With four points and, more importantly, two clean sheets in their last two games, there might be a glimmer of hope down at Loftus Road this season. Ross Bramble takes a closer look at why there’s still hope in West London.
If I told you the tale of a club battered 7-1 inside the opening five games of the season, and a chairman caught liking a derogatory tweet about the quality of the squad, you might think I was describing 2016/17 Sunderland or 2010’s debt-riddled Portsmouth. Alas, the honour belongs to this season’s Queens Park Rangers.
West Brom delivered the savage defeat on August 18th, condemning QPR to their worst-ever start and their heaviest defeat in 31 years. New boss Steve McClaren told reporters he “couldn’t believe the collapse”, but fans were already facing the season with a great degree of consternation.
The team were looking down the barrel of a hefty fine for Financial Fair Play breaches, which ultimately came in the form of a £42m payment and a transfer embargo set to start in January 2019. On top of that, former Player of the Season, Alex Smithies swapped London for Cardiff for what seemed a measly £3m (although add-ons could take the deal up to £4m if Cardiff avoid relegation). Nedum Onuoha left on a free transfer, as did Conor Washington, James Perch, Jack Robinson and Jamie Mackie. Without the funds available to replace them out-right, Rangers started the season with just a single new signing.
The deficiencies in the squad suggested the side may be in for a rough season, and so it has proven. Four points from six games and a -10 goal difference sees the R’s in the relegation zone, sitting above only Ipswich and Reading heading into the international break.
The club’s late-window loan signings – Tomer Hemed, Nahki Wells and Geoff Cameron – seem solid additions, as does the free signing of Angel Rangel, and yet still the squad feels too lightweight in comparison to their nearest rivals.
Luke Freeman remains the star man, and along with the emerging talents of Eberechi Eze, they’re the highlights for Rangers fans to cling to early doors, but the midfield still lacks a potent goal threat. McClaren’s attacking, possession style doesn’t seem a comfortable fit just yet either, and the scale of the job was certainly revealed at the Hawthorns in mid-August.
At the top end of the club, Tony Fernandes – the man who brought about the ultimately wasteful splurge on stars such as Julio Cesar, Jose Bosingwa, Chris Samba, Esteban Granero, and Loïc Remy among others – relinquished his chairmanship to Amit Bhatia the week before their West Midlands mauling. It signalled a passing of the torch – the symbolic end of the reckless spending and mercurial squad members that have seen QPR spiral towards the Championship’s trapdoor and reframed their new reality: it’s time to let the head rule the heart, balance the books and face their position in the league with renewed clarity.
Given the top-level restructure, the time has come for QPR to rebrand themselves. If McClaren is given time, he can establish a personality to QPR’s play and give fans a style to connect with, but the naivety and mental fragility on display against The Baggies highlighted the tough task that lies ahead.
Ultimately, it seems unlikely QPR’s season will be anything other a desperate scramble to remain outside the relegation zone. The balance of the squad still seems off, but what QPR have at long last is a clear path. If McClaren can do the, if not impossible, then certainly improbable, by keeping
QPR in the Championship while under the restrictions of a transfer embargo, the seeds of steady growth can be sewn. The board can set new guidelines for transfers, wages and budgets, and the fans can put their faith back in a club that has been long maligned by poor decision making.
It’s an opportunity to make a clean break from the past, but the growing pains of the 2018/19 season may leave a few more scars before season’s end.
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