THE RESILIENCY THAT IS: 2013-2014 QUEENS PARK RANGERS Rafael J. Fernandez
It is now 9:15 am on Monday, May 26th as I write this. It has been over 48 hours since the great escape was completed in the forms of Queens Park Rangers amazing defeat of Derby County in the Championship Playoff-Final at Wembley Stadium. Being down to 10 men for the vast majority of the second half, against the highest scoring side in the Championship, with our backs against the wall, and defending for our lives like the late QPR great Alan McDonald always did in his playing days…..well it was a miracle indeed that we won! With our only shot on goal coming in the form of a Bobby Zamora winner 11 seconds from added time, what more can you say or do but rejoice in jubilation! QPR never do it the easy way do they haha!!
But a few days or so after the miracle at Wembley, I sit here with collective thoughts on the season that was, the up and down emotions of being a fan of QPR and being on this never-ending rollercoaster ride, and the future that lies ahead. It was great that our season ended so strongly with a valued trip to Wembley Stadium; a place not visited by QPR in 28 years. And the season has ended with the club, the players, and the fans all seeing the ultimate goal of promotion at first-time asking achieved. But I just wonder if fans really did enjoy the season for what it was. And more importantly, how do many feel about what the future may lay ahead for the club now that promotion has occurred.
After the way last season ended with that no-effort relegation, I really believed that we had the ability of going up at first time of asking. But I also wasn’t naïve to the fact that many issues had to be taken care of and eradicated for the goal of promotion to be achieved. Big egos and contracts had to be moved and altered, and a team had to be rebuilt in terms of finding the right sort with the right attitude and mentality. That in itself would prove to be a monumental task at hand with all the negativity that surrounded our relegation in terms of press coverage and financial windfall.
In addition to the difficulty of restructuring of personnel and finances, I personally felt that the division the club was heading into was always going to be difficult to navigate. Many hungry teams awaited us just chomping at the bit to play us at their best, plus there were some real quality sides capable of putting us and other opponents to shame based on how long they have been put together and structured. Initially I did pick Leicester City as the favorites in the division mainly because of the fact that the club has been hard luck pressed in the promotion chase for the last 3 years or so, and they have kept a good chunk of their players and only added to an already strong core and nucleus of team togetherness. But in no way did I see Burnley have the season they just did, nor did I see Derby County explode offensively the way they did as well. I expected the likes of Nottingham Forest, Wigan, Reading, and Ipswich Town to really contend.
With the combination of tough competition ahead with a broken team in the midst of a major overhaul, it did look bleak in the beginning. But slowly some moves were put together that began to shape the club into a gritty bunch that were capable of fighting for each other; not like the lot that we had in our relegation who were only concerned with individual performances. Out the door went the likes of Julio Cesar, Samba Diakite, Stephane M’Bia, Adel Taarabt, Esteban Granero, Loic Remy, Ji-Sung Park, Fabio da Silva, Jose Bosingwa, Jay Bothroyd, Jamie Mackie, Tal Ben Haim, and Christopher Samba; all seen as not the types to hang around and rebuild a club with due to either high wages or poor attitudes. Kept from that wipeout were Robert Green, Armand Traore, Shaun Derry (Later retired and became manager of Notts County), Clint Hill, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Yun Suk-Young, Nedum Ohuoha, Jermaine Jenas, David “Junior” Hoilett, Bobby Zamora, Brian Murphy, and Andrew Johnson. The likes of Richard Dunne, Danny Simpson, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, and Karl Henry (and later on Aaron Hughes) were brought in to help strengthen the defence and add a bit of depth. Midfielders like Matt Phillips, Tom Carroll, Niko Kranjcar, Gary O’Neil, and Yossi Benayoun were brought in to hopefully liven up our midfield play and provide further attacking options alongside mainstays Faurlin, Traore, and Hoilett. And lastly our key acquisition Charlie Austin was recruited to serve as our Number 9 and be our goal scoring machine that we sorely craved the season prior. Others were brought in on loan like Kevin Doyle, Will Keane, and Modibo Maiga to hopefully stabilize a forward line that was hampered by the injury-prone Johnson and Zamora. Yet with all those moves that occurred, probably none were more important than the decisions involving Joey Barton and Ravel Morrison.
