A CIES Football Observatory study determined in 2017 that ‘very short players will struggle to establish themselves as professionals’.
Ever since the day he first started kicking a football around, llias Chair has been determined to dispel that theory.
The way shorter players are perceived is certainly different to that of their taller peers, and Chair has felt the brunt of that throughout his blossoming career to date.
The QPR youngster was just 16 years of age when he signed his first professional contract with Belgian outfit Lierse SK.
The tricky playmaker went on to make his senior bow in competitive football, although his side were relegated to the second division at the end of the 2015/16 campaign.
A change of management halted Chair’s progress early into the next campaign, however, and from then on the writing was on the wall as far as his Lierse career was concerned.
Speaking exclusively to talkSPORT.com, Chair explained what followed thereafter – underlining his early struggles in the game owing to his height.
“At 18 I asked the club [Lierse] what my future was and they basically told me I could leave if I wanted to as I wasn’t needed,” he said.
“They told me they were looking for other types of players at the time. I felt that was a bit of a cop out.
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“I said, ‘no problem, so shall I leave now then?’. They said, ‘yes if you want to’, so we shook hands at that was the end of it.
“The club no longer exists [they were dissolved in May 2018], but I get people who used to work there calling me up now and telling me they were wrong about me. I could have told them that at the time.”
You can see sense an air of frustration as Chair speaks, but a refreshing honesty and confidence in his own ability.
It has been a hard slog for the 22-year-old, and he doesn’t hide that fact.
His stature has always been a topic of debate, with question marks over whether he had what it took to become a professional.
“The problem was I was very small and I wasn’t the strongest,” Chair admitted. “Every year I had to prove them wrong and show that my size didn’t matter.
“The grind got bigger and bigger year upon year. I’m still not the biggest, but I think I’m doing all right, you know.”
That he is. Chair has come a long way since his initial trial with QPR in January 2017.
It took the Belgian-born attacker, who is of Moroccan ancestry, just three days to convince the club’s head of coaching, Chris Ramsey, to offer him a contract.
Former QPR boss Ian Holloway handed Chair his first-team debut in a Carabao Cup tie against Northampton in August 2017, with a two-year contract extension following early in the new year.
He scored his first goal for the club in their final home game of the season against Birmingham City, making seven first-team appearances in total throughout 2017/18.
Last season didn’t pan out entirely how Chair envisaged it, however. Such is the self-belief he possesses, he believes he could have been turning out regularly in the Rs’ first team a year earlier.
Instead, he spent the second half of 2018/19 on loan at Stevenage, and the impact he made there was quite incredible to say the least.
‘The best player that has ever worn a Stevenage Football Club shirt,’ according to the club’s then boss Dino Maamria.
So how did that compliment feel and what did he learn from that loan spell?
“I had doubts about going there in the first place because you never know what can happen in the lower leagues,” he admitted.
“For me it was like I’m this small type of player, the perception of playing in League Two is all about big, strong physical guys. So for me that was a doubt in my mind.
“But the players here [Angel Rangel, Jamie Mackie, Luke Freeman] told me to go out there and prove myself and enjoy my time playing and I’m very grateful for that experience.”
He added: “I know he [Steve McClaren, the former QPR manager] didn’t want me in the team, so I thought to myself I will prove him wrong and show him that he made the wrong decision.
“Things are going well at the moment but I think I could have done what I’m doing now last season. I’m very grateful to Dino and the guys there for what they gave me.”
Standing at 5ft 3in, Chair’s stock has certainly risen in the Championship this season – featuring in all but one of QPR’s league games so far.
He was rewarded with a new contract in September, which talkSPORT exclusively revealed at the time, penning a three-year contract extension.
Comparisons have been made with his fellow Moroccan Adel Taarabt, who took the Championship by storm in 2010/11 as QPR ended their 15-year Premier League exile, scoring 19 goals and laying on 21 assists.
