QPR Are Fast Becoming The Next Leeds United
Over a decade ago, the Premier League witnessed the financial and reputational capitulation of one of the biggest clubs in England.
Leeds United, one of the most prominent teams of the 1970's and First Division Champions as recent as 1992, have been the laughing stock of English football for their monetary mishandling for the majority of the 21st century.
This was a team that reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2001, and since that peak has been spiralling downwards to the point of near extinction. As a club they are further than ever from returning to the promised land of the top flight, as they desperately try and repair their structure from the inside-out.
The reason behind their incredible fall from grace was due to chairman Peter Ridsdale taking gargantuan loans to purchase new players on the assumption that they would continue qualifying for the Champions League. However, they missed out on that in 2001 and 2002, meaning they did not have the necessary television revenue to pay off debts. By 2003 their meltdown was in the offing as they swapped managers every month, held a fire sale on their best players and were desperately clinging on to survival in the Premier League. And by 2004, they were gone with a whimper, as their squad barely resembled the team that walked out on Europe's biggest stage only a few years prior.
The philosophy of Leeds United was in ruins. Players were sold under the noses of the managers in a desperate bid of the board to dig themselves out of the hole they made themselves, and following relegation to the Championship the club was forced to rebuild its entire team with free transfers and sell off it's stadium and training ground. They soon dropped even further down the ranks into League One between 2007 and 2010, as well as dealing with a couple of stints in administration. Despite teasing stabilisation since their return to the Championship, they continue to be one of football's most tragic soap operas, with the club seemingly being traded between consortiums every season in a bid to finally find financial security and return to the top division.
However, their drama is set to be challenged with regards to entertainment by the saga that has befallen QPR. On Sunday, their relegation to the Championship after a sole year in the Premier League was confirmed with a desperately poor performance against Manchester City. This was a symbolisation of an entire season that has been underlined by defensive frailty, minimal camraderie and players that seemed content to collect their huge wages as their fans endured the heartache of relegation. When comparing the differences between the scenes on the pitch and in the stands at the Etihad, the troubled QPR fans wore their heartache on their sleeves, whilst the players themselves lacked any hint of emotion. And this lack of passion among the squad was pretty much confirmed by veterans Clint Hill and Rob Green in their post-match interviews.
Yet, their fall back to the second tier is merely the tip of an iceberg of calamity seemingly approaching the West London club. The squad requires complete restructuring for a number of reasons. In a bid to return immediately to the Premier League in 2014 following their relegation the prior year, they took on the burden of maintaining the services of players on hefty wages. These players have desperately underperformed, as on paper QPR were unquestionably the favourites of the promoted teams to survive. They had Harry Redknapp at the helm and experienced players to rely on, and spent close to £30 million bolstering their ranks with the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Steven Caulker and Leroy Fer. But this expenditure and already hefty wages of their existing squad have proved a burden now they have failed to survive beyond a year.
They really needed the continued television revenue of the Premier League to support their bank account, and now that is completely lost. The experience of Redknapp was of little benefit as he left and was replaced by Chris Ramsey, a man who has attempted to maintain positivity in spite of his side's solemn walk to the gallows. And a significant number of players will be sent packing in order to cover the loss in revenue, which will almost certainly include Joey Barton, Adel Taarabt, Armand Traore and Charlie Austin. Although if many of the likely departures think they are going to find cushy spots in the top division, they should think again after the disgraceful performances they have produced on a weekly basis. Realistically, only Austin, Green and Matt Phillips brought anything useful to the squad this season.
Beyond the already challenging scenario of rebuilding a squad on without the benefit of Premier League income, QPR also face a potential £60 million fine for breaching Football League Financial Fair Play rules. This was due to their real losses for the 2013-14 season in the Championship totalled approximately £70 million, and their announced loss of £9.8 million was only possible due to the owners wiping out the vast majority of old loans as an unsignified item in their accounts. This is against the terms of FFP to stop rich owners buying their way to success and repeat another case of Leeds United or Southampton prior to their recovery, and if the Football League challenges them over these real losses, they will receive that hefty fine, with failure to pay it leading to their expulsion into the Conference.
This tumultuous situation will now overshadow everything positive that QPR produce in the coming months, as fears for their long-term survival come to the forefront. Nobody is talking about the club's potential to make an instant return to the Premier League, with more pundits and fans fearful that they could follow the example of Leeds United, Southampton, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic in enduring a rapid drop down two divisions. Burnley are considered far more viable prospects due to their sensible spending and being more likely to retain the services of their players. Ramsey has remained as buoyant as possible, insisting that the club won't capitulate, but that view is becoming significantly difficult to cling on to. Financial expert David Bick when speaking to Sky Sports News HQ has estimated that QPR could lose anywhere between £130-£150 million in their first year out of the Premier League, a number that any team outside of the European elite would balk at.
Are QPR fast becoming the Leeds United of the next decade? Hopefully not, as I would personally not wish to see that fate befall any club again. It would be a damning outcome for FFP also, as it would demonstrate that the initiatives they have brought in do not protect clubs from the kind of meltdown that befell the Peacocks. With such a huge fine being imposed, the regulators are basically strong-arming QPR into full rebuild by sending them as low down the divisions as possible and start building themselves up from the bottom. I really fear for their immediate future, and feel like many others that they will be battling against the drop next year rather than pursuing a spot back in the top flight. Especially if this massive fine sticks, they will have to ship all of their highest-paid players, and hope that buyers come in for them after their uninspiring performances this year.
Any way you look at it, this relegation is merely the beginning of the torment that is incoming for QPR fans and staff. Chairman Tony Fernandes and Director of Football Les Ferdinand will need to be in this for the long haul, as without a similar long-term strategy to that of Southampton which has led to their incredible revival, the West London club will struggle to survive in general, let alone develop for the better. It will not be a quick fix, and they will probably be in the championship or lower for at least five years to repair the damage. Overspending to get back sooner will simply make it worse in the long run, and the fans will likely be patient in the hopes that they can return stronger than ever before.
But, without a definite shift of philosophy and the concentration of youth, they will undoubtedly follow the same trajectory as Leeds United down the divisions.