7 Things QPR Must Do To Ensure Top Flight Survival
QPR finally have another chance at competing in the Premier League and no doubt will attack the challenge with all guns blazing. The Rs certainly have no divine right to be an established Premier League club, but having experienced 15 years of relegation hurt and defeat to non-league clubs in the FA Cup and playoff final defeats and Carl Leaburn and Karl Connolly and an overall sense of anti-climatic frustration, QPR must make the most of this opportunity to bring back the good old days. In no particular order, Vital QPR has identified a few matters the club must focus on to ensure welcoming Man Utd and Arsenal to Loftus Road are a formality and we no longer have to hear Steve Claridge attempt to analyse a QPR performance ever again.
Warnock was appointed to get QPR out of the Championship. He bought Championship players and played the Championship game. Whilst the gap in quality between League 1 and the Championship is as big as Radek Cerny`s goal kicks (as proven by the success of Norwich and Leeds this season), the gulf between the Championship and the Premier League is so big, the Rs players will need to fly to the moon and back before they can even consider stepping onto the hallowed turf of a Premier League ground. Any QPR fan would be incredibly naive to suggest the current crop of players are good enough to achieve the 38 points (approximately) required to avoid relegation. Nothing aggravates me more than reading about QPR having millions and millions to spend in the summer and whilst I have no doubt that we will strengthen, I am far from confident Warnock will be given that 'war chest` so many 'journalists` have talked about. It is, therefore, imperative that our signings are astute, well thought out and successful.
There was an underlying sense of vigilance throughout QPR fans last summer at the signings of Mackie, Derry, Hill etc.; however, now players that will live long in Rs fans` memories, no one can even begin to argue that Warnock`s signings were reckless and mediocre. Despite these few instances of transfer market wizardry, Neil must take even greater care at chasing players that he believes will make QPR a Premier League outfit. Countless players, with impressive records elsewhere, have tried and failed at establishing themselves as top division players, and Warnock must be careful not to sign the Chris Iwelumo`s and Jason Scotland`s of this world.
Although my Football Manager career would disagree, I am certainly in no position to be advising Mr Warnock on potential transfer targets; however, I will take this opportunity to lay out a few directions QPR might like to take when attempting to sign new players. Numerous websites have taken it upon themselves to play the QPR transfer target raffle, and have clearly linked the club with every player whose name contains the letter 'a` and seemingly boasts some sort of loosely related football pedigree. Only a couple of rumours have had any substance to them, namely bids for Danny Graham and Craig Mackail-Smith, and I`d probably advise waiting until the team is read out on the first game of the season to see who we`ve actually signed.
There`s no doubt the Championship and lower leagues contain some quality players that would be able to make the step up - the hard task is correctly identifying those players. The likes of Roger Johnson, Tim Cahill and Joleon Lescott have admirably established themselves as Premier League players, and it is from this that Rangers must take guidance. Jay Bothroyd, Lewis McGugan and Jimmy Kebe have performed superbly this season and if Warnock would like a relatively cheap purchase for a player with the potential to compete at the top level, he must pick the best of these select few.
There are some quality players floating around the poorer sides of the Premiership and accordingly Warnock might want to scrutinize the possibility of signing the better players in the relegated sides from this season - the likes of Jack Collison or Matthew Upson from West Ham, David Vaughan from Blackpool or Liam Ridgewell from Birmingham would be very good signings. In addition, there will be countless players with Premier League experience looking for a quick exit from their current clubs and coupled with a few free agents circulating the transfer market, there will be ample opportunities to sign talented individuals that will greatly improve the squad. Warnock and Harry Redknapp appear to be 'best buds` and I wouldn`t be surprised to see one or two Spurs players making the trip across to W12. Kyle Naughton and Jermaine Jenas would be two superb acquisitions, whilst Michael Johnson at Man City, Jeffrey Bruma at Chelsea and Andy Johnson at Fulham, to name a few, will surely be looking for more first team action.
2. Keep the Heroes
They got us there, so there`s no reason why they shouldn`t be able to stay. Whilst question marks may linger over some players` ability to compete at Premier League level, it would be unjust to boot them out just because they don`t boast any Premier League experience or don`t appear to have the credentials to succeed in the top division. Warnock has already stated that players like Clint Hill and Shaun Derry not only deserve their chance at the big time, but can also play an important part in QPR`s 2011/2012 campaign. At frequent points next season we will find ourselves 1-0 up away at the likes of Stoke with 10 minutes to go, and if you want players to dig in and scrape out those precious three points, Derry and Hill will be your men. Additionally, the Loftus Road pitch is certainly not the biggest, which could play into QPR`s hands when trying to minimise certain side`s expansive style of play - fitting for the players in our team unfortunately not blessed with the pace of Gareth Bale or Usain Bolt.
