Monday, 15 August 2011

Rangers’ shoestring unravels at the first attempt

£1.25 million doesn’t buy a lot in modern football. It might perhaps cover a week’s wage bill for one of the ‘big four’ Premier League clubs, or policing costs for a high-profile local derby such as West Ham United vs. Millwall. Yet when the astronomical rewards the English top flight offers to its members are taken into account, it appears a measly sum, derisory indeed. With £90 million allegedly the reward for promoted clubs, the temptation to take on a ‘lottery winner mentality’ for victorious Championship sides is overwhelming. QPR, however, have differentiated themselves by showing tremendous restraint, thrift even. The West Londoners’ spending has been positively anorexic, and the reasons for this lie in the illness currently pervading the boardroom at Loftus Road. The owners’ disease is not a lack of money, nor is it a failure to appreciate the requirements of Premier League football. It is greed; poorly-disguised, the brazen selfishness of Flavio Briatore and Gianni Paladini - the latter still in control despite lacking an 'official position' at the club - cannot fail to be lost on even the most casual of observers.

The sight of the portly Italian leaving immediately after Bolton Wanderers netted their fourth goal at the weekend was nothing short of a disgrace, but by no means an unexpected sight. Briatore is a shameless dictator, no less disposed to give up his hold on power in W12 than to consider for even a fleeting moment that the best interests of the club and its loyal fanbase are being constantly jeopardised by his destructive rule. The figure quoted to at the beginning of this article pertains to the signing of DJ Campbell, one of few bright spots from the weekend’s footballing lesson, dished out to the naïve R’s by Owen Coyle’s Bolton, themselves seasoned Premier League warriors. This is, quite literally, the sum of Rangers’ preparation for the top flight. Now clearly the signings of Kieron Dyer, Jay Bothroyd and Danny Gabbidon, despite having no transfer fees involved, will have been secured by means of offering generous wages; it would be frankly unwise to believe anything else. However, with QPR’s wage bill already fitting in nicely with many of her more illustrious Premier League colleagues, there remains much to be done to ensure that thrashings like Saturday’s remain the exception, rather than the rule.

With the sensible, sustainable strategy employed by Norwich City towards summer recruitment having stood up to its inaugural challenge, R’s fans might well look jealously towards the side they trumped to the Championship title last year. Whilst City appear to have taken two steps forward, on Saturday QPR took three back. Having been introduced to the Premier League as the side boasting ‘the best defence in the Championship’, Rangers proceeded to destroy their own hard-fought reputation whilst remaining as impotent and wasteful in attack as ever before. With Kieron Dyer predictably falling to the floor within five minutes of setting foot on the pitch, Bradley Orr returned as a more familiar face at right back and proceeded to be given the run-around by Martin Petrov for 85 minutes. Orr’s generosity knew no bounds, as he selflessly dedicated himself to freeing up as much space as possible for the Bulgarian to run into, unchallenged, before Alejandro Faurlin and Shaun Derry proceeded to be struck by a similar fit of altruism.

Rangers need at least four, perhaps five more players. The sight of Hogan Ephraim and Patrick Agyemang sitting on the bench was nothing short of terrifying. Neither could expect to start for any self-respecting Championship sides, and the big names in League One would probably also turn up their noses at the pair. Full-backs are the most urgent priority; with Clint Hill suspended, a move for Ryan Bertrand has never seemed so pressing. Meanwhile Orr will continue to be the R’s Achilles heel in defence, and even if Kieron Dyer promptly returns from injury, he is no solution to the problem either. Wingers are also required, for although Tommy Smith stood out in the league below, he will fade into mediocrity as the Premier League season progresses. Jay Bothroyd, meanwhile, seems to have been instructed to abandon his central attacking position in favour of meandering down the wings. The void that this left up front was exacerbated against Bolton by one-dimensional long ball play, meaning that when QPR were in dire need of attacking impetus – at 3-0 down and thoroughly second best to the visitors – the diminutive Campbell was entirely bypassed.

Perhaps the most chilling aspect of Saturday’s game was Briatore’s early departure, along with potential ‘investor’ Tony Fernandes. The venomous and entirely justified chants of the Rangers fans aside, the temperamental Italian probably felt humiliated by the score-line and magnitude of the R’s defeat. Not wishing to attribute a greater level of intelligence than is due to the poisonous manipulator and ‘club saviour’, I highly doubt he had any grasp of the fact that for 45 minutes QPR were by no means second best, or could explain the result. Briatore’s investment in the club, along with his ‘chum’ Bernie Ecclestone, who couldn’t even be bothered to face the inevitable torrent of abuse, was from the first minute a vanity project, and remains so. Whilst the days of Ramon Calderon, celebrity airheads, Naomi Campbell and African monarchs in the directors’ box mercifully appear to be behind us, one has to worry that Briatore is just waiting to unfurl his lethal trigger finger once again. Last year’s stability was brought about by an increased trust between Warnock, the supporters, and the board, at least until the Faurlin near-tragedy. With Amit Bhatia having departed, and an even trickier task facing the ever-popular Yorkshireman, fans must be wondering how many more 4-0 defeats he can survive. Nobody with the club’s best interests at heart would advocate Warnock’s sacking, but sadly the opinions of R’s supporters have long ceased to matter when it comes to their, nay, our, club.

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