It would take a hard heart to begrudge the supporters of Queens Park Rangers their place among English football’s elite.
Anyone who has ever traipsed through Shepherd’s Bush towards Loftus Road cannot help but relish the trip to QPR, where the tight, compact stands and the often ferocious atmosphere among the home fans take you back at least a couple of decades to long before the glossy Premier League era.
That club did the swan dive down the divisions long before the likes of Nottingham Forest and Leeds made a spell among the muck and nettles of the third tier fashionable. Three seasons were spent in Division Two (as it was then) and the gates held pretty firm: a sign of the enduring loyalty of fans who remain defiant in the face of the inexorable rise of their biggest rivals Chelsea.
Yet for all of that, Rangers’ triumph in Saturday’s play-off final was about as popular as a Liberal Democrat in a local election.
That is because the R’s success story is not an against-all-odds tale to swell the heart. Instead it is the tale of a club teetering on the brink of financial oblivion belatedly punching their weight in a division that could not possibly hope to compete with them.
Rangers’ wage bill last season was an eye-watering £68million. That was 128% of their turnover and nearly double the bloated wage bill of Bolton, who had the highest of the 2011/12 season. It is a figure that is almost certain to see them landed with a whopping fine and a transfer embargo when Financial Fair Play punishments are levied in December.
Tony Fernandes has vowed to fight that – “it is my middle name,” he crowed at Wembley – and Harry Redknapp has already started to hit the phones. Rio Ferdinand has an offer waiting for him, by all accounts.
As Rangers pop the champagne corks and Redknapp collects the plaudits, we are left to wonder what the point is trying to run a club responsibly. Rangers are a basket case, with debts of £65million, yet they are back in the Premier League. Relegation doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact on them. The clubs in their league who have tried to manage affairs responsibly must wonder what is the point in being prudent?
When one club goes rogue, there is a butterfly effect and we are actually feeling it in the North East. On Redknapp’s instruction, QPR made a play for Loic Remy in January 2013 – whipping him away from Newcastle to offer him a contract that was vastly inflated from that which United were offering him.
Newcastle invested hundreds of thousands in a scouting operation that confirmed Remy was the player they wanted. Derek Llambias was convinced they had done the deal. Then Rangers nicked in with money – it later transpired – that they didn’t really have.
If Fernandes’ club is fined in December, it will hit QPR but there will be no compensation for Newcastle. Similarly, Derby County – whose success was achieved while nursing losses of £7.9million (still over the Championship’s Financial Fair Play limits, it should be noted) – will see nothing. Yet both suffer.
Don’t get me wrong, the Magpies are the last club whose board lend themselves to receiving a sympathetic ear. An utterly bizarre year pock-marked with regressive and retrograde decision-making would suggest that they have a lot to learn. And it would be remiss to suggest that there is not plenty wrong with Newcastle United’s approach to running a club at the moment. They duck, they dive and they are maddeningly, infuriatingly inconsistent.
Take Loic Remy’s midweek quotes about being fit to play at Liverpool but missing the game with Alan Pardew’s blessing. The manager reacted with indignant fury at the suggestion that the striker would be given time off with a view on Brazil and the World Cup.
“Any suggestion that I colluded and agreed with our loan striker, Loïc Rémy, that he did not have to play in this game are wholly untrue,” he said.
Yet Pardew is also the manager who would sign players, claimed Joe Kinnear was doing a good job and was adamant that Mike Ashley was “a fan”. In short, attempts to scramble back to the moral high ground are doomed to fail because he has cried wolf before.
Unfortunately there is a good deal of gathering evidence that Newcastle’s attempts to make a decisive breakthrough in the transfer market are not progressing quite as smoothly as had hoped too. Striker Bafetimbi Gomis was seen as a reliable back-up option to United’s main men but sources in France tell us the deal has collapsed in no uncertain terms and the hitman is now looking elsewhere for his dream move to England. Montpellier remain stubborn in their valuation of Remy Cabella, a player who has made no secret of his desire to move to St James’ Park and use it as a platform for his own ambitions.
All the while, Newcastle’s favoured tactic of low-balling selling clubs – either in Ligue 1 or elsewhere – in the hope of pulling off a ‘perfect deal’ is starting to look like a damned waste of time.
The mood on Tyneside is restless and rightly so. But what, you wonder, is the alternative – chucking cash that you can’t afford at the issue like Rangers do?
Financial Fair Play was designed to stop this kind of dangerous spending but one of the biggest transgressors continues to prosper. The Premier League’s next move is intriguing.