Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Queens Park Rangers and Tony Fernandes

QPR might not seem like the most obvious subject for a blog but there have been a couple of requests for one and the club is potentially at a highly exciting juncture in its' current evolution with the arrival of Tony Fernandes as owner of the club. He has a proven track record of business success as well as being a football man.

This blog's first memories of the club were with Phil Parkes in the 1970s and whilst not professing to have a detailed knowledge of the 80s, images are conjured of Terry Venables, promotions and plastic pitches and the FA Cup final replay against Spurs.

The 90s saw the arrival of Gerry Francis as manager. QPR had several quality players in the ageing pass master Ray Wilkins, the likes of England internationals Trevor Sinclair and Andy Sinton and of course the mighty (Sir) Les Ferdinand. In addition to all this, Andy Impey had a fabulous right hook for those with a memory for the more pugilist side of the game.

With the sale of Ferdinand in 1995 so QPR's fortunes waned and relegation followed soon after. QPR dropped down the divisions and well over a decade in the wilderness would follow suffering all manner of financial mismanagement and woes for a club that had been a top tier stalwart for so long.

In 2007 an eclectic mix of Flavio Briatore, Bernie Eccelstone and then laterally metals mogul Lakshmi Mital purchased the club. This led to much fostering of hope for QPR that significant and much needed investment would come in but despite the personal wealth of the protagonists, very little real investment was made and little was done within the context of their global influence to raise the profile of the club. Some owners buy teams because they love football and the club and because they believe they can make a difference. Some do it possibly to move money out of reach of the Kremlin, some to systematically bankrupt them (step forward Peter Risdale) and others to turn a fast buck. With the above combination of movers and shakers and the evidence on offer we must presume the latter.

Moving on to current affairs, QPR won the Championship last year in fine style under the guiding hand of the controversial but highly effective (in the Championship at least) Neil Warnock. Much to the chagrin of QPR fans, little or no essential investment in the squad was made during the Summer (adding to the suspicion that the club was bought to merely be sold on) whilst ticket prices were hiked.

On the 18th of August and after a heavy opening day defeat came the news that Malaysian tycoon Tony Fernandes had bought the club. It was news that was welcomed by all associated by QPR and whilst Fernandes will have long term plans for the club, in the short term the key factor was the takeover was completed before the close of the transfer window.

Given the context of QPR's tenuous position in the Premiership, their transfer dealings in the final few days of August were possibly the best in the country. Barton on a free would have been a steal for nearly any team in the league. Wright Phillips although often mocked is a quality Premiership winger and the likes of Armand Traore and Anton Ferdinand whilst not the best individually will add experience and know how at this level.

QPR as demonstrated by their fine win at Moulineux should be good enough to stay up this year but for Fernandes, the hard work starts here. Judging by his recent interview with Mark Chapman of BBC Five Live he has a firm grasp of what is needed. It was incidentally an incredibly well polished interview and whilst clearly a master of soundbites and PR, there is clear evidence that there is ample substance behind the more obvious style.

Fernandes has proven business acumen honed by early exposure to Richard Branson. He has enjoyed fabulous success with Air Asia (tackling the Malaysian Government and the dominance of Malaysian Airlines is no mean feat) and has gained sporting experience by his involvement with Lotus and Formula One.

It is hard to imagine QPR ever being a 'big club', their proximity to the already highly established Chelsea and to a lesser extent Fulham and the restrictions of Loftus Road mean they will always have to punch above their weight. To do that it is essential that the people running the club are of the highest possible calibre.

The issue of Neil Warnock as a long term appointment in the Premiership may be a thorny one as his record at the top level is patchy at best. There are many examples of fine Championship managers who fall short in the top division, Steve Coppell, Dave Jones, Kevin Keegan and Bryan Robson are all examples and like the last two, Warnock is a great motivator but lacks the subtlety and tactical nous at the top of the game.

Regardless of this and with what looks to be the right, dynamic man at the helm of the club and with secure finances going forward, there is much hope for QPR's fortunes in the medium term and West Ham's loss may well be QPR's gain - No Nonsense.