If the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo by Chelsea was surprising yet unsurprising, there can be no doubt over the lack of shock regarding the decision of Queens Park Rangers to sever their ties with Mark Hughes after eleven months in the job this morning. The club lays adrift at the foot of the Premier League table without a win so far, and with a new television deal kicking in next summer that will substantially increase the wealth of those twenty clubs that are fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of it, this season above all others is the one that clubs cannot, both literally and figuratively, afford to be plummeting down through the trapdoor.
Queens Park Rangers hung onto their Premier League status by their fingernails at the end of last season, but there has been little indication so far this season that they will be as lucky again this time around. With just four points from their opening twelve matches (and not a single win on the table), the dotted line which separates the survivors from the failures is already starting to recede into the distance. Despite this, however, the clubs cause is not yet completely lost and it probably this that defined the decision of owner Tony Fernandes to bring in a new face at the club now. Hughes replacement will have a month or so to run his eye over his current squad before the January sales begin in earnest. It may already prove to be too little too late, but further procrastination on the matter would surely be more likely to end in regrets on the owners part at opportunities missed than anything else.
There was one name that was already being mentioned more than any other in connection with the newly-vacant position – that of one Harry Redknapp. Redknapp had been enjoying a little leisure time since his departure from White Hart Lane at the start of the summer, although his name was – bizarrely, if you stop to think about it for longer than a couple of seconds – being mentioned with almost breathless enthusiasm by the head of the Ukrainian Football Association in conjunction with their currently vacant coaching position only this week. These overtures, however, have all proved to be in vain and as early this afternoon it was being reported by the Mirror that Redknapp has signed a three year contract with the club, meaning that the void left by Mark Hughes may be one of the shortest-lasting in the history of top flight English football.
At this point, though, we have to pause to consider whether the timing of this departure might even have been stimulated by Redknapps admission of interest in the Ukraine job earlier this week. Certainly, this would seem to have been the most rational explanation for the timing of Queens Park Rangers’ announcement. The Friday before a trip to Old Trafford for a Premier League match against Manchester United would certainly seem, otherwise, to be an odd time to be getting rid of a manager, even if that manager has been as spectacularly unsuccessful as Mark Hughes had been for the club so far this season. Managerial duties for this match will be taken over by another former Wales international, Mark Bowen, who, along with fellow conspirator for the day,the former Chelsea goalkeeper Eddie Niedzwiecki, finds himself in perhaps the most thankless position that any top division manager has ever found himself in. Still, he might reflect upon the fact that much as he finds himself in a no-win situation this weekend, he also finds himself in something of a no-lose situation as well. Anything less than a torrid defeat could be treated as a victory for him, of sorts, even if his reign in charge of the team is only destined to last for the duration of this weekend.
Of course, we’ll all be left with egg on our faces should Harry Redknapp turn up at Heathrow Airport tomorrow morning clutch a yellow and blue flag and a Ukrainian phrase book, but the confidence with which this is being reported seems to indicate that if a contract hasn’t been signed already, it will be by the end the weekend, if not sooner. Whether he can turn around the fortunes of Queens Park Rangers this season, however, remains very much in the lap of the Gods for now. There has been little indication so far that this year’s Queens Park Rangers vintage has enough about it to avoid the drop, but a new manager, a cleaning up of the team and a sprinkling of judiciously spent money in the new year may just give the club a fighting chance of pulling itself back into the plain view of the clubs immediately above it in the Premier League table, and considering the riches on offer to those that do manage to steer themselves clear of the gallows come the end of this season, the case for saying that a change of direction has been necessary for the club for some time now is close to irresistible.
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