By trying to achieve more, Fernandes is destroying the long term future of the club.
After six games of the season Queens Park Rangers are bottom of the Premier League. No wins and the joint worst goal difference points to a very difficult season for QPR and their manager Mark Hughes. With West Brom, Everton and Arsenal coming up, it could be that by the end of October QPR will still be bottom and still on two points. For a team who had such lofty ambitions, what are the problems at the club which have made QPR’s season appear doomed already?
Last season QPR achieved something resembling the great escape. A dramatic comeback and capitulation from Liverpool brought QPR three invaluable points and a last minute winner from Cisse against Stoke was invaluable for QPR’s survival. It was a lucky escape for their manager and their owner Tony Fernandes, a man who had very high ambitions for his club.
The departure of Neil Warnock was always inevitable when Fernandes arrived at Loftus Rd. Warnock was the not the type of manager required for taking a side with ambitions up the league. Although he had worked wonders to bring the team together after the disastrous ownership of Ecclestone and Briatori he was not considered to have the required ability now QPR were in the big time.
A new manager was required, with a pedigree and a good reputation in order to propel QPR up the league. Mark Hughes was targeted and was convinced by Fernandes that QPR was a club going places. Hughes took the job, which was somewhat surprising considering he was seeking a “big job”.
In all fairness Hughes struggled last season and was very lucky to keep QPR up. You could say he did what was necessary and his work should be judged from this summer onwards. Well, after the summer and six games in, QPR appear a shambles. This is not good for Mark Hughes.
Over ambitious expectations
Before the season started the QPR chief executive Philip Beard has revealed the club are not prepared to accept another relegation scrap following their summer transfer spree.
“We haven't made the investment of this summer to simply compete at the same level as last season. The investment has been made so that we feel we are a club which can compete against - and beat - every club we play.”
A comment like this can be seen as either positive and confident, or it can be seen as delusional. Similar to the comments made by Venky’s, Blackburn’s owners when they took over the club, the belief that a little investment will mean automatic Champions League football appears ludicrous, and yet these “new” owners seem to genuinely believe in this possibility.
When Beard talks of “investment” one must wonder if he believes that £17m is really a lot of money? In Premier League terms the investment is rather minimal and especially does not make one believe that this club will be able to avoid a relegation battle. Two of the three newly promoted sides have spent more than QPR (Southampton (£28m) and West Ham (£19m)) and both will be part of the relegation battle this year.
For the CEO of QPR to believe that this investment will propel QPR up the league is laughable. Yet it must be worrying for QPR fans as to the over ambitious expectations that the owners of the club have on the club which survived relegation by a point.
Many new faces, stability or chaos?
The summer transfer window was QPR's third in a row that witnessed a huge influx of players. Since Fernandes has arrived QPR have signed 20 new players and have reportedly released around 40 players. Mark Hughes bought enough players to field an entire new team before the August window shut. It certainly appears a Fernandes revolution is taking place at QPR and yet one must be cautious about making so many changes so quickly.
This summer an influx of players came into the squad; Robert Green, Ryan Nelson, Andrew Johnson, Samba Diakite, Park Ji Sung, Junior Hoillett, Jose Bosingwa, Julio Cesar, Esteban Granero, Maya Yoshida, Samuel Magri and Stephane M'Bia.
From these new additions Beard believes that the squad should be aiming for stability, not fighting survival. However based on the start that QPR have had it appears that it will be a very big fight to stay in the league this season.
Fernandes believes that
"we have done some sensible business over the summer and we are not going to throw it away. We are here for the long run and we'll do things properly."
These words point to stability and smart growth, yet signing an entirely new squad of ageing players in a 12 month period does not convey stability, instead it looks more Football Manager. The problem is that this is not a game and the decisions made can have serious implications for the future of the club and its fans.
Worryingly for QPR the transfer policy has a strong whiff of past expensive failures: the Middlesbrough team of Ravanelli, Juninho and Emerson that were relegated from the top flight in 1997, or the West Ham side that suffered the same fate in 2003 despite Carrick, Di Canio, Defoe and Joe Cole.
Experience or past it?
The intention of QPR and Hughes has been to bring in “experienced” players who can bring their wealth of knowledge and experience to the team. That is a good plan on paper yet one wonders how likely it is to produce results. Players like Bosingwa, Park Ji Sung, Julio Cesar, Andrew Johnson and Ryan Nelson were all deemed surplus to requirements by their previous sides. Simply they were not good enough. QPR have therefore taken a major risk in pinning their hopes on players past their best, lacking in the required speed and agility for the Premier League.
Interestingly Fernandes was very confident about the signing of Park Ji-Sung from Man Utd. He believed this was a “statement” that QPR were able to bring “great players” to the club. Now I do not want to be cynical on Park Ji-Sung here, he achieved good success with Man Utd, yet I would not call him a great player and would argue that Park lost the attribute which made him so important to United a few years ago, speed.
His limited games for United in the past couple of years signified that he had dropped in his performance levels. Yet QPR spent £4m on him and made him captain. It is a very strange choice and decision, especially as Park has no experience of the “relegation battle” and what is required. Fernandes believes this signing would wake up a few people to the seriousness of QPR’s ambitions. For me it shows their naivety and road to relegation.
This appears to be QPR’s problem and one which has been reflected in the games so far. There appears an arrogance and perhaps a delusion of grandeur that QPR are too good for a relegation battle. As Beard has alluded to, he does not see QPR battling for survival. Thus the arrivals of Cesar, Bosingwa and Park, all players with great experience of top level football, as well as the signing of Esteban Granero all signify a wish to play good football and to move up the league. How naïve and ignorant of the board and the manager. By seeking to improve the “quality” QPR have no fight, have no organisation as a team and appear bereft of ideas. It is a very worrying start for the fans.
Neglecting the defence will result in relegation
The problems lie in defence. The back four has been laughable, the goals against Swansea were examples of shocking defending and having Clint Hill in your defence will always mean errors made and goals conceded. Yet the others are not playing much better. It is a defence which is unorganised, lacking leadership and simply lacking quality. QPR are conceding on average 2 goals a game, this is not good.
The problems however are coming in midfield. The use of Granero and Faurlin show the intention to control possession and bring creativity to the side. However the truth is they lack speed, tenacity and fight to deal with other sides midfields in the league. Against West Ham QPR were overran and while they have a Mark Noble, QPR have no one who can match that level of play. Considering West Ham are considered relegation battlers also, this is worrying for QPR.
Defensively, from the forwards to the goalkeeper the side clearly have no guidance. It makes you wonder what happens in pre-season, where is the organisation? It appears a case of the British preparation and pre-season of running, 5 a side and crossing drills. The game has changed and team coaching, organisation and tactics are now essential. If you send a team out unorganised you will lose and right now QPR are showing signs of a team without any idea of what they are doing.
Interestingly Hughes was sacked at Man City for being too open and gung-ho and while this tactic may work if the goals are scored, you are opening yourself up to be vulnerable defensively. He lost his job because of the chaos in defence and he appears not to have learnt his lessons this time around.
Ironically there is a player who QPR need right now to make them more physical and harder to beat. Joey Barton is the type of player that QPR have missed so far this season. The midfield is too nice and is being overran too easily. Barton would give QPR what Noble gave West Ham (though Noble is a much better player).
Perhaps not dealing with Barton earlier was Fernandes and Hughes fault. His mindset and lust for the starlight have hampered his performances since moving to QPR yet if they had dealt with and removed him from the squad earlier in the summer, perhaps they could have gone searching for a replacement.
They may have the answer already in Stephane M’bia as personally I do not rate Diakite yet he may be needed to add extra fight in that midfield. M’bia is preferred at centre back yet apparently he prefers the defensive midfield role and Hughes would be wise to switch to a form of 4-5-1 to accommodate him behind Granero and Faurlin.
Yet this would mean the defence would be much weaker and begs the question why Hughes did not see the need to make vast improvement with that defence. Players like Bosingwa, Fabio and Yoshida will struggle against many teams in the Premier League and one wonders if they have the physicality and desire for the battle ahead?
The delusions of grandeur of Tony Fernandes
Many QPR fans have been impressed with Fernandes long term vision for the club. They understand that the club was poorly ran for many years and that Fernandes has sought to improve the club’s affairs in the past year. Planning permission has been secured for an urgently needed new training ground which will seek to give the players of the present and future and better environment to train.
Yet when talk of a 45,000 capacity stadium is branded about, one wonders if the new owner is seriously deluded when it comes to QPR. Transforming a mid-level club whose traditional home is the lower half of the Championship to one capable of attracting the same crowds as Liverpool is simply impossible.
Like Peter Risdale at Leeds, Fernandes appear set on taking the club on a roller coaster ride, yet unlike Leeds, I do not see a time of title chasing and Champions League semi finals. Instead I see relegation and much financial woe.
Fernandes looks at Man City and Chelsea as clubs he could seek to emulate, yet he fails to see that his club have no similarities between those two and that by possessing these lofty ambitions it will only end in tears. Fernandes fails to understand that he has a Championship team which has exceeded expectations.
Mark Hughes job is to take QPR up the table, unfortunately I just do not see this as a possibility, this means Hughes will be judged on these unrealistic expectations and ambitions.
QPR only have to look at Portsmouth and see where they are today to see the future problems of their desires. They had the same philosophy as QPR, signing ageing players on lengthy and expensive contracts yet all that happened was the club plummeted leaving the club with a crippling and unmanageable wage bill. It was a club who wanted more, who wanted to be one of the big boys, yet they forgot that they never could be. Unfortunately every club has its place, and QPR’s like Portsmouth is at Championship level. By trying to achieve more, Fernandes is destroying the long term future of the club.
Hughes to renege on his promise
Mark Hughes promised after the defeat to City on the last game of the season that QPR will never be at risk of relegation from the Premier League again while he is the club's manager;
“as far as I'm concerned, we will never be in this situation again while I am manager.”
Perhaps it was arrogance or the adulation of the day, yet this comment will come back to haunt Hughes. He possesses a side which is not good enough for the mid table yet which lacks the qualities necessary for a relegation battle. With a lack of organisation in defence and an owner expecting much, Hughes will be under pressure very quickly to produce results.
Contrary to the ambitions of the manager and the owner QPR are most certainly in a relegation battle and so Hughes has reneged on his word. QPR were fortunate to survive last year, personally I don’t think they will get out of it this time around.