IN the first of a new series, we get to know the journey our Under-23 players have taken to get to this stage of their careers with QPR. We start with Charlie Owens.
Midfielder Charlie Owens signed for QPR from Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2017.
The 20-year-old penned a one-year contract at the club after a successful trial at the end of the 2016/17 season.
Owens made his debut for QPR’s first team in August 2018 in the League Cup Second Round against Bristol Rovers at Loftus Road. He described it as “the best moment of my career”.
Regularly training with the first team, Owens impressed at the Under-23s level last season in 19 appearances for Paul Hall’s side.
An international at Under-21 level, Owens represents his parent’s country Northern Ireland.
Favourite position: Midfield, anywhere
Best quality: Passing
Sum yourself up: Humble and driven
Idol: Thierry Henry
Didier Drogba famously scored the first FA Cup Final at the new Wembley. But it’s quite possible that Owens trumps the Premier League striker. When he was 10, Owens played at the new Wembley in the U10 Middlesex Cup final for Clissold Rangers.
“I scored two goals,” he revealed. “The pitch was split into four quarters and it was six-a-side, I think. Steve McClaren was the manager [of England] at the time and so he was watching. Now I think about it, it’s mad.”
A decade after Owens’ Wembley double, McClaren gave him his debut in senior professional football with QPR.
“I was always thinking I wanted to be a footballer,” Owens said.
The midfielder “grew up beside Clissold Park” in Islington and played for his first club from a young age.
“I started at Clissold Rangers when I was five or six and played there for four years.”
It wasn’t long before the big North London clubs spotted him.
Growing up in the close vicinity of Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, Owens was watching the Gunners just after the Invincible-era.
“I was pretending to be Henry when I was a kid,” he says.
Like the Frenchman, Owens was playing up front when spotted by Arsenal. “I started off as a striker. I was on trial at Arsenal and I used to score goals, but I couldn’t really play up front.
“I went back into midfield when I was at U10 level and then straight away I was picked up by Spurs. From then on, I was a midfielder.”
Owens’ passing range meant he began to take up a deep midfield role.
“I used to be like a Busquets when at Spurs and sit and dictate, but I’m more box-to-box here,” he explained.
“When I went to Spurs they’d always teach us these different movements and tactics and we’d watch Barcelona all the time.
“I started seeing football differently then. I’d watch them every week because I was lucky enough to have Sky. I’d study Iniesta, Busquets, Xavi.”
That’s when he began watching football as a footballer rather than as a fan.
“I wouldn’t really watch football as a fan when I was at Spurs; I was studying it. I’d watch Arsenal as a fan, but everyone else, like Barcelona, I’d study.”
After almost a decade at Tottenham, Owens quickly realised his time at the club was up in 2017. While Spurs viewed him as a centre-back, Owens felt it wasn’t his long-term position. A new contract wasn’t forthcoming and he sought a future elsewhere.
“I wasn’t in the team after Christmas,” he recalls.
“I came to QPR straight after. I knew Chris Ramsey [QPR’s Technical Director, formerly an academy coach at Spurs].”
The football academy system is a harsh world. More than half of young men released from clubs suffer from psychological issues within a month of being let go. Thankfully for Owens, his talent was clear and he found his feet quickly at QPR where familiar faces weren’t hard to find.
“Being at Tottenham was what I was used to but thankfully there are a few figures at QPR who were at Spurs, a couple of the coaching staff and a few players.
“That’s made it kind of easy to make the jump.
“There’s a great pathway here so I see it as a good thing that I joined when I did.
“If you leave at 21 or 22, you have to go straight into a first team, but I’m getting nurtured here to hopefully go into the first team when I’m ready.”
Owens has already had a good share of the first-team experience. The midfielder was part of the travelling squad for the final game of last season at Leeds and then went to Portugal in pre-season. A couple of months later, and Owens was coming off the bench to make his debut against Bristol Rovers.
“The stadium wasn’t packed but it’s still nerve-wracking,” Owens admitted. “Coming on was the best moment of my career.
“I got told I was in the squad the day before. We were playing against Leeds for the Under-23s the day before and I got told I couldn’t play the full game because I was travelling with the first team.
“I actually had a sore chest during the Under-23s game so didn’t think I’d be fit. I told the physios. I came in on a Tuesday and got so much treatment done because I knew I just needed to be involved.”
It was a special moment and the high of Owens’ career so far. But it can be hard for young footballers to cope mentally with the joy of a debut when their footballing life returns back to normal with the Under-23s.
“You’ve just got to keep working and doing what you’re doing and just wait for the chance,” says Owens. “That’s it.”
Although he’s a Londoner born-and-bred, Charlie represents Northern Ireland.
“They were always above England for me because all my family is from Northern Ireland. I haven’t even got an English family member.”
Owens has played at under-19 and under-21 level for the Green and White Army. The focus at the moment, though, is on the QPR first team and continuing to learn.