A cautionary tale for Queen's Park Rangers
The alarm bells were faint at first. Flavio Briatore is Italian. Of course it would be a dream of his to employ Marcello Lippi as coach of Queen’s Park Rangers in the distant future. They were quickly dismissed as Neil Warnock continued to propel the R’s towards the Premier League. Now, perhaps they could be back.
Not because Warnock’s side have suffered their first league defeat of the season, nor because of any links that may have surfaced with the managerial vacancy at Blackburn Rovers. Those infernal bells should be back in the heads of Queen’s Park Rangers supporters due to Chris Hughton’s sacking from the Newcastle United hotseat.
The warning should be clear for Briatore and anyone else with a say in football affairs at Loftus Road. The old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has never seemed so apt.
In the short term, at least, Warnock looks secure in West London with the Hoops still topping the table despite their 3-1 reverse at home to Watford last Friday night. His side are still on course for the Premier League as inconsistency continues to pervade the entire division. It is what awaits him if and when they get to the promised land that should worry supporters of his club.
The aforementioned role available at Blackburn is another example of the differing demands that many Premier League clubs place upon their managers. Gone is the relatively uncomplicated stress of a Saturday afternoon at the office.
Style of play seems to have taken on an increased level of importance, along with height of profile. Premier League clubs need to attract the most talented players possible, meaning that every possible advantage must be gained in order to appear the best option available.
Unrealistic expectation upon promotion to the top flight is nothing new. But with more and more unfashionable names making a fist of it among the big boys, there seems to be a growing sense of entitlement among some club owners.
As Sky Sports presenter David Jones recently alluded to, chairmen may well be questioning their managers as a result of Ian Holloway’s shoestring achievements with Blackpool. If he can do it with nowt but tuppence ha’penny, why can’t you?
The football media are quick to jump on such decisions. Just as Briatore’s intimation that he may look to appoint Lippi at some point in the dim and distant years ahead was scorned by Warnock’s contemporaries in the press, Mike Ashley’s dismissal of Hughton was widely derided. That derision was clearly justified but it always pays to be careful when weighing up these matters.
There may be better, more successful football available under another manager. Most Football League supporters should, nevertheless, be thankful of one of the benefits of their club avoiding the close media scrutiny of the Premier League. So often, it is a circus.
Perhaps the sacking of Chris Hughton will turn out to be a timely one in the history of Queen’s Park Rangers Football Club. If a similar situation threatens to materialise in the capital in the near future, Ashley’s decision will be at the forefront of many minds.
Although separated by hundreds of miles, last year’s table-topping black-and-white stripes of Newcastle and their current successors, the blue-and-white hoops of QPR, provide an interesting comparison. And to a far greater degree than merely a wafer-thin connection between the way they may treat their managers.
It is easy, from a neutral standpoint, to feel free to debate whether the men in power at Loftus Road will have equally unfathomable criteria for success as their infamously un-Geordie Newcastle counterparts should the club reach the Premier League. The reality, of course, is that they need to get there first.
It is Newcastle that can provide the blueprint. Just as the bigger clubs in League One may be looking at Norwich City and trying to work out what they can replicate, perhaps. A more specific version of that blueprint, flagged up in the summer, has so far largely eluded the three relegated clubs that were aiming to succeed the Magpies as Champions. This one is more about staying the distance.
Newcastle led the way for so long last season that QPR would do well to check how they achieved it (although they may wish to overlook the concept of spending £1million on Leon Best). They maintained their enviable record throughout the campaign largely through sheer hard graft, grinding out results when they played poorly and making their home ground a fortress.
All things that Neil Warnock can do. All things that Chris Hughton did. Some reward. And the lesson is plain for all to see, and for Briatore to learn.