EXCLUSIVE BY ALESSANDRO SCHAVONE
Toni Leistner says he has no regrets about joining QPR – even though his old club in Germany has risen to the top flight since he left them.
The 29-year old central defender joined the Hoops on a three-year deal from Union Berlin, who were then in the 2.Bundesliga, in the summer of 2018.
They have since been promoted for the first time in their 53-year history, and now rub shoulders with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, among others.
So when Leistner was frozen out by manager Mark Warburton and stripped of the captaincy at the start of the season, it could easily have prompted thoughts that he had made a big mistake.
But despite being phased out of the starting XI at a time when the transfer window was still open, the German says it never crossed his mind to throw in the towel and force through a return to his homeland.
He insists moving to west London has been the right thing, and his resilience has paid dividends. It only took him a couple of games to reclaim his place at the heart of the rearguard that leaked too many goals in his absence.
“In hindsight, it’s still the right decision to join QPR,” he told the London Weekly News.
“I did not only come to England for the sake of leaving Germany. Since childhood, my dream had always been to play football in this country and I really relish every second that I am on the pitch here and I am very happy about the decision that I made last year.
“I don’t think I will leave QPR this winter but I don’t know the club’s plans, especially with Financial Fair Play, the club might need to raise funds and sell someone.
“This season I proved once again that I can adapt to a different managerial philosophy and that I can defend.
But I only think about the present, not the future, and if the club has different plans they will let me know and we will take the best decision for both parties.
“But I repeat that I am happy here and want to see out this season.”
Leistner admits that his belief he has made the right move does not mean he rules out a return to his former club at some point.
“I have no regrets at all about quitting Union Berlin and do not want to leave [QPR] now,” he said. “On top of that, I don’t think they want to resign me.
“That said, I would seriously consider it [going back] because the club plays in the Bundesliga and my dream has always been to play top-flight football, as so far I have only ever played in a second league.
“However as long as Union Berlin don’t knock on my door I don’t waste my time thinking about it. I still watch most of their games and by the looks of it I don’t think that they need me because the lads who are there are doing a fantastic job and showed that they can hold their own.”
Leistner, who was a mainstay a season ago, dismissed suggestions of a strained relationship with Warburton, in spite of the fact that he was sidelined for the first few games of his tenure.
He said: “I have a professional relationship with the manager, the kind of ‘normal’ relationship any player has with his coach. But I doubt that we would ever have a beer together at night.
“Being dropped was hard because last year I played 47 games for this club and all of them as captain.
“So it was a new thing for me to be left out of the starting XI and the gaffer never really explained to me why I wasn’t part of his plans. But I took it on the chin and accepted his decision with humility.
“Apparently the manager needed someone with whom he could communicate more often and that wasn’t the case with me, maybe. However I am not a person who holds grudges.
“Having said that, last season I was astonished when Steve McClaren named me as the club’s captain but I was equally shocked this year that I was stripped off the armband.
“I have no hard feelings because every manager has a different philosophy and we players have no choice but to accept it.”
QPR have been criticized for some sloppy defending this season and currently have the third-worst defence of the division behind Luton Town and Barnsley.
But Leistner says the whole team is focused on resolving that defensive fragility and is confident there will be a marked improvement at the back in the coming games.
“In recent weeks we have worked a lot more to address our defensive woes on the training ground and you could already notice improvements this week, but it will take time,” he said.
“It’s important however to highlight that, as a team, you always win and lose together. If you score a goal it’s the whole team’s merit and if you concede a goal, there are 11 culprits, not one or five.
“I think that we amassed a decent amount of points so far, especially if you bear in mind the fact that we have 15 new players and lots of injuries in the squad. Sure we could have even more points but I believe that we need to keep more clean sheets in future to do so.
“QPR are a low-budget team this season. At times we play really good football, other times we completely forget how to defend. But as a team we never uttered the words ‘Premier League promotion’ because our task is to get as many points as possible in order to have nothing to do with relegation as soon as possible.
“The club’s main priority is to stay in the Championship and going beyond that would be a bonus, while Premier League promotion would be going beyond the call of duty.”
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