It would be nice to kick off a new year with something really positive. But this is a QPR-related article so that's not going to happen - not least because this piece kicks off with a brief look ahead to tonight's extremely daunting fixture down the road in SW6. What fresh misery will unfold among the barbarians? Will it really be as horrible as logic suggests it will?
Yes, some of us are crazy enough to be heading to Stamford Bridge this evening. Bonkers, right? What pleasure can there possibly be in schlepping down to that hell-hole and in contemplating the near certainty of a humiliating defeat? Also throw in the prospect of show-boating mockery from English football's most loathsome fans and a fifty-five quid (plus booking fee) ticket price. Then there's the prospect of getting home late in the dark, cold pissiness of this first grim week back at work after the seasonal festivities. Also, as we turn our keys and climb our stairs, many of us will be returning to long-suffering spouses or partners who will wonder at our ongoing masochism. This bloody football club. The behaviour into which it pushes us - repeating the same pains and hassles over and over again, and all the while hoping for different results.
|Off to Stamford Bridge tonight: we must need our heads tested|
But if our sanity is to be wondered at, then perhaps the same can be said of the smiling social media junkie who fronts the QPR board. Of course, Tony Fernandes remains massively popular among Rangers fans, with what seems like an overwhelming majority seemingly unwilling to consider the idea that his influence might not turn out to be a positive one in the long term. But might this man be leading QPR towards disaster?
Even if we stick to the line that the Malaysian entrepreneur genuinely loves QPR and will always keep the club's best interests at the heart of everything he does, it's worth asking whether some combination of poor judgement and naivety on his part might eventually prove catastrophic. Certainly, it does not seem unreasonable to be posing these tough questions at the moment. After all, in terms of results and in terms of the effectiveness of our players relative to their cost, it's hard to recall a time when the club's situation seemed quite as parlous as it does now. As recently observed here, we are firmly on track to suffer a season so disappointing as to eclipse the misery of QPR's first ever top flight campaign of 1968-69. So while some supporters want to believe that relegation might somehow be avoided, plenty of others are finding it hard to see it that way. Think for a moment. Ten points from twenty matches. A single home win against a Fulham team that has blown hot and cold this season. Eight points adrift of the team in 17th place. A run of poor performances. A run of upcoming ties with teams playing for Champions League places. Firmly among the bookies' favourites for the drop. Grim reading.
All of this would be fair enough, perhaps, if the club were operating on a shoestring budget. But Harry Redknapp's recent comments about the disgraceful antics of José Bosingwa shed some light on a culture of extremely high wages at Loftus Road. But we knew that, right? It's pretty obvious that signing players from more established Premier League clubs and from the likes of Real Madrid was not going to be cheap. Should you have any doubts about this, a glance at the players' cars is instructive. These woefully ineffective players are clearly multi-millionaires.
If, as logic suggests, QPR will be playing at Championship level next season, should we worry about the ability of the club's owners to afford these players' huge salaries while not enjoying Premier League revenues? Perhaps. A number of them are on relatively long contracts and it's hard to imagine many clubs rushing to sign our cast-offs. You'd only take a punt on the likes of Anton Ferdinand, Shaun Wright-Phillips or Ji-Sung Park on lower wages than they seem to be getting at Loftus Road - and how can we be sure that any of them would agree to a wage cut when considering their options. Consider the fact that fans of hapless Portsmouth were reduced to begging their club's well-paid 'stars' to accept pay cuts last summer. Consider the unedifying business of defender Tal Ben Haim (£36K/week, reportedly) responding to those pleas with an alleged demand that Pompey's administrators should write off their fees.
In this context, surely it would be an act of extreme folly to fling yet more money at the problem. So how should we respond when we read the Mail's John Drayton asserting that "QPR want to back manager Harry Redknapp with a £20 million spree to fight relegation"? Assuming that there is any truth in this, should we be applauding the club's never-say-die approach to its current predicament? Or should we shake our heads at the prospect of another wild and ill-advised punt?
As you consider this, do keep in mind the track record of the manager to whom the club would entrust the good use of this supposed £20 million. Redknapp is a popular figure in English football, with many having called for him to be offered the England job just a year ago. His fans point to the improvement in Tottenham's fortunes during his time at White Hart Lane. They also point to Portsmouth's elevation to the top flight and to the south coast club's FA Cup Final win of 2008. But his detractors will point to his failure to rescue struggling Southampton from relegation in 2oo4 and to his failure to establish the consistency needed to make the Saints promotion contenders in the Championship campaign which followed. Those same detractors may also have something to say about Redknapp's time at Pompey. Yes, the Cup win was very nice, they would say - but at what cost? Of course it's unfair to lay the blame for the ruin of Portsmouth F.C. at the feet of Harry Redknapp. But he was part of the set-up there when that club's crazed, inept owners approved huge transfer fees and wages which ultimately proved ruinous.
It is probably way too alarmist to think it's very likely that we'll see some sort of Portsmouth 2.0 scenario unfolding at QPR. But surely we can be forgiven for worrying just a little about the prospect. After all, we've seen our club run badly more often than not. Moreover, for our club to remain solvent (especially with a massive wage bill and playing at Championship level), perhaps we're going to have to depend on Fernandes and co. taking a kind of mini-Abramovitch approach to football: pumping in far more cash than they can ever hope to recover, even in the very long term. Perhaps this makes sense in the rarefied world of airline tycoons, i.e. the benefits of associating AirAsia with an English football club are so significant as to outweigh the need for any obvious commercial logic at the club itself. Let's hope so. Because if these people run out of money or patience at some stage, you'd have to wonder on what basis the club would continue to survive.
Doubtless, a number of QPR fans reading this piece will not find it to their liking. Based on Twitter traffic and messageboard chatter, it seems to be the case that lacking total faith in Tony Fernandes and the people around him is not a popular position. So keep in mind that none of the above is meant to be doom-mongering as such. Just take it as the musings of someone naturally inclined to caution and scepticism about most things in life. A miserable bastard, if you like.
But while we look forward with trepidation to tonight's tie at Stamford Bridge, perhaps we should consider this weekend's impending FA Cup match. The lack of appetite for the fixture so far is pretty astounding. If you have a look at the online ticketing system today, you will see that only one corner of the South Africa Road stand has "limited availability". In ALL other sections of the ground, tickets are plentiful. If the West Brom match were to be played today, the crowd would be unprecedentedly small. Normally busy chunks of Ellerslie Road (see below) seem to have less than 10% take-up so far. So it seems that the preference which many supporters still profess for dogged optimism and for unshakeable faith in the club's owners is not (yet?) translating into a desire to pay £25 (plus booking fee) for a Cup clash with top flight opposition.
Anyway, let's see what happens tonight and for the rest of this ball-ache of a season. Miracles do happen sometimes - and sometimes even at Loftus Road.