PL25: Hurry Up Harry (2012/13)

The 2017/18 season celebrates 25 years of the Premier League. To mark the occasion we’ll be taking a look at some of the more off-kilter moments from each season. Having survived by the skin of their teeth at the end of the previous season, Queens Park Rangers went into 2012/13 meaning business. Having spent big to build a squad capable of propelling them up the Premier League table, owner Tony Fernandes had complete faith in the ability of manager Mark Hughes to provide stability to a club that had desperately been lacking it for the previous 15 years. What he ended up with was a giant hole in his pocket.

Queens Park Rangers had started out life in the Premier League as a sturdy upper-mid table outfit capable of giving the likes of free-spending Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers a game on their day, and making their West-London home of Loftus Road a fortress. In the first three seasons of the Premier League Rangers posted three top ten finishes, and Les Ferdinand earned a reputation as one of the most fearsome strikers in England. With 58 goals in three seasons, Ferdinand was one of the front runners in the league’s scoring charts but, when R’s manager Gerry Francis left the club in 1994 to take the top job at Tottenham Hotspur, the squad became disillusioned and Ferdinand left for Newcastle. His replacement, youth team striker Danny Dichio, was unable to fill Ferdinand’s considerably hefty boots, and in 1996 QPR were relegated to the First Division for the first time since 1979. What followed was fifteen years of chaos. Changes in ownership, including a ludicrous spell under Flavio Briatore, administration, an ensemble of hapless managers and further relegation to the third tier tore up the foundations laid in the 80s and 90s at Loftus Road, and it wasn’t until Neil Warnock took the job in West London that some sense of stability was finally instilled. Remarkably, having spent their first five seasons back in the Championship swaying between relegation fights and mid-table obscurity, Warnock won the club promotion in his first full season in charge. With a squad full of battle-hardened old pros and reformed misfits, QPR racked up 24 wins and won promotion with a game to spare with a 2-0 victory at Watford. The exploits of maverick Moroccan Adel Taraabt, top scorer for Rangers with 19, dovetailed seamlessly with the graft of fellow attacker Heidur Helguson, while a bruising spine of Paddy Kenny, Clint Hill and Shaun Derry earned Warnock’s side the best defensive record in the league. The news that Malaysian entrepreneur and AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes had purchased a controlling stake in the club ahead of their first season back in the top flight was greeted with universal delight, as the club finally saw the back of Bernie Ecclestone and a reign that, though ended happily, had provided the most unstable period in the club’s history, having seen them close to liquidation. QPR’s first seasons back in the Premier League was hardly plain sailing. A 4-0 home defeat to Bolton Wanderers on the opening day set the tone for the season’s struggles, and though they edged a 1-0 win against local rivals Chelsea at Loftus Road, the short trip to Fulham would end in another sound beating – Andrew Johnson’s hat-trick setting the Cottagers on their way in a 6-0 victory. With rumours surrounding Warnock’s future persisting into the New Year, the cantankerous Yorkshireman was finally given his marching orders after a home defeat to Norwich, and Mark Hughes was appointed in his stead. Hughes had walked out on Fulham the previous summer, but definitely not because he wanted more money. Fortunately, Fernandes was more than happy to open his chequebook for Hughes, and though his introduction didn’t immediately inspire an improvement in form, impressive wins over Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham towards the end of the season helped Rangers collect enough points to survive by the skin of their teeth.

QPRSWA

Heading into 2012/13, and feeling that he had the right man in place to help QPR climb the table, Fernandes trusted Hughes with a sizable wedge for transfers and an eye-watering wage budget. The Welshman went to work, bringing in two goalkeepers in the shape of Rob Green and Brazilian #1 Julio Cesar, a pair of midfield enforcers in Samba Diakite and Stephane Mbia, splashing out £13m on Esteban Granero and Ji-Sung Park, and also signing Jose Bosingwa and Junior Hoilett on free transfers. A total of £22m spent on transfer fees, and some seriously lucrative contracts. On the opening day, QPR were gifted a plumb fixture as newly promoted Swansea City arrived at Loftus Road, and the assembled Hoops fans were looking forward to their side giving the new-boys a schooling in Premier League life. Hughes gave debuts to six of his summer signings, but it was Swansea’s new £2m man Michu that opened the scoring. A single goal deficit at half-time was hardly ideal, but surely the callow Swans wouldn’t hold out until full-time. There were plenty of goals left in this one. Four more, to be precise, each one hitting the back of Green’s net like nails in the coffin of a man who, to all intents and purposes, is still alive and well. If a 5-0 defeat to a newly promoted side on the opening day is cause for concern, then a run of 13 games without a win is the kind of thing that sets alarm bells ringing. By the time Hughes was finally relieved of his position on the 24th November, Rangers were rock bottom of the Premier League with just four points. In times of severe crisis such as these, there was only one man Tony Fernandes could call on…erm, Harry Redknapp. ‘Arry had been given the heave ho by Daniel Levy at Tottenham at the end of the previous season as the club slipped out of the top four, and one can only assume QPR saw his as the ideal man for a relegation scrap based on the fact that he took Spurs from the relegation zone to the top four in two seasons which, when entirely stripped of context, sounds impressive. Prior to his arrival at White Hart Lane, Redknapp had also taken Portsmouth to the brink of bankruptcy with some questionable transfer dealings, as well as relegating Southampton. A decent spell in charge of a club primed for European football had done wonders of papering over the cracks in his reputation, but lifting QPR out of trouble was always going to take some doing.