A major factor in QPR`s success has been the team spirit and camaraderie displayed throughout the season. Bradley Orr has reiterated the fact that the players are all 'mates` and it would certainly be reckless to upset the team morale by shipping out players who were instrumental in getting us to the Premier League in the first place. Of course there will be the need to release or sell players and as much as it will hurt QPR fans to see the likes of Lee Cook and Martin Rowlands leave, there is a general consensus around Loftus Road it is eventually time to say goodbye. Other fringe players such as Leon Clarke and Gary Borrowdale will no doubt leave and it is up to the discretion of Warnock as to who he no longer requires in his squad. Personally I`d like us to keep Dan Shittu and Heidar Helguson - both players with Premier League experience - however I think players such as the lightweight Ephraim, lazy Hulse and *insert own adjective here* Patrick Agyemang lack the credentials to challenge for first team places next season.
3. Sensible Buying is the Best Form of Buying
Let`s face it, I know more about the Botswana Stock Exchange (which isn`t a lot, in case you were wondering) than I do about what is going on behind the scenes at QPR. Under the guidance of Bhatia I could see us having a real go at mounting a serious challenge at staying up, however with Ecclestone and Briatore at the helm, who knows how we`ll go about signing players. QPR fans have already been treated to a delightful 40% increase in season tickets, and with some thinking the board no longer have the clubs best interests at heart, it will be interesting to see whether Warnock is given any funds to improve his squad.
I have no doubt the businessmen running the club wouldn`t be where they are without a certain sense of responsibility and rational thinking; however it is imperative they impart this knowledge and respect into QPR`s transfer dealings if they do decide to stump up the much needed funds to develop the squad. It took us 15 years to recover from the last, to put in nicely, 'mishap` regarding Ranger`s finances, and I don`t think I could take another decade and a half to watch it being put right again. In an era where players earning £100 000 a week, a diamond earring and the chance to have an affair with someone`s wife are almost a requirement in their contracts, football clubs` debts are escalating at an alarming rate and the repercussions are slowly starting to surface. Portsmouth decided it would be sensible to pay players like John Utaka a reported £80 000/week - look where that got them - whilst Derby County are still trying to balance the books after their relegation in 2008 having signed ridiculously average players on mammoth contracts.
We simply cannot afford to sign players on £40 or 50 000/week contracts. The Loftus Road attendances won`t generate enough income to support the wages of 4 or 5 players on lucrative salaries, and if we do find ourselves in the relegation zone come next May; it will be incredibly difficult to support Premier League finances in the Championship, despite the expected parachute payments. Of course I do not know how the owners will go about providing Warnock with transfer funds, but I can only hope sensibility and caution will override the need for instant success. Only after 5 years as an established Premier League club will we perhaps be able to dream about signing players of Joe Cole`s calibre on £90 000/week.
4. Don`t Sack Warnock
Only at QPR could one man endure such absurd and unwarranted speculation about his job security having led a relegation-threatened team to Championship winners in just 15 months. With the recent departure of Warnock`s seemingly close ally Amit Bhatia, his job security is once again more unstable than an Icelandic volcano. The press are still jumping on the QPR managerial merry-go-round bandwagon and have linked us with numerous Italian managers - managers who probably haven`t even heard of QPR, let alone being able to tell us what position Paddy Kenny plays in. Warnock has stated he has the full support of the board and I, along with almost every other QPR fan, hope we will see him leading the Rs out on the first game of the season in his sexy shorts. It is, however, during the season that will truly test the resolve of the owners.
We will lose games - we may even lose four or five in a row. Firstly, as fans, we must not panic. We`ve only experienced success under Warnock and the fans that turned up for their token game against Leeds on the last day of the season will no doubt be calling for a change if things start going pear-shaped. Of course, having let Warnock lead us to the promised land it would be highly impractical to go and ruin it by giving Warnock the boot and appointing a Ranieiri or Lippi who would not only have to work with Warnock-type players but be expected to perform miracles in a short space of time, before they themselves would eventually be shown the door and Briatore appoints himself as manager.
Secondly, if there is one man you want in a scrappy, nervy relegation battle its Neil Warnock. The man oozes passion, fight and bravery and rumours of West Ham nicking our man halfway through last season, only shows how much he is valued as a motivator and a man who can lift spirits when they`re all but dead and buried. Neil is certainly chomping at the bit at giving it another go in the Premier League and having already maintained this is the best team he has ever been in charge of, the Sheffield-born man definitely deserves another sustained attempt at managing in the big time.
