x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Premier League property market littered with pitfalls

Tony Fernandes, the owner of QPR, should think twice about moving his club from their home at Loftus Road to some newly built venue.

The Queens Park Rangers fans always make visiting players feel welcome at Loftus Road.
The Queens Park Rangers fans always make visiting players feel welcome at Loftus Road.

Tony Fernandes, the likeable owner of Queens Park Rangers, should think twice about moving his club from their home at Loftus Road to some newly built venue.

Business plans involving purpose-built stadiums always sound good. However, English football is littered with cautionary tales of people who have upped sticks, then discovered the grass is not necessarily greener - even when it has been grown to order.

Take Southampton. They were an established top-flight side when they played at The Dell, their quirky old ground which, like QPR's Loftus Road, was inhibited from expansion by nearby roads.

The vision of a bright new future prompted a move to St Mary's Stadium in 2001, but their subsequent decline almost led to the abyss.

What was lost by the move was atmosphere which is crucial in a football, rather than financial, sense.

The Dell was always a difficult place for away teams to get points because the home fans were almost on top of the players.

The same goes at QPR's "Loft". Health and Safety officials must wince every time a player goes headlong towards the touchline there, given the crowd are just a step or two beyond.

When Manchester City's superstars went there at the weekend, Aleksandar Kolarov, the left-back, spent much of the first half in discussion with the home supporters, so close were they to him.

On the bench there is barely space for the substitutes to breath, let alone room for Carlos Tevez's butler. It must be suffocating, even for the very best players.

Neither is a new ground a guarantee of fiscal success. Many clubs have succumbed to delusions of grandeur the moment they found themselves in a ground with comfortable new dressing rooms and high-lux floodlights.

Derby County are still paying for the mismanagement of owners who thought the switch from the Baseball Ground to Pride Park gave them carte blanche to sign expensive employees such as Fabrizio Ravanelli and Stefano Eranio.

Some are savvy enough to cope, but even Arsene Wenger's first XI have regressed since Arsenal moved from Highbury.

City, who moved to a new home after the 2002 Commonwealth Games, are an exception to the rule. But after Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed's cash injection, they would be top of the league even if they played all their matches in the Maine Road car park.

pradley@thenational.ae


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