QPR: A trainwreck waiting to happen?
Queens Park Rangers' Korean midfielder Park Ji-Sung reacts during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers at The Etihad stadium in Manchester, north-west England on September 1, 2012. AFP PHOTO/ANDREW YATES
Anyone who has played Football Manager has been where QPR manager Mark Hughes is right now.
You take over a once-great club that, in modern times, bounces between mid-table mediocrity and second-tier domination.
Buoyed by the romanticism of turning them into a force once again, you jump head-first into the transfer market with a list of names you’ve always wanted to see in the same side.
With a hessian bag full of cash and a come-hither wage budget, you bring in a ridiculous amount of new players, all at once.
All good so far, you say, with a big cheesy grin on your face. Your blueprint for world domination has kicked off without a hitch. First England, then Europe, then the world!
That’s the plan, anyway.
And to be fair to Hughes, the former Blackburn, Manchester City and Fulham boss, he has put together a nice squad on paper with enough experience and ability to make a good fist of survival.
But the start of the season has been a complete disaster for QPR.
It’s still early doors, but that 5-0 opening day flogging at home to Swansea, a draw with newly-promoted Norwich and a 3-1 loss to Man City are not the kind of results Hughes needs.
Already, the club hierarchy is turning up the heat on him – chief executive Phillip Beard warned last week that the club didn’t spend this kind of money just to stay at the same level as last term.
This is the moment when you realise that assembling a semi-decent starting XI and scribbling potential formations in a notebook that you definitely didn’t buy purely for Football Manager purposes is one thing – getting your lads to actually understand each other is completely different.
It’s not even something that will happen with certainty over the course of time. Some players just don’t fit together, no matter how much you tweak or change things or try to jam them into place.
Bringing in a total of 10 first-team players all at once, for a side that is every chance of being stuck in another relegation battle, is an incredibly risky move – even if they were all quality footballers back in 2002, when the real Ronaldo was the only Ronaldo and before Luis Figo started doing hair commercials.
And that’s just on-field, as well. Wholesale changes to a dressing room can completely change the dynamic of a club – sometimes good, if there is a rogue element that needs to be weeded out, but mostly bad.
For example, the signing of Robert Green on a free from West Ham, rightly or wrongly, seemed to shore up the prime goalkeeping position.
Imagine how he would have felt a few weeks after arriving to Loftus Road only to discover that, in one of the strangest transfers of the off-season, Julio Cesar was coming in to effectively take his job.
It’s very difficult to see any sort of long-term planning in these signings. The ones that are on loan, like Fabio from Manchester United, seem like reasonable moves on the surface.
The left-back has bucketloads of potential – he must do, given he’s a Sir Alex Ferguson long-term project – but even if the Brazilian pocket-rocket actually realises it this term, he’ll be back at Old Trafford come the end of the year.
Then there’s the veterans, who only have one or two or maybe three years left in their battle-weary legs.
Korean veteran Park Ji-Sung has been a terrific servant for Manchester United over the years, but at no point in his time there was he ever really a truly vital cog in midfield. He’s just not that kind of player, and he won’t be anything other than a helpful pair of wrinkly old hands in the middle for QPR.
Ryan Nelsen did a job for Hughes back at Blackburn, but at 34, his best days are behind him and even still, he’s needed to travel halfway across the world quite often for New Zealand international fixtures.
They may have arrived sans transfer fees, but they would be on high wages, have pocketed decent signing-on cheques – and, the kicker, they will have zero resale value by the time the Rs are done with them.
The same goes for Djibril Cisse, who has scored six goals since arriving in January from Lazio (for a fee, admittedly).
But he’s also received two red cards and at 31, it won’t be long until his hair starts catching up to the amount of chemicals and bleach he’s poured in it over the years and recedes.
The idea behind grabbing so many players with so much top flight experience is, obviously, to stay in the top flight and reap the financial rewards that come with it.
But that’s a kind of short-term, eggs-in-one-basket thinking that is going out of fashion in football – and going rightly unrewarded by the football gods.
These are not transfers that clubs with genuine ambitions to stick it out in the Premier League would make. If they did, it wouldn’t be on such a scale.
Imagine what a club like Swansea, with a charter and a philosophy and a plan, could have done with that coin. Or Wigan Athletic, a side that seems destined to once again write off the critics that tip them for the drop year after year.
This may have worked if Hughes had brought in, say, five new faces instead of one short of a team. And some sort of a plan.
Let’s be honest though – the Premier League is a marathon, not a sprint, so it still may work.
But it would want to start working soon. If it takes much longer for these players to gel, Hughes will have another battle on his hands – keeping his job.
Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard that is the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. He is a Port Adelaide fan by birth, as painful as that has been recently. He's now sports editor of The Area News in Griffith, NSW.