Many of you have been there. I certainly have. You are in 2023, you have mastered your club and want a new challenge. Your name appears on the hall of fame list of the video game, your reputation is the top level the game will allow but you are bored. Bored of winning trophies with a top club. It is time for a new challenge.
You look through the teams and wonder which your heart will be drawn to. You sign up and start a new adventure. You cannot wait to sell and release players, create enough money to bring in a whole host of new players to get the job done. You are living a fantasy and it is fun. Unless you are Tony Fernandes. His fantasy is reality and so far it has been far from fun.
The Malaysian entrepreneur, who is so rich two years ago he founded his own Formula One team, now called Caterham F1, became the majority shareholder of Queens Park Rangers Football Club in August 2011, just five days into the side’s first venture in the Premier League for 16 years.
The overall feeling over his new club was that it was a safe buy, a side who had won the Championship and now with deep pockets had enough money to attract the players to ensure they would easily compete regularly in the Premier League for years to come. Across the capital, Fulham set the example and QPR wanted to follow.
Before he took over he’d watched a demoralizing 4-0 loss at home to Bolton in the club’s first match back in the top flight. That day manager Neil Warnock sent out this XI to start their campaign:
The three subs that came on that day were Bradley Orr, Heidar Helguson and Akos Buzsaky.
“Yes, it looks a thumping but I am relishing the challenge, hopeful to get 2 or 3 players in and give it a go. I’d rather be here than going to Brighton or Portsmouth in the Championship,” said Warnock after the match.
Hardly a ringing endorsement for a side few expected to be in a relegation fight.
Then came Fernandes. A day after he was unveiled, QPR went to Goodison Park and won 1-0. Players involved that day included starters Matthew Connolly and Patrick Agyemang and a substitute named Hogan Ephraim.
Warnock’s tune had changed: “Amazing result, we lost three players with a virus, the players were a little bit down but I said we’ve got to enjoy this. Now we’ll look forward to getting 4 or 5 more players before the end of the month.”
He was true to his word, spending £9m, and increasing their wage bill dramatically, on Shaun Wright-Phillips, Anton Ferdinand, Luke Young, Armand Traore and Joey Barton.
By the fourth match all five were in the starting lineup, a week after QPR lost 2-0 at Wigan with Bruno Perone starting and Bruno Andrade and Michael Harriman coming off the bench.
With the window shut, Warnock’s side for match number four against Newcastle featured five changes from opening day.
They would draw 0-0 and when Warnock used his third sub on Jason Puncheon, on loan from Southampton, in the 88th minute, it meant he had used 26 players in four matches. Fellow promotion sides Norwich had used 21, including a reserve goalkeeper, and Swansea 17 at the time.
The Newcastle game would be QPR’s first of 16 matches played outside of a transfer window, from September-December. They would win 3, draw 5 and lose 8. for a return of 14pts in 16 matches. It was clear the new signings were not good enough.
The New Year came, as did Federico Macheda on loan, and a trip to Norwich on January 2nd. Skipper Barton opened the scoring, got sent off, Norwich scored two and won the game. Neil Warnock was sacked six days later. Having guided them to promotion, the Yorkshireman was loved by the fans and didn’t get time to spend money in the summer due to the late change of ownership. Now the shops were open, Warnock was no longer to be the man in charge of buying.
That role went to Mark Hughes and flush with cash in the January sales he brought in Taye Taiwo, Djibril Cisse, Nedum Onuoha, Bobby Zamora and Samba Diakite. Rob Hulse, not given a place in the 25 man squad under Warnock, was also recalled to the first team.
By February 4th, after the window closed, all of the new players had pulled on the blue and white except Diakite. Hughes had a win, a draw and a loss in his first three games and welcomed fellow strugglers Wolves to Loftus Road. That day he went with this XI:
Cisse opened the scoring, got sent off, Wolves scored two and won the game. A familiar theme.
In their next home match Diakite was finally fit to make his debut. He became the 35th (and last) player to be used by QPR that season. Fittingly, he got sent off and QPR lost 1-0 to Fulham.