With all the negativity that surrounded Joey Barton from his controversial sending off against Manchester City to his season-long loan in Marseille, no one in their right mind would have fathom the thought of him being the driving force for Rangers this season. Longing to leave for greener pastures in France, Joey instead decided to do the unthinkable and come back to QPR and help with the promotion push back to the Premier League. Proving to be the driving force in midfield and playing with renowned confidence and vigor, Joey Barton helped stabilize a midfield that resembled a carousel of who’s who on a weekly basis. And even more importantly than his relentless play was the calmness of his attitude and demeanor throughout the season, as he managed to stay relatively conflict-free for the vast majority of the season.
The loan move for Ravel Morrison was a shock in many parts of the Premier League and Football League alike mostly in large part because West Ham United was looking to part with one of the biggest up-and-coming talents England has seen in quite some time. There was no denying the talents of Ravel, but for all the good that he was doing on the pitch, just as much was concentrated on the bad off of it. Rumors of fallout with the staff at West Ham – mostly with Sam Allardyce – and his lack of maturity in his personal life was taking over his brilliant play and possibly causing a distraction to himself and his club. So in comes Harry Redknapp and QPR once again taking a gamble on a player that would either flourish or wilt under pressure. But with our goal machine Charlie Austin sidelined with an injury to his shoulder, and our lack of goals playing a major part in a slide down the table during the second half of the season, the opportunity to take Ravel on loan was too good of an opportunity to pass up. He only responded by coming in, putting his head down, and concentrating on his form. With brilliant attacking flare and vision of a hawk, he assisted in revitalizing a QPR frontline that was sorely lacking in production up front. With a tune of 6 goals IN 15 appearances and countless goal-scoring opportunities, the loan signing of Ravel Morrison came back to pay huge dividends in the second half of our season and, quite possibly, saved our club from further sliding out of the playoff picture.
Queens Park Rangers a reputation of never doing anything easy, and this season to say the least was anything but easy. Tipped by many to possibly fall in the same relegation trap that Portsmouth and Wolverhampton have suffered recently, the club quickly changed the mind of many with the combination of the overhaul in the summer as well as the early season results that had them grinding out countless 1-0 wins and an abundance of clean sheets. Now the talk shifted from possible disaster to easy promotion as the “experts” were convinced that Rangers had too much glamour, glitz, and experience for the division. But the old saying of “never judge a book by its cover” proved once again to be the case, as the loss of Steve McClaren to Derby County, the age of key players in our midfield and defence, and the mountain of injuries that occurred throughout the season began to seriously affect our opening season momentum and had us slipping out of the top 2 places in quick order.
Another key contributor to our mid-season slide that has to be mentioned was the constant change in lineups, formations, and tactics being implemented by Harry and his back-room staff. For the vast part of the season, it seemed as though the staff had no clue what our best eleven was on the pitch, and the inability to read the opposition was causing us to produce some embarrassing displays against other clubs which otherwise should have been simple results against them. Going in with only three strikers to start the year really put a burden on Austin, and had Rangers fans all over praying that the worst never happen. Unfortunately it did, and our depth in this position was exposed. The lack of signing younger players or giving opportunities to some in the youth ranks in defence and midfield further exposed our depth as injuries began to mount and climb. Tactics throughout the season had our club looking dazed and confused at times as we were put on our backs by the likes of Charlton Athletic, Huddersfield Town, Sheffield Wednesday, and even Yeovil Town to name a few.
While all those factors proved to be major in their own ways, I feel the biggest concerning factor was the meddling of team chemistry after the January transfer window. Our old predecessor Neil Warnock in the past noted how it was vital to have as minimal loans into a club as possible when building a team and team chemistry. It seems that Harry Redknapp wanted no part of that vision as countless loans were brought in to help “patch holes” in the squad. Tom Carroll, Will Keane, Kevin Doyle, Niko Kranjcar, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Modibo Maiga, Guilherme Dellatorre, Ravel Morrison, and half-season signings Aaron Hughes, Yossi Benayoun all came in to try and bolster a squad being decimated by injuries and lacking attack, but only Kranjcar, Morrison had positive results while Carroll, Doyle and Benayoun had minimal impact. For all the talent that Assou-Ekotto possesses in his repertoire, his lackadaisical / care-free attitude was causing a headache on and off the pitch. The others were just waste of space with Keane not showing anything which merits his high rating at Manchester United, Maiga showing his lack of taking the right shot and killer instinct, Hughes showing his lack of moving forward and straying out of his comfort zone in the back, and Dellatorre didn’t even feature at all for the club! It was safe to say that we had maybe 5-6 loans too many and easily could have played a negative part in our team chemistry.
