Pestering Sir Alex Ferguson pays off for QPR defender
- Credit: EMPICS Sport
Danny Simpson has more reason than most to appreciate the dilemma facing so many young English footballers.
A product of Manchester United’s youth academy, as a teenager Simpson was faced with the choice of competing with Gary Neville for his place in the side, or badgering Sir Alex Ferguson to send him on loan in an attempt to force his way into first-team football.
He chose the latter, and by 2006 Simpson had completed loans at Royal Antwerp, Sunderland, Ipswich Town, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United.
It was that last spell, at St James’ Park, when he impressed manager Chris Hughton enough to earn a permanent deal.
More than 100 appearances followed for Newcastle, before Simpson moved again, to QPR, in June, where he has established himself as one of the most reliable right-backs in the Championship.
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At 26, he has forged his reputation the hard way, and Simpson says it was his decision to seek loans away from Old Trafford, rather than to tread water in the reserves, which shaped his career.
It is an attitude he is urging today’s young players to adopt.
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“I had that many loan spells because I wanted to play,” said Simpson. “It was me knocking on the manager’s door saying that I wanted to go on loan.
“When you leave a club that you have been with for 10 years, you always get treated as a young lad. But once you go out on loan and you play for another first team, that’s when you are treated as a first-team player.
“That’s one thing that surprised me, and I enjoyed it. I was playing in front of big crowds, learning and playing against men.
“Every time I came back to United I felt like I was more confident. I was a better player mentally and physically, and that’s why I kept knocking on the manager’s door saying that I wanted to play.
“It’s down to the individual. There are some players who would be happy just to be playing for Manchester United’s reserves until they are 22 or 23 years old, waiting for that chance.”
The choice between fighting for a starting spot and going on loan is familiar to hundreds of young players up and down the country.
The lack of young English talent, and the reasons for it, are well-documented, ranging from increasing numbers of foreign players to the pressure on managers to achieve instant success, which encourages them to turn to experience over youth.
The problem is evident at QPR in the figures of defender Michael Harriman, who has made 15 appearances on loan for Gillingham this season, and striker Tom Hitchcock, who has already played – and scored – for the first team, but has since found himself pushed back into the elite development squad and seems set to stay on the periphery.
While Hitchcock waits for his chance at QPR, Harriman is taking his opportunity at Gillingham.
So which is the better choice? Simpson is unsure.
“Tom has come in and out, he’s been in the first team and you can see that he’s then become a better player for the reserves,” added Simpson.
“It’s up to him; he may want to stay around because we don’t have that many options up front. From his point of view he’s just waiting for a chance. “He came on and scored the winner [against Ipswich] and I’m sure he would love to do that again.
“On the other hand maybe if he did go out and play week in, week out for someone’s first team, he would come back a better player.”
Simpson is adamant that going out on loan is a crucial part of any player’s development.
As well as nurturing ability on the pitch, the defender says it helps them to deal with life off it, particularly when the financial shock of graduating from academy player to first-team football is enough to send many players off the rails.
“I did certain things which I look back on now and I think I wouldn’t have done,” he said. “But you get mature as you get older. You have to have the right people around you.
“I have an accountant now and I speak to young lads for him and give them advice. I say ‘look, I didn’t do this at that age, but you should’.
“I think now it has changed a bit from six or seven years ago when I got the contract. You aren’t sure what to do really when you have such a significant rise, it’s hard to deal with.”