QPR’s Michael Beale: ‘Steven Gerrard is like my football brother’ | QPR

To understand how long Michael Beale has been working towards this moment, it makes sense to go back to the start, to the church hall in Bromley where he coached youngsters futsal 20 years ago. The room cost £35 an hour to hire but only three schoolboys, each of whom paid £4, turned up to his first session, including a 12-year-old Harry Watling, who this week joined Beale’s coaching staff at Queens Park Rangers tasked with a focus on set plays. “He was one of the first people to walk into that hall,” Beale says, smiling. “When he was 16 or 17, I went full-time at Chelsea and he paid me £150 for the soccer school – the balls, goals, and four after-school clubs for £150, so he got a good deal – and he still runs that business now and has about 32 staff.”

From Bromley to Blackburn, where on Saturday Beale will take charge of his first game as a first-team manager after working as an assistant to Steven Gerrard at Rangers and, more recently, Aston Villa. Beale loved his three years in Glasgow, though he lived out in the sticks. “After the Covid lockdown, after not seeing people for months, we won the league, and then when I went out things were a lot different. I got sent off in the Old Firm which put my face more in the public domain, shall we say?” The 41-year-old grins. Before that, he worked in the academies at Liverpool and Chelsea, and spent six months as an assistant to Rogério Ceni at São Paulo. Beale turned down “five or six” managerial opportunities in England, Scotland and abroad but had a different answer when the call came from QPR in May. “Steven always knew we would get to that day,” Beale says. “After the move to Aston Villa, I just felt overly ready.”

Gerrard must be a hard person to disappoint? “It was really difficult and it was more difficult because we were not face to face. I felt like I was cheating a little bit. We were both away on our holidays. But he was magnificent and made it much easier for me in terms of saying: ‘We’ve been great together, there’s an opportunity and maybe in the future we’ll come back together; you never know with the game. But we don’t owe each other anything and if you feel this is the opportunity for you and your family then go and give it a go.’ … It’s hard for me to respect someone in football more than I respect Steven. A lot of people bring staff in but they’re the main guy and they want to be front and centre of everything. Steven wasn’t like that at all. I’m delighted he’s gone and recruited one of my best friends in Neil Critchley [as assistant]. I’ll be supporting them. They’re like my football brothers.”

Beale is absorbing company at QPR’s new Heston training base as he discusses everything from witnessing the trajectory of Trent Alexander-Arnold and learning the politics of the game in Brazil – “they won the election by bringing in Rogério but then everything we got promised faded very quickly” – to feeling ready to “take on the world” with Gerrard, and sampling a three-course menu courtesy of his Under-23s in a Liverpool version of Come Dine with Me.

“We wanted to go round and snoop a little bit to make sure they were living OK and that the apartments were clean and in a good area. We made up this thing that if you moved out, that within two months you had to have me and an assistant round, and had to put a menu on the noticeboard. I remember the first time I met Jürgen Klopp. It was Jürgen, me, Pepijn Lijnders, who I’d recruited to Liverpool, and Alex Inglethorpe on the balcony on Jürgen’s first day [at Liverpool] … When I came up the stairs, he greeted me and was like: ‘I cannot believe you’re still alive. I watched you eat that spaghetti bolognese!’”

Michael Beale (second right) with Jürgen Klopp (left) the day after the German was unveiled as Liverpool’s manager in October 2015.
Michael Beale (second right) with Jürgen Klopp (left) the day after the German was unveiled as Liverpool’s manager in October 2015. Photograph: Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC/Getty Images

Beale watched a Liverpool Under-14s side featuring Alexander-Arnold the day before he began as Under-16s coach. “He was quite erratic, all arms and legs at the time, very skinny, playing at centre-back, but he’d dribble into midfield, hit a cross-field ball and the next minute he’d miscontrol it. But that was the genius.” Beale coached Alexander-Arnold as he progressed through the academy. “We had very good wide players; Harry Wilson, Ryan Kent, Sergi Canos, Sheyi Ojo, and they were all 18 months older than him. We would line them up and want to see when Trent quit. He was quite a tenacious so-and-so. There were times where he would give you that look,” Beale says, with a soft glare. “I’m not quite sure about the people giving feedback about his defending … he is truly world-class. If he was Spanish or German, we would just be wowing about him, so it’s interesting that he’s in and out of the England team.”

Beale, who coached Declan Rice, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham at Chelsea, has something of a conflict of interest when it comes to England and their rich reserves of right-backs. “I’ve worked with Reece James, he was [initially] a little centre-forward, Tariq Lamptey who is down at Brighton, Tino Livramento [now of Southampton] … so I’d like one or two to move positions so they could all play together! People build them up to be these super-humans, but they’re not. They are just young boys or girls and they go through lots of ups and downs, lots of insecurities, so it’s nice to see them fulfilling their dreams.”

Another busy day – Beale left Leamington, where he and his family have settled, at 5.30am – ticks into the afternoon, a 3pm board meeting on the horizon, but he is happy to be back working in the city he calls home, closer to his sister and grandparents. At the same time, a typically manic pre-season schedule has little sentiment for special occasions, including his daughter Alba’s third birthday. “We had to make her birthday yesterday, like all ‘bad dads’ have to do in football,” Beale says, breaking into laughter. “You have to lie about your daughter’s birthday to her … we had the day together at home yesterday. She helps me a lot. The boys still want to talk to me about football – they’re eight and 10 – but my daughter just wants dad time. It is great to say you switch off but equally it is nice to know you’re outworking your peers. I take safety and comfort from outworking people.”

Michael Beale with Steven Gerrard during Aston Villa’s Premier League game at home to Leeds in February.
Michael Beale with Steven Gerrard during Aston Villa’s Premier League game at home to Leeds in February. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

Coaching overseas and following in the footsteps of two of his idols, Terry Venables and Sir Bobby Robson, always appealed. He crammed in 17 hours of Portuguese lessons in two weeks before flying to São Paulo. “I can probably coach broken in it now. It helped me at Villa and with [Alfredo] Morelos at Rangers. It always sounds impressive to the secondary person you’re not talking to. They think: ‘Wow, he talks good Portuguese.’ The reality is it’s terrible, but I get that it looks cool. It was a big hint for me at Chelsea when all those foreign managers came in. They weren’t just elite managers but they spoke three or four languages and they were elite people. What I would say to young coaches now is you have to upskill yourself. You can’t be looking in from the outside and saying: ‘I don’t get given opportunities.’”

This summer QPR have signed Kenneth Paal, who Beale first came across at a tournament in Turkey when the left-back was 13, and Jake Clarke-Salter, with whom he worked at Chelsea, plus Tyler Roberts and Taylor Richards, who grew up in Shepherd’s Bush, on loan. “We’ve got a lot of players between 22-26 and they’re all on a similar journey,” he says.

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Keen to ensure his squad maximise their potential, Beale has split his coaching staff so that they are each responsible for different groups of players off the pitch. Gavin Ward takes care of the goalkeepers, Neil Banfield – who coached a 12-year-old Beale at Charlton and spent 21 years at Arsenal before joining QPR in 2019 after scouting for Gerrard at Rangers – the defenders, Damian Matthew – who recruited Beale to Chelsea – the midfielders and Beale the forwards. “Their job is to be like lieutenants, to get around and have breakfast or lunch with these players, find out where they are on their journey because everyone has hopes and dreams. ‘OK, so that’s where you want to go: what are we doing about it every day?’”

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