5. Keep The Controversy To A Minimum
Having won approximately 47% of his games at QPR, the Loftus Road faithful have yet to be treated to a full dose of outrage and indignation directed at officials and players from the man who is lucky enough to have his own 'Disputes` page on Wikipedia. We were treated to Mark Clattenburg officiating two of our home games this season, and Warnock even described the referee as having an 'outstanding` game against Nottingham Forest. What has the world come to?
Despite these suspect moments on Warnock`s behalf, two prominent incidents have stood out from this season when Warnock really let go. El Hadj Diouf had the privilege of being called a 'sewer rat`, whilst the referee at Barnsley, who, in fairness, was more incompetent than the England national team, was treated to a heartfelt diatribe, arm throwing and foot stomping session from our man on the sidelines. When times are tough next season, refereeing decisions will no doubt go in the direction of the opposition, perfectly good goals will be disallowed and 7 minutes of additional time will be added on at Manchester United. It is the job of Warnock to, whilst not masking his discontent at certain decisions, keep calm and respectful throughout the 90 minutes and post match interviews. Admittedly Neil has informed us he finds it easier to manage in the top flight as he is able to view highlights straight after games, however we don`t want any preventable 5 match touchline bans from our main man. There is no point in throwing a barrage of abuse at Mike Dean for not giving Adel a free-kick on the halfway line, for us to find ourselves with a perfectly good penalty claim four weeks later at Newcastle but the very same red card-happy referee waving away the claims because it`s 'Neil Warnock`s team`.
6. Adapt Our Style of Play
Compare us to Manchester United if you will. Well, only to the extent that we may not have played the prettiest football this season, but a consistency, a never say die attitude and a formidable home record led us to taking the Championship title. Even Warnock previously stated we haven`t necessarily played the best football, but we`ve certainly been the most consistent. A few performances have been far from less convincing, and unfortunately displays of those poor performances against teams like Manchester City, Arsenal etc. may lead to the goal difference column quickly descending into negative figures.
I will admit I`m no master tactician when it comes to professional football, but on numerous occasions our insistence at lumping the ball up to Helguson as quickly as possible will cost us dearly next season. Vidic, Terry et al. will have a field day if that happens, and whilst I have no problem with the occasional punt up the field, we must be more careful in retaining possession and being patient in creating opportunities. Holloway has admirably changed his tactical style, and long gone are his QPR days of 'getting the ball in the final third as quickly possible`. We must learn from this, as our players will find themselves with plenty more time on the ball in certain areas of the pitch - it is so vitally important ball retention and concentration override the necessity to force phases of play at needless times. At times this season we`ve played some outstanding football, and these passages of play must be more frequent, if we want to avoid the likes of Fabregas and Lampard ripping through us in a matter of seconds.
I did want to include a section on Adel Taarabt, but almost reminiscent of his playing style, it was extremely challenging trying to find an appropriate place to put him. Our style of play does revolve around him more often than not, so I thought I`d bung it in here. We could discuss long and hard into the night about his temperamental, unpredictable personality, but seeing as I`m incredibly bored of reading the same thing over and over again from journalists who only ever see the Moroccan`s best highlights on the Football League Show we shall instead discuss whether our saviour will be a hit in the Premier League. For now it shall be assumed he will still be a QPR player come August (I must admit, however, seeing him leave in the summer would not surprise me in the slightest - especially if Warnock tells him he`s on the bench for the first game of the season).
Firstly, the kid deserves his chance. Tottenham were true to their club ethos of signing young players with bags of potential and almost immediately ruining their careers before they`ve even started, and if it wasn`t for Warnock, Taarabt would be playing in the Spanish lower leagues missing out on half the recognition he deserves. He came down to Loftus Road, has worked extremely hard at both getting fit, improving his overall game and showing everyone what he is about, and is deservedly reaping the rewards. I firmly believe under the initial guidance of Warnock he will become one of the best players around. He must listen, harness the showboating without eradicating the creativity and guile from his play, be patient and work even harder than he has done before. He will find it hard at first - Premier League players are far more tactically aware and will use this knowledge to thwart his presence instead of kicking him up in the air like most Championship players took it upon themselves to do. Opposition fans will jump on every mistake he makes and he must understand he might not get on the ball as frequently as he has done in the Championship. I can only wish him the best of luck and hope that he proves me right.
7. Make Loftus Road A Fortress
Everyone says making their home ground a horrible place to come for away teams is an important factor in a team`s success, but QPR genuinely have a stadium that they can make a fortress. Having only lost twice at home all season this campaign, the foundations are there for an impressive home record. The atmosphere at Loftus Road was something special at some of the home games - especially on the last game of the season. Even when things are looking gloomy the fans must make the compact ground as noisy and intimidating as possible. Fulham only lost 11 times at Loftus Road the two seasons they ground-shared with us, and it is from this QPR must take hope that the small, yet daunting stadium will play a huge role in the success of Rangers season.