QPR – a new breed of football club?
And we could be lofted, lofted, lofteeee–eed
We are in the Premier League era. We are in the Sky Four era. We are in the era of foreign ownership. We are so submerged in all three of these statements that we have a blueprint for how successful foreign ownership works.
Blueprint is the obvious word, as our examples are Chelsea and Manchester City. A foreign business man puts his money on the table, and fans, media and existing owners gasp as just how big the pile of notes is. Abramovich had £7.5billion. Sheikh Mansour ‘s Abu Dhabi Group was estimated to have anything up to £500billion. Millions are spent on players, the best coaches, scouts and managers appointed to chase the golden dream: Premiership glory, European glory, world domination. In that order. Forgetting none of the three. And quickly please, I’ve got a conglomerate to buy.
So when Bernie Ecclestone (£1.5billion) and Flavio Briatore (£110million) bought QPR in August 2007 ,it seemed that this was another West London phenomenon to rival Stamford Bridge’s champagne parade, particularly when 20% of the club was bought by Lakshmi Mittal in December of the same year. This was a player in the game worth a staggering £22.4billion.
So how come Queens Park Rangers aren’t top of the Premier League. God, they’re not even in the Premier League. It must all have gone tits up! What a crying shame.
Well actually, it hasn’t. There have been no F1 girl cheerleaders, no sponsorship by Renault, and no multi-million pound foreign signings to light up the European game. Upon arrival, Ecclestone and Briatore cleared the £13million debt the club had, and agreed to pay off former director Antonio Caliendo. Moreover, it was announced that the tycoons would not simply be bankrolling the club in a tilt at mugging off their West London neighbours.
That is not to say that there have not been charades. Since the initial takeover, five managers have lost their place in the Loftus Road hotseat: Di Canio, Dowie, Sousa, Magilton and Paul Hart.
Instead, much-needed refurbishment of Loftus Road was planned, and ideas to increase sponsorship revenues detailed. There were rumours of Zidane and Figo, but these did not materialise.
Instead they made one of the wisest and savviest decisions in English football over the last year. After managers seemingly offering mediocrity, and with the threat of relegation more than apparent, Neil Warnock was appointed.
This was not an appointment for the cameras. This was not a Championship equivalent of Mourinho or Mancini (as Sousa and Di Canio could be viewed). This was a gutsy, grumpy irritable bastard of a man and manager. He would be disciplined, determined, and ultimately successful. This was the antidote to the flash cars, flash lives, and flash in the pans of glamour signings.
To tweak a line from Anchorman (and no apologies for doing so): “I hate you Neil Warnock, but by god I respect you.” The effect was immediate. Rangers lost only four of the fourteen remaining games, and survival was comfortably secured.
Over the summer, the owners made money available. In the summer of 2008 seven players were purchased from foreign clubs. Two more were added last summer. In this window, Warnock has used nothing but experience and nous. In Kenny, Derry, Hill, Hulse and Walker Warnock brought in players he new. In Orr and Tommy Smith he brought in players who were proven. And in Jamie Mackie he has unearthed the new star of the Championship.
The start has been nothing short of incredible. QPR have won five of their first six games. They have scored 19 goals and conceded just two. Premier League football will begin to look more probable than possible.
When Briatore and Ecclestone entered the club, it smelt of a soap opera. It stank of an F1 bandwagon, dancing girls, show pony signings, and ultimately the season ticket holders left sobbing into their novelty merchandise.
Nothing could be further from the case. Whisper this quietly, but they have run the club as a business, with realistic goals, and (eventually) allowed the club to be guided by a quality manager.
Actually, don’t whisper it quietly. Shout it from the bloody rooftops. It might not be the blueprint, but QPR could rewrite the instruction manual. And this time it might not be as fragile as flatpack.