Nardi in, Begovic out: QPR win and lost

Asmir Begovic has departed from QPR after talks for a new deal at Loftus Road fell through. The 37-year-old goalkeeper was unable to reach an agreement with the club, where Rangers head coach Marti Cifuentes informed him he wouldn’t be the first-choice keeper next season.

In response, QPR has secured the signing of French goalkeeper Paul Nardi, 30, on a two-year deal. Nardi joins the club on a free transfer following the expiration of his contract with Belgian club Gent. A former France Under-21 international, Nardi had joined Gent in 2022 after previous stints at Lorient, Monaco, and Nancy.

Begovic signed a one-year contract with QPR last summer after departing Everton, marking a return to west London for the Bosnian goalkeeper who previously played for Chelsea from 2015 to 2017.

In England, Begovic has had stints at Portsmouth, Stoke, Bournemouth, and most recently QPR. He featured consistently for Rangers in the Championship last season, only missing the final match against Coventry where Joe Walsh was selected instead.

Related: Signing of Nardi highlights how Cifuentes wants QPR to play

QPR’s first major signing of the summer underscores Marti Cifuentes’ clear intent. The Spaniard demonstrated pragmatism upon inheriting a team facing relegation last season. Acknowledging the physical demands of the Championship and the team’s limitations, Cifuentes adjusted his approach, compromising on his usual football philosophy to secure crucial points.

He deployed Jimmy Dunne at right-back for added aerial prowess during set-pieces, addressing a longstanding weakness for Rangers. Overall, Cifuentes adopted a more physical and direct strategy, which proved effective as QPR secured safety with a game to spare. Victories over Leicester and a thrashing of Leeds highlighted their resurgence, earning Cifuentes praise and boosting his popularity among fans.

The lingering question was whether this pragmatic approach would persist beyond the season’s end, or if Cifuentes would revert to his preferred style. The signing of French goalkeeper Paul Nardi provides a clear answer to that question.

Nardi joins QPR on a two-year deal following the conclusion of his contract with Belgian club Gent. Several English clubs, including some in the Premier League, had shown interest in him previously.

Standing at approximately 6ft 1in, Nardi doesn’t fit the typical profile of the larger, physically imposing goalkeepers often preferred by clubs. However, his strength lies in his exceptional ability with the ball at his feet, which played a significant role in securing his move to QPR.

This signing marks a clear statement of intent from Marti Cifuentes, emphasizing his desire for a team, including a goalkeeper, capable of playing out from the back.

An improvement? 

It’s somewhat ironic that Paul Nardi arrived on the same day Liam Kelly moved to Glasgow Rangers from Motherwell. Kelly’s signing in 2019 under Mark Warburton was also a statement of intent, aiming to implement a possession-based style where Kelly’s ball-playing abilities were pivotal.

However, Kelly’s tenure in London didn’t go as planned, with both him and Joe Lumley struggling until Seny Dieng’s emergence provided a much-needed improvement.

Nardi, though not as physically imposing as Dieng, is hoped to be an upgrade over his predecessors. At 30 years old, he’s entering what should be the prime years for a goalkeeper. Contrastingly, Asmir Begovic’s signing a year ago, while a fine goalkeeper in his prime, raised concerns given his recent willingness to be a backup option.

QPR’s approach in evaluating keepers based on their suitability to the manager’s preferred style rather than reputation marks a positive shift.

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