Henry revels in the role of QPR’s midfield enforcer

Karl Henry (right) and Joey Barton (left) celebrate together during Rangers' opening game of the sea

Karl Henry (right) and Joey Barton (left) celebrate together during Rangers' opening game of the season - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Karl Henry has built a reputation as a player who loves a battle on the pitch, but QPR’s tough-tackling midfielder has revealed he is out to set the record straight.

Three years ago, Henry was labelled the villain of a Wolves side which amassed an astonishing 24 yellow cards and three reds inside the first three months of the season.

In a Premier League match at Wigan, his horribly mis-timed tackle on Jordi Gomez drew a straight red card, and condemnation from pundits, fans and fellow players.

The following season, Henry’s tackle on Joey Barton during QPR’s 3-0 win at Molineux sparked a war of words between the two players which rumbled on both on and off the pitch and provided an intriguing subtext to Henry’s move to Loftus Road last month.

Henry welcomes his tag of ‘enforcer’, a role which he hopes will help secure his new club promotion back to the Premier League this season, but refutes suggestions that he is a malicious player. “If there is a ball there to be won I will go in and try to win it,” he said.

“A few years ago in the Premier League I had a stint where I feel I was unfairly tagged as a dirty player. That is certainly not me, I’m not that sort of character.

“I’m a ball-winning midfielder. I like the defensive part of the game, I relish chasing back and defending. If that makes me an enforcer than yes, I’m an enforcer.”

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It is just such a fighting spirit which many would argue QPR lacked last season, and is almost certainly why Rangers manager Harry Redknapp was so keen to bring Henry to west London.

Henry revels in the physical side of the game. After honing his game as a youngster at Stoke City he perfected it during seven years under Mick McCarthy at Wolves.

Henry captained Wolves to promotion to the Premier League in the 2008-09 season. He knows exactly what is needed to reach the Premier League – and to stay there.

“At Wolves we were one of the smaller sides in the Premier League and probably the same as QPR, you have to put every ounce into winning the games,” he said.

“If you are going to get three points you have to have 11 players out there working their nuts off. We had a good team spirit under Mick McCarthy and we had a few games where we put a few tackles in. That was expected from him, you had to put in 100 per cent.”

Henry can see that same spirit building among his new team-mates. The potentially disruptive influence of figures such as Jose Bosingwa and Adel Taarabt have departed or been loaned out, replaced by respected professionals such as Henry, Gary O’Neil, and Richard Dunne. “You need that, you need leaders out on the pitch, people who are going to voice their opinions and are not afraid to get stuck in,” added Henry.

“There are some really good lads who were here already and it’s a nice mix of good you players and older experienced players. It is a good place to be.”

Teams need quality as well as aptitude to achieve promotion from an unforgiving Championship, and Henry believes QPR have that quality in abundance. After suffering successive relegations with Wolves – from the Premier League to League One – he is only looking in one direction: back to the top flight.

“First thing I do is compare this team to Wolves last year. We were one of the favourites and we got relegated. It was a disastrous year.

“Already I can see that this team has goals. I can see straightaway that this team has goals in it. I’m really grateful to join a top club like QPR who are expected to go up this year.”

Henry also holds a mutual respect for Barton, similar characters in a team which is already showing plenty of fight: “It’s water under the bridge. We’ve had a good few chats, I get on with him quite well, he’s a good lad. When you play against someone in football quite often you get a perception of someone. Maybe it’s not a true reflection of their character.”