In fairness to the elastic-chopped cockney, he did appear to inject some belief into the Loftus Road dressing room. Three draws in his first three games in charge was followed by QPR’s first win of the season at home to Fulham, with Adel Taraabt responding well to an arm around the shoulder and scoring twice to seal a 2-1 victory. A run of three defeats followed before, incredibly, QPR posted a 1-0 victory away at Chelsea, by which time the transfer window had opened and Redknapp could weave his magic. It had been less than three years since ‘Arry had told Sky Sports reporter Rob Palmer to “fuck off” after suggesting that the then Tottenham boss was something of a wheeler dealer, and with a reputation to uphold he wasn’t about to start striking dodgy looking transfer deals now. But then, when a 28 year old Christopher Samba becomes available for £12.5m and only £100k a week, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Loic Remy also arrived for £8m from Marseille, while Jermaine Jenas was signed for the bargain price of £2m. Though he’d only been there for two months, Redknapp had quickly made his mark on the club, and his influence would be felt much further down the line…

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Reading v Queens Park Rangers - Madejski Stadium

On the pitch, Rangers followed up the win at Stamford Bridge with four draws and heading into February with their new additions, they remained bottom of the table, six points adrift from safety. A mini-revivial at the beginning of March brought wins at Southampton and at home to Sunderland, with new boy Remy scoring in both, but the gap between QPR and safety refused to narrow. Eventually, having lost four in five, Rangers were finally relegated after a goalless draw at Reading with three games of the season to spare. With the pressure off there was hope Redknapp’s side could end the season with a flourish, but three more defeats saw the West London club finish the season rock bottom with four wins and only 25 points.  The mammoth signing of Samba had produced just one clean sheet, four fewer than the side had managed previously, while Redknapp ended the season with the lowest win percentage of any QPR manager in Premier League history.

QPR actually bounced straight back up to the Premier League via the play-offs the following season, but behind the scenes the real cost of their relegation started to become clear. With Loftus Road holding only 18,000, Fernandes had ploughed the kind of investment into the squad that only success in the Premier League could cover. During the season following their relegation, it was revealed that QPR had made losses to the tune of £65m – the kind of money only the mega-rich clubs in England could pass off without concern. Furthermore, QPR’s wage bill across the season had totaled a whopping £78m, £17m more than the club’s annual turnover of £61m. While some first team players naturally left after relegation, many were signed up on long contracts and earning way above their worth. Both Hughes and Redknapp had leaned towards recruiting players with experience, meaning their value in the transfer market was no use to QPR whatsoever. In the event, the play-off win over Derby County – sealed with a last-minute Bobby Zamora strike – was enough to stave off almost certain financial oblivion. The club finished dead last in the league again the following year, as Rio Ferdinand became the latest long-in-the-tooth superstar to commit to one final pay day at Redknapp’s Retirement Home. Redknapp himself resigned from the job immediately after the closure of the January transfer window in 2015, unsurprisingly. After popping up briefly at Birmingham City to save the Blues from relegation to League One in 2017, Redknapp returned to his retirement, now preferring to spend his days working as his dog’s accountant. Queens Park Rangers are currently marooned in mid-table in the Championship.

As QPR dropped out of the Premier League, along with Reading and Wigan Athletic, Sir Alex Ferguson was winning his thirteenth and final Premier League title. Ferguson had delayed his retirement following Manchester City’s last gasp title win of the previous season, and ended up going out on a high as Robin van Persie fired Manchester United to yet another trophy. In a remarkable twenty-seven year career at Old Trafford, Ferguson had won twenty-nine trophies and overseen the rise of Manchester United as the greatest team in English football. It was now down to Ferguson’s successor to continue the Scotsman’s legacy, and surely, unlike Harry Redknapp, Sir Alex would be leaving the club in a fit and proper state to ensure their dominance. Wouldn’t he?

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