Okay, let’s get this out of the way quickly, before we move onto altogether more relevant matters. Joey Bartons sending off at Manchester City was a pretty stupid piece of behaviour, for which he has been severely punished. There. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Bartons media profile has a tendency to overshadow everything in its wake up these days, but this does his employers something of a disservice. What should have been elation at the clubs return to the Premier League at the end of the season was tempered by concerns over the behaviour of those running the club at the time. They have long gone now, as has Neil Warnock, the man that took the club back to the Premier League in the first place. Considering the turmoil that such events carry with them, that the club held onto its position in the division at all is something of a small wonder. Yet a year on, here is Queens Park Rangers Football Club – still a Premier League club and one which is likely to improve upon last year’s close shave.
Bartons misdemeanour at the City of Manchester Stadium on the final day of last season might have cost the club its Premier League place, but providence shone on it elsewhere and Rangers stayed up. While this summer has been quiet in the transfer market, the new summer arrivals at Loftus Road have been sufficiently high profile to warrant comment. Park Ji Sungs arrival from Manchester United is the obvious stand-out, a classy player surprisingly released from Old Trafford before some expected him to be, at the age of thirty-one for the relatively modest sum of £2m. While Park was a common face to see in the Premier League last season, goalkeeper Robert Green was plying his trade in the Championship with West Ham United and the apparent lack of too much concern on the part of the supporters of his former club may be informative about his value at the moment.
It is, however, easy to merely dismiss players – and particularly goalkeepers – on account of high profile errors that they have made in the past. The truth about Green probably lays somewhere between the two poles of genius and clown, but Mark Hughes will probably be happy enough if Green turns out to be a solid last line of defence next season. His acquisition has an element of wait and see about it. Elsewhere, the loan signing of Fabio da Silva – also from Manchester United – seems like sensible transfer business and Ryan Nelsens arrival at the club may be a move towards a little more defensive composure. So far, so sensible, when we consider that last season was bookmarked by the team conceding six goals in derby matches against both Fulham and Chelsea.
And if you’re waiting for a ‘but’ at this point, well… there isn’t one, really. Tony Fernandes has been a sensible owner so far – especially in comparison with the utter madness of Flavio Briatore – and, whilst there are some that don’t like him, Mark Hughes is an experienced manager who took the club to its minimum objective for last season. There are no guarantees in the Premier League, of course, but Hughes has gone for old heads in order to steady the ship and keep Queens Park Rangers from trouble this season, and each of the signings noted above has its own considerable merits on its own. Whether they can knit together with the clubs other players is a different question, of course, but QPRs squad looks stronger this summer than it did this time last year, and it has both a manager and an owner that seem more conducive to a stable atmosphere around the club in a general sense than it had twelve months ago.
It is atmosphere of a subtly different sort which may also have an influence of sorts over the clubs prognosis for the next nine months or so. Younger readers who have visited it in recent times may find this hard to fathom, but there was certainly a period during which Loftus Road was considered the zenith of football stadium modernity in this country. Extensively redeveloped in the years between 1968 and 1981, it was considered something of a template for stadiums of the future at the time of its completion. It looks a little tatty around the edges nowadays and, with a capacity of 18,500, is the smallest in the Premier League, but we might pause to consider, in an age during which homogeneity is the norm, how much their home as it stands is worth to the club. After all, QPRs seven home wins last season included beating Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur and just a single point was enough to keep the club in the Premier League at the end of it all.
This seasons Queens Park Rangers team has the look of being too strong get sucked into the difficulties that it did last season about this time around, but the much vaunted “second season syndrome” may be less likely – if it exists at all – to affect a club less if it has spent the previous season fighting tooth and nail to avoid relegation. For the coming season, progress for the club may only be modest, but the middle of the Premier League table is so congested that a mid-table finish, perhaps between tenth and sixteenth place, is certainly far from beyond this collection of hired hands, old pros and cast-offs from elsewhere. There certainly seems to be at least three weaker teams than QPR in the Premier League this season, and with survival at the end of this season being all-important on account of the new television deal that kicks in next summer, we might expect a modest improvement from the club this season. They certainly can’t afford to cut it as fine as they did last season.
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