WHILE the current break in football really is inconsequential while the world largely stands still in order to fight the Coronavirus crisis, sport for many acts as a form of escapism that, for the moment at least, we are left without.
It is with hope that we look forward to the return to escapism that watching QPR really has been this season, for that would potentially mean that we are rid of the cruel virus that has already taken the lives of too many.
No-one can argue that watching the R’s under the stewardship of Mark Warburton this season has been fun. 58 goals scored in 37 league outings – yes, probably a few too many conceded – but after what’s gone before, it’s been refreshing to see a young, hungry team tackle the Championship with little regard for the bookmakers who predicted that relegation loomed large in W12 this time around. For many, conceding goals has been an acceptable consequence given the work currently afoot.
Financial fair play regulations have dictated that Rangers return to their once traditional ways of bringing through their own – or alternatively other clubs’ from a young age – in order to compete on one of the lowest budgets in our division. But that’s not exactly been a hindrance.
Every team needs a sprinkling of experience, but the kids are alright. Ebere Eze’s silky showings have quickly earned him cult hero status, even leading to comparisons with Adel Taarabt, while Ilias Chair appears to have seized the opportunity of first-team football at QPR after impressing on loan at Stevenage last year.
For me, though – as I reflect on the season that’s been with nine games left to contest – the campaign has been most enjoyable for the displays of Bright Osayi-Samuel.
Perhaps I am biased.
Some background – I am a thirty-something, self-confessed QPR fan who grew up on a staple diet of watching Trevor Sinclair’s wing wizardry. If I had any boyhood idols, Tricky Trev was one of the first.
Signed from Blackpool, this was a player who spent the majority of his career in the Premier League and won international acclaim with England.
Can Osayi-Samuel – also a former Blackpool protégé – hit such heights? In these uncertain times, that’s something I’m not in any doubt about, but you feel there is still much more to come from a player who is surely Rangers’ most improved this term.
“When I was at Blackpool, they used to show videos of him (Sinclair) – I remember that he was very direct and skilful,” Bright explained.
“They used to say that if you have a career like his, you’ll go far.
“He’s certainly someone to look up to. There have been times when he’s messaged me, wishing me luck and stuff like that, which is nice.”
Not many players have got me off my seat quite like those halcyon nineties days of watching Sinclair sport our famous blue and white hoops. But Bright has done.
Sure, Taarabt’s performances – especially in that Championship-winning campaign of 2010/11 – were nothing short of ridiculous. And here and now, Eze has that same maverick-like swagger about his play.
But there is something about old-fashioned wing play – players prepared to knock it past their marker and lead the charge from wide.
Sinton, Thomas, Lazarus. And the aforementioned Sinclair. We’ve had our fair share of greats.
Everyone will remember what felt like a ‘eureka’ moment for Bright this season, and indeed his Queens Park Rangers career. Birmingham away, cold Wednesday night in December, quite frankly a horrible game of football before half-time.
Not that Rangers – a goal to the good at the break, after skipper Grant Hall poked home in scrappy fashion just before it – minded.
One of the more pleasing aspects about watching QPR this season has been our ability to ‘have a go’ away from home. Our second-half performance here exemplified that.
But the 67th minute is when you feel Bright Osayi-Samuel really announced himself this year. Collecting the ball inside his own half, the winger galloped forward – fending off a whole host of challenges in the process – before lashing home from inside the box.
“That game gave me so much confidence,” he continued.
“The way I scored that goal – it made me believe that I was capable of doing stuff like that regularly. I feel like I’ve shown my ability since then.”
That doesn’t paint the whole picture, though.
Up until half-time at St. Andrew’s, never before had Bright worn a pair of boots with metal studs.
That was about to change, though, thanks to the invention of boss Warburton. It’s quite the tale.
“Before that game, I would only wear moulds (moulded studs) – even when it was raining and slippery,” Osayi-Samuel said. “At Birmingham, I was wearing moulds in the first half and kept on slipping – so the gaffer told me that I had to change boots!
