Given its placement within the Christian calendar, you’d be forgiven for expecting crucifixion or ‘near-resurrection’-based puns in the aftermath of Queen’s Park Rangers’ defeat at Fulham.
However, a browse through their playing staff is enough to convince anyone that the clearest aspect of Christianity in Rangers’s season is their squad’s likeness to a school nativity play, during which the cast would include a child who, during his role as Angel Gabriel recited line after line of scripture, standing next to a peer whose sole contribution is standing statue-esque (or Clint Hill-esque, if you will), dressed as a tree.
QPR have a lopsided, divided squad. They not only have a clash of egos, with members of the promotion-winning squad aggressively rubbing shoulders with the expensive benefactors of the club’s new era, but their squad also contains a remarkable disparity of quality and balance.
The Premier League has experienced some seismic changes in recent years at the hands of foreign investors. Chelsea and Manchester City used the cash of the dodgy Roman Abramovic, the even dodgier Thaksin Shinawatra and later Sheikh Mansour, respectively, to propel themselves to domestic supremacy. QPR have been equally blessed with the financial backing of both Flavio Briatore and Tony Fernandes, but like Blackburn Rovers, they’ve headed in the opposite direction – towards footballing anarchy – despite the comically ambitious aims of their owners. But while the Venky’s proactive approach has arguably cost Rovers, Rangers’ appalling transfer record, overseen in the main by Mark Hughes, seemed to pass Fernandes by. He must have to portion some of the blame, however. Despite his expertise lying outside of football, over the course of the last year, Fernandes has allowed a catastrophic and amazingly skewed transfer policy to thrive.
Most people like to imagine what they’d buy if they ever won the lottery, but I doubt Ryan Nelsen or Nedum Onuoha would feature highly on many people’s list. The squad Mark Hughes assembled was not only pitiful, but also infantile in its set up. He has spent freely on forward thinking players while grossly neglecting his defensive line to the extent that he created a situation where Julio César can pass the ball, intentionally, to Armand Traore. What did the former do in his past life to deserve that?
Hughes would point to his signings of César and Rob Green as evidence of defensive strengthening, but having a good ‘keeper behind a woeful back four is about as useful as leaving all your doors and windows open but having a burglar alarm. It’s brainless. Just ask Shay Given when he was at Newcastle.
To add insult to injury, when his spending began in earnest last summer, Hughes signed 11 players, 5 of whom were over 30, and all of whom were on extortionate wages. The end result is the aforementioned division in the squad and also an inability to get rid of the likes of Andy Johnson as they rot in the reserves. These players, who made up the (intended) first step of the ladder will now prove very difficult to shift.
Perhaps I am being a bit harsh. Hughes couldn’t be accused of indecision as, like FSG at Liverpool, he has a single-minded transfer policy. However, whereas Liverpool’s pursuit of young, British talent is at worst commendable, Hughes’ pursuit of players who are frankly over the hill as well as overpriced must make Harry Redknapp, the Terry Tibbs of football, even more weary than he already looks. Andy Johnson, Djibril Cissé, Bobby Zamora, José Bosingwa, Ji Sung Park. All players who are marquee names, albeit in the loosest possible terms, but all players who are well past their best.
In fairness, to suggest that had QPR invested in youth or even some real defensive quality, they’d be achieving Fernandes’ lofty aims is fickle, but replacing the carefree wastage of cash with some careful consideration and patience can get you a long way. Newcastle’s french revolution shows that if you scratch just a little below the surface of Premier League mediocrity, good deals can be done.
The Welshman pursued a transfer policy so juvenile, it appears he is best suited to international management, though I doubt they’ll be a queue of suitors when he declares himself ready for a return. While at Rangers, Mark Hughes well and truly took the fantasy football approach – unload £95m of your £100m on big names and fill the gaps later, with little regard for balance or shape. In many ways he resembled a child a Christmas, I just wonder where he’d fit in Queen’s Park Rangers’ nativity. The black sheep, presumably.