infectious personality off the pitch that also gave the team a boost.
“I’ve always had this bubbly character,” he commented. “Controlled arrogance, I like to call it. Take this season for example – at the start, I got through pre-season really looking forward to it and I took a knock against Millwall, so I was disappointed to miss a couple of games. I also had my personal life going on and my nan passed away which affected me more than ever.
“In the last couple of games, I started playing with a smile on my face again and really enjoying it. My family and my mates who come and watch can see that now. That’s so important to me.
“When you’re a big and loud character, you can’t really have a off day. If you’re on a day when you’re not so bubbly, people will say, ‘what’s up with Chaz today?’ Sometimes you just have them days, like everyone.”
Austin, who was on the books of QPR between 2013 and 2016, earned a Premier League move from Loftus Road five years ago. With Southampton, he played in the Europa League, lining up alongside world-class players, in his own words, and that experience is something he took back to West London upon his return.
“When I first went there (QPR), the Club was in transition, but they had such big-name players. The fans probably wanted someone that they could relate to and because I had good success getting promoted and then individual success in the Premier League, it was a match made in heaven, shall we say.
“The second time, I needed their help and they needed mine. I needed a manager to give me game time and they needed someone to come and help them out of the situation they were in. It was very fortunate that both fell into place.”
He continued: “I managed to learn on the job. I played with good players and was managed by Ronald Koeman who was Holland and Barcelona manager, and Slaven Bilić, so all good managers and taking little bits from those individuals. And I’ve grown as a character really, so bringing the older figure back.
“When I got my chance at Swindon, I was still young and raw,” he explained. “I didn’t really care about much because I was going there and if it worked then great, and if not then I was going to go back and play non-league.
“I went to Burnley and then I would say in my last season at Burnley, my daughter was born 11 August on a Saturday and the season started the following Saturday and we played Port Vale on the Tuesday. I did a lot of growing up when I lived with my wife in Burnley in a two-bedroom flat and I was only 23.”
And that maturity that has developed over the course of his professional career will no doubt stand QPR in good stead this season.