“The blue boots I put on, which had [metal] studs, I’d never really worn them before – I just had them.
“But I felt like they made such a difference for me, personally. I started to run properly. Ever since then, I’ve just been wearing those studs.”
Bright joined the R’s from Blackpool on deadline day of the 2017 summer transfer window.
This season, he has made more league starts than the previous two campaigns combined – 26 compared to nine (2018/19) and six (2017/18).
“Before, I would play well without scoring or assisting. I never really had a run of games and it was stop-start,” he said. “I would play a few games and then drop out.
“But this season, I’ve been able to play consistently – which has also helped me to believe that I’m doing the right things. It’s given me the chance to prove what I can do.
“I would say that the gaffer (Warburton) has been the biggest influence on me. He’s really helped me – even when I haven’t played games. After training, we would spend 10-20 minutes looking at things that I needed to improve on, like my crossing and picking out players in the box.
“Those little things really help.”
Bright was born in Nigeria but was later brought up in Woolwich, via two years in Spain, and coincidentally played against now-team-mate Ebere Eze in school fixtures.
He was a relative latecomer to academy football, not joining Blackpool until he was 16.
Interestingly, he was actually first spotted by Manchester United's John McNab at a training camp where scouts were invited to attend. It was later decided that he would be better placed to progress at Bloomfield Road, however, after McNab contacted close friend and Seasiders Under-18s coach Richie Kyle.
Now 22, Osayi-Samuel feels that he is still far from the finished article.
“Every season, I feel like I have improved and I feel like I’m a lot more confident now – not just on the pitch,” he added. “I talk a lot more, which I didn’t really do for the previous two years, so I feel like I’m improving as a person just as much as I am a player.
“Chris Ramsey and John Eustace have also had a big impact on me, on and off the pitch. With Chris, if he says something, you know he means it – whether it’s harsh or not.
“He makes you realise that you quickly have to become a man. If you try to sulk, that won’t wash with him.
“He’s been there since the start, when I joined. And Eusty has believed in me the most. I am grateful.”
While Rangers have attempted to polish this undoubted diamond, Bright still has a rawness about his play that you wouldn’t want to coax out of him – a nod to his days spent playing football on the streets of south London and a player he says he has always looked up to, Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha.
“It’s fun but rough, as well,” Osayi-Samuel explained. “I used to play on the streets all the time, I would leave my mum’s house without her knowing, because I knew she wouldn’t let me out!
“I would play football in a cage for hours. I would just come home to sleep. I remember doing that a lot. But it was fun and I enjoyed every single minute of it.
“In the cage, you always wanted to show you have the best skills. You wanted to show everyone that you’re the best player. I think it’s really helped me.
“There is still basic stuff that I need to improve on, but the skills that I have already are strengths that I want to continue to be there every time I play football.”
Today, the winger is only a division away from plying his trade in England’s top-flight. He hopes that can be with QPR.
Before football stood still owing to the Coronavirus outbreak, Rangers were on a six-game unbeaten run. With nine games left to play in the Championship this year, the R’s sit only six points off the play-off positions.
“I’ve always said that we’re a footballing team who are capable of anything on our day,” Bright continued.
“I firmly believe that, with the team we’ve got, the players we’ve got, we’re capable of getting there (the top six).
“I’m enjoying playing football here and, as a Londoner, it would be the biggest dream come true for me to take QPR to the Premier League.”
Who knows when football will return to the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, but one thing’s for sure – it will be a special occasion when Rangers finally take to the field to face Barnsley.
Not least because it will spell the return of the continued rise of Bright Osayi-Samuel.
“This season’s made me realise that, when you play and play well, you can’t wait for the next game,” he said.
“I literally can’t wait to get back out there again.”
At Blackpool, they used to show videos of him (Sinclair) – I remember that he was very direct and skilful.