On Tuesday night at Loftus Road, Queens Park Rangers came back from a two-goal deficit to take a point from Brighton, the Championship’s form side. Two goals from Charlie Austin - one a laces-through-the-ball smash from close-range, the other a smartly guided header - and Lewis Dunk’s needless dismissal were enough to eradicate a lead which the visitors had quickly built in the second-half and to maintain Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s unbeaten home record.
A good game, but also an important one for Austin: injury has disrupted his 2015/16 so far and last night marked the first time since early November that he has completed a full ninety minutes. His ninth and tenth goals of the season were very important, but moving him towards full fitness was arguably more so - if Rangers are to return to the Premier League at the first attempt, Austin will have to be heavily involved.
After the game, he was interviewed on the pitch and, as always, was thoroughly engaging. Austin is such a refreshing character and his personality exudes an everyman charm. Maybe it’s his nature or maybe it’s product of his struggle into the game; either way, there’s a tangible realness to the forward which is in short supply in the modern game.
Most importantly, though, he was quick to quash any suggestion that he would be leaving Rangers in January. Citing a conversation he had had with Les Ferdinand before the start of the season, he definitively committed himself to the club for the rest of the year.
Again, what a welcome change of pace.
There’s still a very reasonable debate about how much Charlie Austin is actually worth and what the limitations of his ability actually are, but he could unquestionably have found a new Premier League club in the last six months had he wanted to. His current contract expires in the Summer of 2016, so QPR’s negotiating position wasn’t particularly strong in the months after their relegation - and how many players would have opportunistically leveraged that into a cut-price deal back out of the Championship?
Yes, should Austin run down his contract and leave for free at the end of the season it will look like lost revenue (and folly given Rangers’ financial position) but his goals and his value to a promotion campaign are far more valuable. If QPR are promoted and Austin still decides to leave, access to the new broadcasting contract will soften his departure.
But the point here is with regards to the player’s individual conduct. At twenty-six, Austin is not young in football terms and having tasted the intoxicating world of the Premier League and having given an admirable account of himself within it, he could have been forgiven for forcing a return to it as soon as possible. It’s a “me first” industry and so that kind of behaviour is ultimately forgivable, but it doesn’t make it any easier for a support to bear. The Steven Fletcher incident at Wolves a few years ago or Jermain Defoe’s transfer to Tottenham in the last decade provide pertinent, dispiriting examples of what can happen if a club drops below a player’s expectation of where he belongs.
Austin didn’t do that. He didn’t force a move in the Summer and, if he’s good to his word, he won’t try to in January. Presented with the same circumstances, most players in his situation would have been very vague and given a deliberately opaque answer to a question about their future, but Austin was intentionally decisive: he’s staying and for the next few months at least, Hasselbaink can count on being able to select him.
Whatever the reason behind that is, it’s to be applauded. It took him a long time to get to the top of the game and he spent more time than most grinding in the game’s backwaters, so for him to be patient and to not derail QPR’s season by abandoning ship is particularly welcome in the current climate.