In the final dozen matches of the season, QPR lost half of them. All six away losses came away from home but thanks to five wins and a draw from their final six home games they stayed up. Just. Hughes didn’t have any more players to dip into but still only picked the same XI in back-to-back matches once during that run and in total used almost as many players than Warnock did:
QPR 2011/12 PL season under Neil Warnock – 17pts in 20 games, using 29 different players.
QPR 2011/12 PL season under Mark Hughes – 20pts in 18 games, using 28 different players.
While Manchester City, his former employers celebrated their first title since 1968, Hughes faced the media minutes after his side had secured a second season in the top flight: “It’s a huge achievement because people don’t know what I walked into, to be fair. It was a club that didn’t have things in place that you need to be successful. We had a dressing room that was a little bit fragmented and we had to bring that together and mend it quickly”, said the Welshman who then boldly offered this 37-word statement: “This club will never be in this situation again while I am with the club, we’ll be fine, we are going to build and create a club that’s going to be really strong in the Premier League.”
Hughes set about planning for the new season but didn’t think continuity was what QPR needed. Neil Warnock had picked 20 Premier League teams and chosen the same starting XI in back-to-back matches ONCE. Hughes had picked 18 and had also picked the same starting XI just ONCE.
After singing the praises of the players who helped keep his team up, Hughes spent the summer moving most of them down the pecking order, signing enough players for a full new XI. He felt his team needed an influx of quality and it was time for another re-build at Loftus Road.
Rob Green, then Julio Cesar after just three starts from Green, came to play goalkeeper, Jose Bosingwa, Ryan Nelsen, Stephane Mbia, Fabio Da Silva to play defence, Park Ji-Sung, Esteban Granero were added to the midfield and attackers Junior Hoilett and Andy Johnson joined the squad.
Mbia, the last of the new signings to play for the team in the Premier League, made his debut against West Ham at home and became the 45th different QPR player to represent the club since they moved up to the top flight. In their 44th match. QPR would lose it by the way, 2-1, after getting a man sent off. Familiar theme’s an all that. He would later be sent off himself and then famously admit he thought QPR was in Scotland. Perhaps, he was dreaming of playing in Scotland’s third tier with the other Rangers.
In the twelve games Hughes was given in charge of QPR this season he picked 22 different players and once again only kept the same starting XI in back-to-back matches ONCE. Four points from 12 matches closed the book on his ten months at the club, where he had used an astonishing 38 different players in 30 matches. It’s little wonder he only got 24pts in that time.
Harry Redknapp is now in charge of the club and the expert minds of Simon Gleave and James Grayson show here just how difficult a job he has to keep them up. QPR may not need 40pts but at the very least they will likely need 36, the average number of points it has taken to survive in the last ten seasons. What they don’t need is constant turnover around their starting XI and another overhaul once the shops open again in January.
Redknapp’s starting XI at Sunderland in Tuesday night’s drab 0-0 affair at least gave them a clean sheet away from home, something Hughes never got in 15 attempts, and featured a midfield three that looked to have a combination of defensive awareness, tactical discipline (not actual discipline in the case of the rash Diakite) and an overall good technical ability with the ball. He asked the excellent Esteban Granero to move left when the maverick Adel Taarabt was in possession of the ball. The former Spurs man, who Redknapp once let go, was excellent cutting in field, getting in behind Sunderland’s central midfielders, and supplying balls through the defence and looked the only man who could unlock the Sunderland defence. Although they created little they did look a side who were more than a match for a Sunderland team few believe will go down this season.
At the Stadium of Light, Redknapp used Rob Green, for the injured Julio Cesar, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Park Ji-Sung as substitutes and you’d expect them and the likes of Junior Hoilett, Bobby Zamora and Alejandro Faurlin to feature often when they are all healthy but don’t expect many more to be involved regularly under Redknapp. The 65-year-old veteran boss is a man who is loyal to his favourites and that’s exactly what QPR now need. Last season at Tottenham he started nine players in 28 or more games and used the same amount of players the entire season that Hughes used in less than half-a-season.
Expect a phone call to Spurs to try and get defender Michael Dawson and a loan signing or two in January but otherwise QPR now are the same side you’ll be seeing come May. That in the very least gives them an advantage over last year. Thankfully, they are now under the guidance of a football manager. Not a wheeler and dealer: