Finally, the inevitable happened – QPR’s relegation has been confirmed (along with Reading). This has not come at a surprise to anybody at all, considering the fact that the Rangers were stuck in the bottom three for almost the entire season. What is the reason for their fate? Well, let’s take a look at what went wrong, and predictions of what the future could hold.
Mark Hughes and the summer signings
This might sound like a very direct and blunt accusation at the former manager, but one cannot argue that it is totally undeserved. Considering the money they spent in the summer, QPR should have cruised to a comfortable mid-table position by now. Mark Hughes was appointed during the mid-season of the first of QPR’s two seasons’ stay (replacing Neil Warnock), and when the stats are considered, his contribution towards improving their league position in his almost a year in-charge is next to nothing.
QPR somehow escaped relegation in their first half-season under Hughes, owing to favourable results from fellow relegation candidates. But that final day escape camouflaged the actual issue. The team on the pitch looked disjointed, and was one without any flow or cohesion in their play. In order to overcome this problem, a whole bunch of veteran players were bought (close to fifteen), with no exact long-term plan in mind; a classic case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. A large squad meant more permutations and combinations to choose eleven men, or in other words, more sets of probable starting XIs.
Even with such a variety of options, Hughes could work out neither a fixed formation, nor a way to accommodate his best players together in a team. The problem from the previous season carried forward into the new season. Even more dangerously, it had been magnified while a fix was being attempted. Such a mass entry of players led to more unfamiliarity on the pitch and an even lesser understanding among players. QPR’s 5-0 mauling on the opening day to Swansea proved that.
Even after a few ensuing games and defeats, Hughes never realised or addressed the problem. He could have gone back to the previous season’s eleven, or even to the core of the team that got the club promoted, and slowly integrated new players like Esteban Granero, Stéphane M’Bia or Jose Bosingwa into the team. However, that never happened, as the starting XI was being chopped and changed every week with no apparent reason. Eventually, Hughes was sent packing owing to bad results. The owner had realised the problem quicker than him.
Harry Redknapp finds it harder than he expected
Maybe, the lack of man-management skills or a lack of skill to inspire his players may have done Hughes in, rather than results alone. And who better to appoint than Harry Redknapp – the survival specialist? This was the right call at the time, and Harry was expected to guide QPR to safety slowly, but surely. But surprisingly, even he failed in the task of motivating a clearly under-performing squad. This does become a blot on Redknapp’s record, as he had half a season to save the club, which is quite a lot of time considering present trends in managerial sackings.
So why couldn’t Harry, renowned for getting the best out of any squad, work the same effect at QPR? Had he underestimated the scale of the problem he was facing when he undertook the challenge? Taking charge and turning around a team lying at the bottom, but one full of determination may be his cup of tea, but taking charge of a basement club with no unity or passion among its players at all was probably too big a challenge even for him. He subtly hinted towards a lack of consistent effort, with regular comments saying that some players did not deserve to be in the squad, or an occasional rant about big egos in the dressing room.
Why couldn’t Harry inspire his squad? Are egos the answer? Maybe, but a more probable answer could be the nature of summer signings made by the owner. Here is a list of players bought: Robert Green, Ryan Nelsen, Samba Diakite, Ji-Sung Park, David Hoilett, Bosingwa, Julio Cesar, Granero and M’Bia among others in the summer, and a few additions in the winter in the form of Chris Samba, Loic Remy and Tal Ben Haim. Most of these players (with exceptions) were well past their prime at the time of signing for QPR, and were, at the best, fringe players at their former clubs. This leads to the question of who made these decisions regarding transfers. Was it the board, or was it the owner Tony himself? Whoever that might be, the truth remains that there was money to spend, and it was spent on the wrong players.
QPR went for quantity over quality, and handed out fat contracts to players who were once fringe players at bigger clubs. Naturally, the offers were accepted – who would turn down the option of a potential doubling of wages and simultaneously, more game time? The squad grew, and finally, what emerged after the transfer window was a mixture of players from the original squad that got them promoted, some players who were signed in the summer after promotion, and a set of experienced veterans above 30 well past their peak. Maybe the veterans did not put enough effort into the task. Some being highly experienced and Champions League winners as well, they may have considered themselves bigger than a club aiming to reach mid-table. When the players reach such a mindset, then it is clear that they only want the money, and do not want to channel their experience to the younger players and to the benefit of the club.
With the amount of money that QPR had available, they should have spent it more wisely and made one or two quality signings, rather than filling the squad with ageing players. Maybe, a superstar signing could have transformed the mood into a celebratory one as well, and this feel-good factor could have transformed onto the pitch, leading to good results. Sadly, that was not the case.
What about QPR’s future?
So where are QPR heading now? The Championship has become a sort of a lottery over the years. With so many equally matched teams, all capable of winning on their day, it gets tighter with each passing season. Harry has already admitted that it will not be easy; it will be extremely difficult to achieve promotion instantly. Footballing aspects aside, there is also a huge risk and uncertainty about the club’s financial future.
Tony Fernandes may lose interest in his football experiment, and might decide to use his money rather elsewhere, the Caterham F1 team for instance. Without that backing, QPR will struggle to balance the books and pay the enormous wages that some members of the squad are currently on. Even if they decide to terminate all their contracts, they will have to pay-off the players the remainder of their contract, or accept cut-price deals to get rid of them as quickly as possible and trim down their wage bill.
Suddenly, a shortage of players may occur, and they might be forced to scramble for players at the last moment, just to make up the numbers. The situation would return to square one again – a hastily assembled squad with no long-term plan or properly defined roles for anybody. When such a squad is compared to the squad QPR assembled last summer, only then can we appreciate how much they may have shot themselves in the foot. Last summer’s squad had some quality, but it was compensated by a significant amount of experience, and the future one may be devoid of quality and experience!
To put it in a nutshell, QPR spent big but spent wrong, and are experiencing the consequences now. Maybe, Hughes could have been sacked a little earlier, giving Redknapp even more time to stamp his authority. Maybe, a couple of results here and there like last-gasp defeats could have been converted into draws which may have kept them safe.
Financial meltdown seems to be the theme for QPR’s short-term future at the moment; in case Fernandes decides that he has had enough. Probably, even he may have not envisaged relegation this season, which makes the prediction about what he is currently thinking even more difficult. In case he decides to stop backing Queens Park Rangers and turns his focus and cash to benefit his F1 team, QPR may well be hunting for a new owner along with players this summer.Published 30 Apr 2013, 10:31 IST