Gareth Ainsworth to QPR: The right step at the right time as the rocker makes grand return
After ten-plus years of pushing the boundaries at Wycombe Wanderers, Gareth Ainsworth is stepping up to return to Championship side QPR.
The rocker has shown great patience in waiting for the right job. And he may well have found just that at Loftus Road.
For over 13 years, Gareth Ainsworth and Wycombe were joined at the hip, with Ainsworth taking on roles as player, manager and even both; a seven-month stretch as player-manager resulted in him guiding the League Two side to safety in 2012/13.
The 49-year-old was made to work on a shoestring budget throughout his time in charge, but he managed to shape the club around his image and carried Wycombe up the divisions pretty much on his own back.
The Chairboys punched above their weight in League One and pulled off the unthinkable to get promoted via the play-offs in 2019/20 as they finished ahead of Portsmouth, Peterborough United and Sunderland.
Wycombe were rightly the odds-on favourites to go down in the Championship the following season, and they did. But they did not get relegated with a whimper as they fought right up to the final day before finishing 22nd.
Ainsworth’s heroics have continued since then as Wycombe have battled around the play-off picture in League One and five wins in a row now have them on the cusp of the top six once again.
His achievements have been nothing short of remarkable. He was the second longest-serving manager in the Football League (behind Harrogate Town’s Simon Weaver) and you would be hard-pressed to pick out an individual job from a manager that has been more impressive than what Ainsworth pulled off at Wycombe.
Naturally, his work has caught the eye of clubs in the Championship over the years, and QPR have been linked with him on several occasions.
But Ainsworth has shown a great level of patience to hold fire and only move on when the right opportunity came along and he feels like he is ready to succeed elsewhere.
QPR are a club that have gone through the wringer this season. They pulled off an inspired appointment last summer as Michael Beale was plucked away from under Steven Gerrard’s shadow at Aston Villa to become a head coach himself.
His start to life in management was sensational as QPR were top of the Championship at one stage.
While Ainsworth has shown restraint when clubs have come calling, Beale jumped ship before his name plate was on the door when Rangers came calling. He had already rejected Wolves and spouted about staying loyal to QPR’s “project”. Those quotes have not aged well.
Neil Critchley felt like another wise appointment as the former Aston Villa assistant did brilliantly at Blackpool. But one win in 12 games has resulted in his demise with QPR starting to perilously look over their shoulder in 17th.
Talks over appointing Ainsworth have previously gone nowhere but QPR’s hierarchy have finally pulled the trigger and brought their former player back to the club as a manager who is tasked with ending their freefall into a Championship relegation fight.
This decision has been met with a mixed response from QPR supporters. Some are delighted to be welcoming back a club legend, who made over 150 appearances for them as a player.
Others are concerned about his style of play. Ainsworth has a reputation for preferring a negative approach as a manager, with long-ball tactics and time-wasting riling up opponents in the Championship especially. Though you could argue that this was the case of needs must, with the manager aware that given the club’s lack of resources, desperate methods had to be used to get an edge over their rivals.
This worked a treat over the past few seasons as Ainsworth brought the club immense levels of success. But with that, Wycombe have attracted a higher quality player to the football club and in turn, the manager has adapted. This is one sign of a top-quality coach, as it is a necessity to be able to move with the times to get the best out of the current crop of players.
Ainsworth certainly ticks a box there as he has consistently got the maximum out of players as Wycombe have achieved above their means in various divisions.
And as his Wycombe team gradually got better, Ainsworth’s pragmatic approach has eased somewhat as he has been taking steps to set himself up for a move to a bigger club where he will have a stronger squad.
Despite their wretched run of form, he will have that at QPR. They perhaps were overachieving at the start of this campaign, but they certainly should not be a candidate for relegation.
The Hoops have some quality Championship operators in their squad. In the short term, Ainsworth will lift the mood at Loftus Road and this should ease their relegation fears.
QPR just need results for the time being before Ainsworth can have a summer to settle in before next season. The real questions will be asked next term as we see whether the club’s players and fans take to his style, which still differs from that of Mark Warburton, Beale and Critchley.
What is clear is that Ainsworth has more than earned this opportunity and his patience has been rewarded with what is his dream job at a club close to his heart.
QPR hoped to have a season of stability under Beale. While that quickly unravelled, Ainsworth can settle things down and rebuild the feel-good factor that has been missing at Loftus Road in recent months.
Promotion back to the Premier League is surely the long-term goal for QPR. That feels a long way off right now, but Ainsworth at least now has enough strings on his managerial bow to ensure that he can get them out of their current mire.
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