Well, at least it was quick. Rather than clinging on for dear life with an unexpected victory, or even doing what Rangers have specialised in over the last couple of months and losing to a late goal after a spirited yet ultimately futile effort, the Rs saw any lingering hope of avoiding relegation brutally extinguished after an utterly supine performance, reminding everyone in the process that they are the worst team in the division. Newcastle United, Hull City, Aston Villa and Sunderland have, at various points, been utterly pathetic, but let’s be honest here, QPR have stunk for most of the season.
The question is – where now? The pedantic answer is The Championship. However, even that is not a given. The rumours that QPR would, in the event of relegation from the Premier League, not be allowed entry into the Football League have thankfully abated, but there is still the spectre of a humungous fine hanging over their heads, which apparently the club are going to challenge. Whether this is a wise course of action remains to be seen, as any club that fails to pay a fine can be refused entry into the Championship. I have a feeling this one could run and run.
Assuming that after all the posturing everyone sees sense and Rangers do play in the Championship next season, then what changes need to made? Let’s start off by looking at the manager. Chris Ramsey was appointed in early February, seemingly because neither Michael Laudrup nor Paul Clement were available/interested. Looking at his record as manager (P13 W2 D2 L9) you’d think he’s been utterly abysmal, but overall he has made a positive impression both on and off the field. His press conferences have, shockingly, featured some honest, cliché-free answers, going against the LMA’s media guidelines; he has forged more togetherness within the team, with many players speaking of his innovative training sessions; he has encouraged progress from the club’s youth teams; and he has overseen a marked improvement on the pitch, even if the results haven’t been kind.
Against all these positives, it must be noted that Ramsey has still lost 9 of his 13 games in charge, including two totally appalling performances (v Crystal Palace and Manchester City). His tactical decisions have on occasions been unfathomable, such as the decision to play 3 at the back against Manchester City, including 2 players in Richard Dunne and Clint Hill who are slower than an asthmatic sloth with a motivation problem; he selected Shaun Wright-Phillips when any QPR fan could have told him that he should never be seen near the first team again; and he has a whiff of the nice guy coach who’s not ruthless enough to cut it in management about him.
I’d be inclined to offer Ramsey the job of manager for next season. What QPR need now above all is a bit of stability. We need a long-term plan, we need a structure in place to see that plan through, and we need not to panic if that plan doesn’t seem to be working immediately. What I would like to happen is for there to be a coaching structure in place that encourages all teams at all age levels to play in a similar way, so that the step up from one level to the next is easier. I would like there to be a clear pathway from the youth teams to the first team, so that, in time, young players from the area choose to join QPR because there is a good chance of achieving first team football. I would like eventually for the club to become known again for footballing reasons, rather than being held up as an example of horrendous mismanagement. For this to happen, I am very happy to sacrifice league position for a few years if it means securing the long-term future of the club, and can see Ramsey, supported by Les Ferdinand as Director of Football, as the man to start that process.
Rangers have always been a strong community club, and, despite the turmoil of the last few years, have continued to provide plenty of outreach programmes, so I would encourage the club to continue this good work. I would also encourage the club to employ competent administration staff. For years the R’s employed a lady called Sheila Marson as club secretary. When Flavio Briatore and Gianni Paladini arrived in 2007, she was sacked, presumably because she didn’t fit in with Briatore’s ‘boutique club’ idea. Since then, we have seen the farce surrounding the third-party ownership of Alejandro Faurlin’s economic rights, which really should have brought a points deduction, and then on Saturday it emerged no-one had thought to check Sandro had a valid residency permit. Such lunacy would not have happened with a half-decent secretary.
On the field it is clear changes have to be made. MOTD2 rather helpfully showed a graphic of all the players who are out of contract at the end of the season – all of them, with the exception of the permanently injured Faurlin, are over 30, meaning it will be a little easier than last time to clear out some of the dead wood. Of those who are out of contract, from a playing point of view I would love to keep Joey Barton – he may have an ego the size of Westfield, but when he concentrates on the business of winning the ball and passing it on, he is very good indeed. Likewise Karl Henry, who has been unexpectedly good this season. However, Barton will certainly not be amenable to the rather hefty wage cut he would have to take, although Henry may well be persuaded to stay on.
Of the others, I would hope Clint Hill is offered a coaching role with the club. He has become a strong fans’ favourite who always seems to be the leader on the field, even if Barton is the official captain, and I imagine he would have lots of useful advice for young defenders. Similarly I sincerely hope some role can be found for the luckless Faurlin. I haven’t heard how his recovery from injury is progressing, but given he has now suffered 3 cruciate ligament injuries in 3 years (to both knees too), then I suspect his playing days may well be over. However, he has been at the club now for 6 seasons and his family is settled in West London; I’m sure a role could be found for him, whether as a coach, an ambassador or as part of the community outreach scheme. As for the rest, it’s thanks, but bye-bye, apart from Shaun Wright-Phillips, for whom a slightly more Anglo-Saxon farewell is appropriate.
I am expecting a number of other players to leave over the summer too. Charlie Austin, following an outstanding first season in the Premier League, will surely be bought by someone in the lower half of the table, and I don’t think too many QPR fans would begrudge him the chance to try and prove himself more Rickie Lambert than Grant Holt. Matt Phillips, who has improved immeasurably since Chris Ramsey took over, will also probably go, although now that he has stopped overcomplicating things and either runs very fast and crosses or runs very fast and hits the ball like a exocet missile, he would be quite an asset in the Championship. I don’t expect Leroy Fer or Sandro to stick around either, Rob Green is allegedly on his way to sit on Chelsea’s bench for a season, while what happens to Adel Taarabt is anyone’s guess.
I hope whoever is in charge takes a leaf out of Neil Warnock’s book, and signs three or four experienced Championship campaigners to provide a solid spine to the team, and ensure any youngsters that are blooded are not bullied out of games. Michael Harriman, Darnell Furlong, Michael Doughty, Mike Petrasso and Reece Grego-Cox are all promising prospects, and should start to picture in the first-team next season, but will need wise heads to guide them through. Players such as Jem Karacan, Richard Keogh, Jordan Rhodes and Glenn Loovens could all be useful assets, while, if Middlesbrough fail to win promotion, I would love it if we could entice Grant Leadbitter down from his beloved north-east.
Such conjecture is of course pointless until we know who the manager will be next season. A decision will be made next week apparently, and I hope that, for once, QPR don’t make a short-term appointment while ignoring the longer-term future of the club.