Five years is a long time in football, particularly for Queens Park Rangers. And five years on from their last promotion to the Premier League, the club are still suffering from a failed shot at the big time during five manic seasons that saw them go up and down twice.
QPR took the promotion gamble and lost. Now, they are paying the price for falling foul of Financial Fair Play regulations, which led to a £42m settlement with the English Football League last summer and a transfer ban during the January window.
“We’re in a prolonged period of trying to recover from the excesses of our failed Premier League tilt,” Clive Whittingham of QPR fansite Loftforwords tells City A.M. “Halving your wage bill and then halving it again while staying competitive on the pitch is a challenge.”
Having spent last summer trimming their salary budget, offloading big names such as captain Nedum Onuoha, their 2018-19 objectives were limited to mere survival.
Although this was achieved with relative ease – they finished 19th but were 11 points above the relegation zone – manager Steve McClaren lost his job in April.
McClaren’s QPR had offered false hope, spending much of the first half of the season just outside the play-off positions before a calamitous run of form saw them tumble towards the lower reaches.
The former England manager became a victim of that run – and his failure to find the best solution to the club’s dire financial circumstances require.
“McClaren was brought in to coach a number of promising youngsters we have at the club,” says Whittingham. “But we saw precious little of that development taking place. He demanded a load of expensive, senior loan signings that we couldn’t afford to bail him out.”
New manager Mark Warburton is well prepared for QPR’s financial predicament. The former City trader made his name at Brentford by developing players such as James Tarkowski and Andre Gray and selling them for a large profit.
That tactic is QPR’s only option if they are to emerge from the financial mire. Already, Warburton has filled his squad with young free agents and loanees.
The first remit upon which Warburton will be judged, therefore, is how he manufactures team chemistry within a squad packed with new faces.
“We shouldn’t fear change as much as we should fear more of the same,” says Whittingham. “But trying to build an entirely new team, with 12 players out and 14 in, is a mental thing to try.”
Among the most notable arrivals is Yoann Barbet, who they hope will shore up a defence that leaked 71 league goals last year. They have also pinned their hopes on West Ham loanee Jordan Hugill to spearhead what has been an unproductive attack.
Star player and fan favourite Luke Freeman, meanwhile, has joined Sheffield United for £5m – a profit of around £4.5m on QPR’s initial investment.
“It may not feel like it, but it’s good news,” Whittingham says. “It needs to become our new norm, repeated over and over again.”
Main image credit: Getty