Former QPR star backs Rangers for Euro return

Neill believes the future is bright for Rs if they sign the right players in January

Former QPR defender Warren Neill believes Rangers could begin to contemplate a push for European football if they sign the right players in January.

Neill was the Rs’ regular right-back when the club last played in Europe, having finished fifth in the top flight just a year after lifting the Division Two championship.

And he feels that, with a few shrewd additions to the current squad, QPR could be capable of challenging for a Europa League spot during the next few years.

“The top four are the same old faces, but that doesn’t mean a well-run club, even one that’s just come up, can’t have a good spell and qualify for Europe,” Neill told the Times.

“With the finance Rangers have got, they can buy another three or four players to come in and inspire the others, and they’d have the potential to be a good mid-table team.

“Hopefully the manager will get the players he wants and, if they’re around that mid-table mark at Christmas, there’s no reason why they can’t get up there.

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“This is such a big year for the club, but if they can stabilise in the Premier League, things can only move forward.”

Neill, who grew up in Acton and came through the youth set-up at Loftus Road, was a key member of the team that stormed to promotion under Terry Venables in 1983 and established themselves in Division One.

In complete contrast to the class of 2011, Venables’ squad remained largely unchanged after they won promotion, but early victories over top teams such as Aston Villa and Arsenal helped them to settle in at a higher level.

“You never know how you’re going to adapt until you’ve played a few games,” Neill recalled. “Even then, compared to the old Division Two, the pace was a lot quicker.

“Our first game was Man United away and we got beaten 3-1, but we had a good spirit around the camp. Everyone worked for each other and, once we won a few games, we felt we could beat anyone.

“When you play the top teams and win, it gives you so much confidence, and we saw that happen when Rangers beat Chelsea the other week. It’s shown teams there are going to be no easy games at Loftus Road.

“Of course, we did have the plastic pitch in the 80s! I think some teams were afraid of it, but even so our away record was good too. We had a squad of 16 and we played more games than they do now as well.

“Then again, we just had one physio, with one old machine and a bucket of ice, looking after everyone. That side of things has changed so much, but I still don’t see why players can’t play every game.”

Neill racked up a total of 209 games during his eight years at QPR before falling out with manager Jim Smith, who sold him to Portsmouth – but the pair later patched up their differences after Smith took over at Fratton Park.

Having already played twice at Wembley for Rangers, Neill missed out on a third trip as Pompey became the first team to lose an FA Cup semi-final on penalties in 1992.

After winding down his playing career at Watford, he returned to Rangers as manager of their under-18 side and later served as first-team coach under John Gregory and Mick Harford.

For most Rs supporters, though, Neill is still best remembered for one of the rare goals he scored almost 30 years ago – a header at Middlesbrough in the 1982 FA Cup third round replay, beginning a run that took Rangers all the way to the final.

“I didn’t even see the ball go in because it was a diving header and then people were jumping on top of me,” admitted Neill, who turns 49 next week.

“The Cup final was special, so was getting promoted and qualifying for Europe. Terry was such a good coach and motivator and it was a real shame that he went at that time.

“Obviously he couldn’t have been expected to turn down Barcelona, but most of us were still in our early 20s and we didn’t really get to see how far we could have gone.

“The side started to break up and it wasn’t really until Jim Smith got the team he wanted a few years later that we started to pick up again.”

During his career at QPR, Neill shared a dressing-room with Loftus Road legends such as Alan McDonald, Clive Allen, Paul Parker and even a young Les Ferdinand – but he nominates Tony Currie, the Rs’ midfield playmaker of the early 1980s, as the best he ever played alongside.

“Tony Currie, as a player and person, made the biggest impression on me,” added Neill.

“His attitude was first-class and he gave me more confidence, especially on the ball. Being alongside someone who was such a legend was fantastic.”