x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Queens Park Rangers' stars are failing to shine

The costs of the new recruits and the costly punishments for ill discipline has put Mark Hughes in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, writes Richard Jolly .

Mark Hughes and Queens Park Rangers are yet to win in the Premier League this season.
Mark Hughes and Queens Park Rangers are yet to win in the Premier League this season.

"Winning," said Vince Lombardi, the only NFL coach regularly quoted in football, "isn't everything. It is the only thing".

But winners and winning are very different things. Chelsea and Manchester United are alone among English clubs in having more Uefa Champions League winners than Queens Park Rangers in their squad. But of the 92 Premier and Football League sides, just one is yet to record a victory this season: QPR.

The only others yet to take three points from a league game, Reading, drew at Loftus Road on Sunday but won there in September's Capital One Cup tie. At the weekend, their goalkeeper was their rescuer, Alex McCarthy making a string of fine saves.

Viewed one way, bad luck has dogged Rangers. Their previous defeat, their manager Mark Hughes said, was attributable to an incorrect decision, the offside Mikel Arteta scoring Arsenal's late winner.

And yet QPR's continued struggles are too lengthy to be dismissed as mere misfortune. Officials can make convenient scapegoats, injuries can bite and teams can take time to gel but the fact remains that Rangers have taken four points from 10 games.

Reading only have one more, which made Sunday's a must-win game. Yet while these are neighbours in the league table, they are opposites in other respects. Pavel Pogrebnyak apart, Reading's are players with a lengthy grounding in the Championship.

Rangers, however, have players with glittering pasts. Their CVs feature Real Madrid and Inter Milan, Manchester City and Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool. They have salaries commensurate with their status.

While financial figures are not available, it is a logical assumption that QPR's wage bill will be larger than those of Everton and Newcastle United. In terms of cost, they rank in the top third of the league. In terms of results, they are in the bottom three.

It is underachievement on a colossal scale. It cannot be explained by a glance at the demanding fixture list alone. The details are damning, the 11 red cards that Rangers have collected since the start of last season - Stephane Mbia's, for violent conduct at Arsenal was both typical and typically costly - an indication of indiscipline and temperamental flaws.

Accusing officials, as Hughes did at the Emirates stadium, should not fool outsiders or, more importantly, Rangers themselves. Yet theirs seems a blame culture, finding fault with others rather than accepting responsibility for their own shortcomings. They need to find the answer within. Thus far, a search for solutions has generally involved reaching for the chequebook.

No sooner had Robert Green, the £50,000 (Dh293,400)-a-week goalkeeper, blundered horribly on his debut against Swansea City than Rangers set plans in place to sign Julio Cesar, who is presumably paid still more.

The Brazilian has made fine saves at times but was also culpable for the opener by Kaspars Gorkss on Sunday.

But his recruitment, following Green's so closely, is not part of a well-constructed plan. Hughes has talked of long-term schemes and Rangers have made knee-jerk reactions.

Bringing the rich and famous to Loftus Road - Rangers' scouting does not seem to extend to too many lesser-known players - seems scattergun spending which renders the club a pension plan for the distinguished. Pay enough and it is hard not to buy some quality. Esteban Granero is a fabulous addition, but his individual excellence highlights the collective failure. Rangers are floundering despite possessing one of the classiest players in his position in the country. The £9m midfielder from Real Madrid looks equipped to return to a top club but too few others do.

Signing players in decline is an indication of flawed decision-making. There are others, too. Ji-sung Park, a surprising choice as captain, and Shaun Wright-Phillips have started too often, the more dangerous trio of Adel Taarabt, Junior Hoilett and the low-profile Jamie Mackie not often enough.

A squad seems compiled and a team appears to be selected on basis of reputations, not performances.

Because runs like Rangers' tend not to be coincidence, especially at clubs with deep pockets. They normally reveal deep-rooted problems, ones which only the wilfully blind ignore. These are issues with the entire ethos of the club.

And after 10 months at the helm, with 14 of his signings in the squad, given his record of five wins in 28 league games and following the joint worst start to a season in QPR's history, it is hard to escape the feeling they revolve around Hughes.

The final whistle had just been blown on Sunday when pictures were circulated on the internet. Spliced together with the aid of photo-editing software, they showed QPR's overly generous owner Tony Fernandes and the unemployed Harry Redknapp, both engaged in conversation on their mobile phones.

It was a humorous intervention, but there is serious speculation. After almost every game, Fernandes reiterates his faith in Hughes. "I honestly believe we have one of the best managers in the Premier League," he said last week.

He also has one of the most expensive squads but, a quarter of the way into the season, they are already five points from safety.

Rangers' star-studded staff list have rather more experience of glory than ignominy but serial successes are the season's biggest losers so far. If winning is the only thing, then they are the nothing men.


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