If at first you don’t succeed; try, try again. That is the name of the game for Leroy Fer after suffering back-to-back relegations from the Premier League.
After enduring the drop with Norwich City at the end of the 2013/14 campaign, the Netherlands international was dealt the same painful fate just 12 months later with Queens Park Rangers, where he has now stayed put in a bid to help the Hoops achieve an instant return to the top-flight.
However, not everything has been plain sailing for the pre-season promotion favourites, as seven defeats from their opening 18 fixtures left QPR in 13th spot, consequently seeing chairman Tony Fernandes dismiss manager Chris Ramsey in November.
Now under former boss Neil Warnock’s interim reign, the R’s head into the final month of the year looking to mount a play-off charge.
QPR’s sluggish start to the season comes off the back of a thoroughly disappointing 2016 UEFA European Championship qualification campaign for the Dutchman, where Fer’s Holland surprisingly failed to book their place in next summer’s finals for the first time in 32 years.
Determined to guide his club back into the Promised Land and inspire his country to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, the 25-year-old spoke exclusively to Shoot about the fierce competition in the Championship, the importance of keeping hold of star striker Charlie Austin, and the Netherlands’ frustration on missing out on a first major tournament since 2002.
You are currently in your second season at the club, how are you enjoying life at QPR?
“Basically I love this club. It is a nice club and it has good people. I don’t think we are in the league that we want to be [in], but we have to try and do everything to try and get promotion. It is going to be a tough season. It is a tough season already! But we have a strong team and we need to try to win the games to basically get in the play-offs or the top-two.”
You left Norwich City, who are now in the English top-flight, to join QPR in the summer of 2014. Have you ever looked back on that decision with regret?
“No, no regrets at all. Listen; I like this club and we have a very strong team. We had a strong team last year. So like I said, we just need to try and win the games. That is the most important thing to then try and get into the play-offs or into the first-two.”
How hard was it to stomach relegation in your first year at Loftus Road?
“Of course it was hard because I have now played two seasons in the Premier League and both times I have been relegated. But as a footballer you have to try and do everything you can do to play as high as possible. Now I am playing in the Championship. We have still got a chance [of promotion], but it is going to be very tough. We have to try and get ourselves in the right place.”
You are currently 12th in the Championship. How would you sum up the club’s season so far?
“Well it is not our best, I think that we could have done much better. It is going to be a tough season; it already is. But I think we need to play to our own ability more. We have a strong team and strong players that stayed at the club. People were talking about players leaving the club, but they are still here. So we have a strong squad and we can compete, play very good football and try and win games, because that is the most important thing.”
Are you surprised at how competitive and tough the Championship is?
“Yes! It is not only us that can get promoted, of course. There a lot of good teams that play in the Championship, a lot of strong teams. You can see it at Brighton, where they have won some games in the last couple of minutes, which gives them the points and that is why they are top of the league. So that is what we have to do as well; just win games, that is the most important thing.”
What is the ambition of the club this season? Are QPR capable of winning promotion back to the Premier League straight away?
“Well, what we have in our locker; I think that should be our standard, to try and get a place in the play-offs. But the league is so hard, it is going to be tough. But we will try everything to try and get a place in the play-offs.”
Chris Ramsey was dismissed as manager in November; do you think that was a fair decision?
“Well, in football this always happens. It is hard to get 25 players out. It is a hard decision, of course. But I think the owners and everybody else just wants the best for the club. It must have been a hard decision, but the decision was made. We have to do our best now. We have to look to the future.”
One important player you kept over the summer transfer window was top goalscorer Charlie Austin. Just how important is he to your promotion bid this season?
“He is one of our best players and everybody knows it. He is the one that scores the goals for us. It is hard to say, but I just think we have to feed him the ball and try and do that the best as possible because he will score the goals. You win games with the goals he scores. That is important. He is a massive player for us and I hope he stays here for as long as we can keep him.”
You have earned 11 caps for your country. Representing the Netherlands must be a dream come true?
“It is one of the best feelings. I have played 11 times. It could be more, but I have played 11 games and got one goal in the World Cup. It was one of the best feelings to represent your country in the World Cup at Brazil.”
What can you remember from your strike against Chile in the World Cup last summer?
“It happened so quick! Just the goal and then the feeling after was just amazing. We got the third place at the World Cup, so that is something that I will not forget in my whole life. We are struggling at the moment having not gone to the Euros, which is a big disappointment. But I think we are a strong country and we will get over it and try to get a place in the World Cup in 2018.”
As you say, unfortunately the Netherlands failed to qualify for Euro 2016 – their first absence in the competition since 1984. Just how disappointing was that?
“It was very disappointing because after we got the third place at the World Cup, expectations were high. I think we had a strong group, but as group favourites, it was really disappointing from the players’ point of view. We have to stick together now with everyone that has been involved in the Euro qualification to try to be a group now and work towards getting to the World Cup.”
What must the Netherlands squad do now to ensure they qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia?
“We have still got seven or eight months before the qualification for the World Cup starts, so I hope we can get a lot of friendly games to gel and know what we have to do as a country. We are a team that need to keep the ball in possession and get in as many attacks in the game. I think we need to practise on that again and try to win in that way.”
You have been grouped with the likes of France, Sweden, Bulgaria, Belarus and Luxembourg. What do you make of that 2018 World Cup qualification draw?
“It sounds like a very strong group! France are hosting the Euros and they have a strong team. Sweden have just qualified as well. So there are some very strong teams, but it is up to us because we are a very strong team as well, and hopefully we can win those games against the big countries. I have been in the World Cup in 2014 and that was an amazing feeling. So for me personally, I want to be involved in the qualification for the World Cup and, if we get through, it is up to me to show the manager of the Dutch national team that I should be there.”