The media and pundits alike, looking at all this, began having a laugh at the expense of our club as the usual headlines began to surface of our fruitful spending and high wages dominating our club. In their eyes, they viewed our club as a financial disaster waiting to happen, and were wholeheartedly looking to push out an all-out negative attack on our club from the financial standpoint so as to cast further gloom over Loftus Road. Personally, this pissed me off rightly so as I find many members of the media to be two-faced and ridiculous in their reporting. Yes, it is no secret that Tony Fernandes and his staff have put lots of money into Rangers so as to try and build something of their own at the club. And in the beginning, many issues came to light in terms of the spending going on at the club. And while many supporters alike were concerned at the thought of the club going in financial ruins again, most were still supportive and liked the fact that an owner had come in and literally put their money where their mouth is. Supporters of many clubs are out there hoping and praying that someone come in and take over their clubs and support it financially so as to increase the prospects of success. And at QPR, Tony Fernandes and his staff, for whatever right or wrong they have done, have actually come and done that. Of course mistakes have been made along the way, but the goal of being as successful as you can be has always remained the same anywhere you go. As long as the owner lives by what he says and ensures that he is managing the club financially the way it should be and promises to be there to take care of whatever debt there may be, then so be it. All he ever wanted to do was inherit a football club and make it his own; not live off of the success of someone else. Hopefully now that we are back in the Premier League again, he has learned from his mistakes and won’t be so quick on signing everyone and anyone that is out there. Hopefully.
But the media, pundits, and rival supporters nevertheless continued to have a field day with our club. Everyone wanted to go after us. The small-time, big spenders from West London. The example of why small market should remain small market. The rags to riches to crap story. I never understood it from the media perspective. For instance, when other clubs make these ridiculous moves involving outrageous sums of money, no one has a problem with it. I never heard anything out of the Manchester City camp when the sheiks bought that club. All of a sudden they went from this lovable little club on the other side of Manchester to everyone’s favorite Premier League club capable of dethroning Manchester United and Chelsea. Same thing when teams like Norwich, Swansea, Sunderland, Hull City, Cardiff, and Everton went after signings and loans. It was for the good of the club. Too make them competitive. Tying to have a go. These are all things being said by the media and pundits alike. But when Queens Park Rangers tried to do these same things, we were the villains. “How dare QPR go around and splash money like that!” “Who do they think they are trying to be competitive and not avoid relegation?” “They should not be allowed to spend on any players except Premier League rejects and Football League has-beens!” Why was it that when we tried to be like others, we got crucified in the press? Let me ask you this question…what if it worked? I mean, what if it really worked and all those signings panned out? Would we be any different than other big spenders? I am not condoning what happened with all those signings, because I hated a good majority of them, but what I am saying is why did we catch so much flak for doing what other clubs do? Before this past season when Paulo Di Canio and Sunderland were buying players left and right, where was all that negative press? Instead it was nothing but praise. Same with Norwich. Just a thought.
Anyways, our season turned out to be magnificent. Because for all the negativity in signings, lack of use of academy players (Tom Hitchcock and Michael Petrasso in particular), lack of tactics, exposure of depth in key areas, mounting injuries, and age plus wear and tear beginning to rear its ugly head, Queens Park Rangers ended up doing the unimaginable and making the playoffs and gaining promotion with an unforgettable trip to Wembley Stadium. Because all the things I mentioned before would have decimated any club and produced a mid-table season result at best. But what happened with our club was stuff that are only seen in movies and scripts. A brotherhood was forming within the club. A “never-quit” attitude was taking shape, and the will to prove the doubters wrong was being established. The fuel for this fire was in fact all of the negativity that kept being directed at the club, the loyal supporters, the players, the staff, the owners, and everything that had any connections to QPR. And for that, everyone at the club thanks you. Because without all the hate and disdain towards the club, none of this would have been possible. Everyone not associated with QPR were hoping for the worst for this club. And even some QPR fans were questioning if it was worth it to go back up. I’m sorry, but as a sportsman, and athlete, and competitor I have always played to win the game. And that is what we do no matter what you support or where you play; YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME! The players felt this way, and while we all questioned if some were giving it their all or not, this years’ version of players played with a desire to put an end to past season nightmares and play to win the game! Next year we are Premier League, we are Queens Park Rangers, and we will have a say in how our club responds to the now, and the future. I only hope and pray that lessons learned from past mistakes can be rectified, and that the passion to do your best in all performances remains as strong as the commitment we have shown in May 2014. Here’s looking forward to a return to the Premier League, and another chapter in the rollercoaster ride only known simply as Queens Park Rangers Football Club. COME ON YOU Rss!!