A fortnight ago, with the whoooosh noise of his entire squad going Reebok over Rolex on a banana skin in Dubai still ringing in his ears, Harry Redknapp no doubt picked out the words “finished” and “doomed” as he was having the Sunday papers read to him. But, for no other reason than football likes to mess with us, we all of a sudden have interesting developments at the foot of the table.
By picking up six points in their last two games, QPR have slashed the gap between themselves and the surface of the relegation zone and can now see the bloated outlines of Wigan, Villa, and Reading splashing around like pelicans choking on a stale fish. You'd think we'd all know better than to think of a seven-point gap as insurmountable by now, but having watched quite a few games beamed out of Loftus Road this season, the notion that the home side might eventually get their act together was easy to scoff at.
After four Premier League transfer windows of eyebrow-raising spending levels and stomach-churning wages being dished out, QPR have become a bloated, greasy, caricature of a football club. The dressing room is littered with overpaid (even by modern standards) players, who have shown nothing but contempt for the fans (even by modern standards), and could visibly not be less concerned about the situation they've put the club in. They generousily froze season ticket prices after last season's 40% hike, and their chairman tweets like a 12-year-old going through a messy break-up. It's ghastly.
Relegation wouldn't solve any of their problems; indeed it'd probably create a whole lot more. But it would send a startling message to all other would-be Premier League teams: that blindly throwing money at ageing players who sell a lot of shirts is financially suicidal. Prizing a big name away from a big club is great in theory, but if you're too busy helping them house hunt to ask why they're happy to make the step down, don't be surprised when their desire and commitment becomes an issue.
Somewhere between the disposing of managers, the reckless spending, the witless PR and the disregard for the supporters, a blueprint is being drawn up. One that, should it all end in tears, will see every promotion-winning chairman sit down with his manager in the summer and say: “Right, whatever happens next season, the last thing I want is for us to do a QPR.” Like all the stories we were told as children to stop us acting up, the empty seats and mass protests at Loftus Road would serve to remind the footballing world that brains come above bank balance in this league.
Should they stay up, though, precisely the opposite message goes out. Struggling teams won't think twice about dropping £100,000 a week on a defender who had two good seasons at this level. If that becomes the going rate for an average player in the bottom three then you can wave goodbye to any hope of sanity returning to the game's finances.
Southampton were rash with their manager but still field a young squad built around their own academy; Villa are still littered with mercenaries but Lambert's project remains a noble one of nurturing ambitious and affordable talent; Wigan just give Roberto Martinez coupons for player acquisition but survive through tactical innovation; and Reading... well, Reading are managed by an adorable teddy bear made of skin. There's a positive lesson to take from all of them somewhere - lessons that get lost as soon as they're deemed to have failed.
Despite all this though, I'm not rooting for QPR's demise. The players will get a pay-off, the manager's got enough pals in the pressbox to ensure there was “never anything he could have done anyway, bless him”, and even the owners will take the hit financially and go run something else into the ground. In the end, the only people who'll really feel the pain of a QPR relegation will be the QPR fans. But if it sets off a chain of events that disposes of their hierarchy, they'd be wise to welcome it.
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QPR are 1.50 with Unibet to get relegated this season.