It took all of four minutes on Sunday afternoon for the inevitable to be effectively confirmed. Manchester City might have been to the Premier League title with some comfort by Chelsea, but this only seemed to have the effect of giving the team something to prove, and so it was that Queens Park Rangers, who should in theory have been fighting for their Premier League lives, rolled over in just about the most supine manner possible and allowed a sky blue coloured steamroller to squash their chances of a second successive season with their noses at the top flight trough completely flat.
The manner in which the team folded provided a fitting visual metaphor for those looking for meaning at the end of a season that is running out of steam rather than going out with a bang. Whilst Burnley, who had fallen through the trapdoor a day earlier, did so with a flourish – their late winner at Hull City was greeted by supporters as if it had won the title rather than being the final, valedictory two fingered salute that it turned out to be – Rangers’ assortment of journeymen and names that you half-recognise but can’t quite place where from surrendered with little more than a squeak at The Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
For most clubs who find themselves in such a position, relegation’s sweet kiss can be as much of a blessing as a curse. It’s an opportunity to regroup, to clear out the dead wood and to look forward rather than back. This doesn’t, however, seem to be likely to be case at Loftus Road this summer. At the precise time of writing, there are question marks hanging over the question of whether head coach Chris Ramsey will last the summer, and the supporters themselves seem broadly undecided over whether he should be allowed to build his own squad for next season – the squad that he was unable to salvage this season was largely the craftsmanship of one Harry Redknapp, whose proclivity in the transfer market has attained legendary status – or whether there might be someone else better qualified to take on the job.
If it is not to be Chris Ramsey who will lead the club over the course of a summer’s worth of rebuilding and a different timbre of challenge back in the Championship, there is one potential candidate for the job whose name jumps out as being qualified, with a track record of alchemy and who everybody already knows will be available. They may have been narrowly beaten at the end of last week in the semi-finals of the Championship play-offs, but the achievement of Brentford in finishing in fifth place in the table in the first place is one that feels rather as if it has been cast into the shadows somewhat by the even more remarkable achievement of AFC Bournemouth in winning the division title.
As has widely been reported, manager Mark Warburton will not be at the club after the play-offs this season, and regardless of the rights or wrongs of the decision of Brentford FC to let him go – and, let’s face it, by any rational standards the decision continues to reek of pure insanity – an opportunity has arisen for one club to take on a manager who has been riding the crest of a wave and proved that he is capable of taking a club either into the Premier League or closer to it than anyone would have expected at the start of the season. The appeal of such a job becoming available should be obvious. Queens Park Rangers would, in the football food chain, most likely be considered a “step up” from Brentford without being too big a step to make in one hit, as, for example, Paul Lambert found to his cost when leaving Norwich City for Aston Villa, and the two clubs’ close proximity would mean that the Warburton family wouldn’t have to relocate if the offer was made and accepted.
Would Warburton want the job, though? It may seem like a no-brainer to say “obviously,” but such has been the amount of time since it was confirmed that he wouldn’t be staying at Griffin Park beyond the end of this season that it’s impossible to believe that he won’t have been being tracked by a number of other clubs at the same time, and anybody looking in from the outside can surely only have been impressed, not only by the squad that he built in the Championship in the first place, but also by the way he managed to keep that squad focused on the job of finishing in the top six in the table even after the circus surrounding the decision to not to renew his contract had fully swung into gear.
There’s a flip-side to all of this, though. If Mark Warburton is going to be an in-demand manager come the end of his time at Brentford, will he want to get involved with the circus that Queens Park Rangers have become over the last few years or so? A first team squad with deficiencies so obvious that vast swathes of it being out of contract might even feel like a relief to most supporters, players on almost absurd contracts who will almost certainly dig their heels in to stay even if the club doesn’t want them and the forthcoming saga over the club’s treatment of its financial affairs when it was last in the Football League during the 2013/14 season, amongst other considerations, might well cause an in-demand manager to think that he might well be better off chancing his arm somewhere else instead.
It is, ultimately, considerations such as this that are the long-term cost of becoming perceived as a basket-case in the way that Queens Park Rangers have over the last few years or so and, whilst, say, Flavio Briatore and Harry Redknapp have to shoulder a certain amount of blame for that perception, it can occasionally look from the outside – especially when we consider the continuing reliance on acting as some sort of retirement home for veteran players – as if policies which failed under Briatore have continued, albeit under the considerably less obnoxious ownership of Tony Fernandes. This is a club that needs stripping out from top to bottom. It needs a manager to be granted a free rein to strip out the dead wood and those who are only at Loftus Road to build some sort of pension fund. It needs the club’s senior management to be cannier with its purse-strings, and it needs players who believe in something other than plumpening their own wallets still further. It’s obviously not too late to “save” Queens Park Rangers. It just feels as if this is a club that could do, in the most literal sense, with a little tender loving care.
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