And while Chair – who is currently weighing up whether to represent Morocco or Belgium on the senior stage – is appreciative of those words, he feels he is a different type of player to Taarabt.
“People compare me to him because we are from the same country,” said Chair.
“He’s a different kind of footballer to me, but I don’t turn down those kind of comparisons.
“He is a showboater, and an unbelievable one at that. I have to say it would be a dream come true to play with Taarabt for Morocco.”
QPR’s director of football, Les Ferdinand, sees similarities between Chair and one of his former Newcastle team-mates, Peter Beardsley.
“I feel as though Ebere [Eze] has a skill set which is closer to Taarabt’s,” Ferdinand says to talkSPORT. “With Chair you have someone who has loads of ability too, but is more of an industrious player – a bit like a Peter Beardsley.
“I look around our squad and for me Ilias is probably one of, if not, the hardest worker in the team and it’s testament to him.
“He’s got a great sense of gravity and his ability to control and pass the ball is top drawer. I tell Ilias he can be anything he wants to be if he puts his mind to it.”
talkSPORT’s Tony Incenzo is also a big fan of Chair.
“I’ve seen a conveyor belt of talent progress into the QPR first team over the years – from Gerry Francis in the 1970’s, right the way through with rising stars like Clive Allen and Alan McDonald,” he explained.
“In my opinion, Chair is another exciting prospect who gets the crowd excited. He has the potential to go all the way to the top – hopefully with Queens Park Rangers.”
Next up for the Rs is the short trip across west London to face Fulham on Friday night, and you can listen to full commentary of the Championship clash LIVE on talkSPORT 2.
Rangers have won just once in their last seven outings against the Cottagers and Chair says the squad are determined to put a show on for the Rs faithful at Craven Cottage – with close to 2,000 in attendance.
“For us as players this game is massive. We know how much it means to the fans,” he continued.
“It wasn’t good enough against Brentford last month [3-1 defeat]. We need the right the wrongs of that defeat and collectively step up as a group. We owe our supporters a result.”
While the Rs are searching for a first victory in five league games, it has been a promising start to the 2019/20 campaign under the tutelage of former Brentford and Rangers boss Mark Warburton.
They lie 10th in the table and just four points shy of the play-offs, with Warburton establishing a philosophy and playing style which has been very easy on the eye – a refreshing change from recent seasons.
Chair has certainly bought into this: “This playing style suits me a lot.
“These days if you look at the top teams I don’t think any of them really rely on playing route one and gambling on the second ball,” he discusses.
“Growing up as a Barcelona fan, it’s always been about total football and playing the ball on the ground.
“We have players in our team like Ebere who can make a difference like what Messi does for Barcelona, and the gaffer knows that.
“It’s so good to be playing out from the back, keeping the ball moving and creating more chances.
So what is the dream for Chair? And what is a realistic aim for Warburton’s men this season?
‘The dream?’ Chair finishes. “We [Ebere Eze, Bright Oyasi-Samuel etc] talk about this every day. We say to ourselves, ‘imagine if we got this club promoted’.
“It’s a huge incentive for us all.
“We want to get this football club back to where it belongs, that would be a dream come true for us all.”
With a big cheesy grin across his face Chair bids farewell as he walks off into the distance.
With the enthusiasm and drive this young man has, along with an abundance of talent, you can only see him going one way – right to the very top.
LIVE on talkSPORT
Check out all the live commentaries coming up across the talkSPORT network this week
- Fulham vs QPR (Friday, 7:45pm) – talkSPORT 2
- West Ham vs Tottenham (Saturday, 12:30pm) – talkSPORT
- Charlton vs Cardiff (Saturday, 12:30pm) – talkSPORT 2
- Arsenal vs Southampton (Saturday, 3pm) – talkSPORT 2
- Man City vs Chelsea (Saturday, 5:30pm) – talkSPORT
- Middlesbrough vs Hull (Sunday, 12pm) – talkSPORT 2