2011/12 Campaign (17th in Premier League)
Queen’s Park Rangers were far from convincing in the Premier League last season. Neil Warnock, having achieved his seventh promotion of his career – his third to the top-flight of English football, failed to create a united front at the club with the mass of signings following promotion hindering any momentum the club had built up during their raucous promotion-winning campaign in the Championship. The signings of players in the ilk of Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips didn’t help his cause either: come January, Warnock’s days were numbered and over the space of three days club chairman Tony Fernandes, who had bought the majority share in the club at the beginning of the season, had fired his man and hired a new one – Mark Hughes.
During Otto Rehhagel’s memorable reign as the manager of Greece, guiding them to the final of Euro 2004 and beating the hosts Portugal, he said this: “I want to make one philosophical statement, please write it down: man needs nothing more than other people.” Mark Hughes certainly utilises his “other people” and when he arrived at Loftus Road, he was soon followed by familiar faces: Nedum Onuoha and Bobby Zamora. Hughes had managed the two at Manchester City & Fulham respectively: their signings was Hughes quickly establishing a presence on the pitch, in the form of trusted players familiar with Hughes’ style, as well as off of it. Arguably, it paid off. Whilst their was no change in QPR’s position from when Hughes replaced Warnock to when the season finished – 17th – it is more than likely that QPR would’ve continued to helplessly spiral if Warnock was not sacked. On the 21st of November, QPR sat comfortably in the top-half of the table at 9th; come the 4th of January, they’d slipped into the relegation zone at 18th.
If their was a notable difference between the two managerial performances it was the cohesion of the players’ performances: under Warnock it would often seem that individuals were playing football under the identity of a team, whilst under Hughes that identity grew and cohesion developed. Adel Taarabt under Warnock was the favourite child that could misbehave – and did – and still play: Hughes happily dropped him for a few games for the greater good – it led to the Moroccan improving in the tail end of the season.
Still, QPR survived by the skin of their teeth. They had the worst away record in the league and conceded, on average, after just 26 minutes on the road. Yet, Blackburn, Bolton and Wolves all did worse and unfortunately for Hughes’ old mentor, even a last minute defeat on the final day of the season couldn’t drag QPR down.
Mark Hughes has used preseason to do what he does best: buy, give or take a few, the same players, or same type of player, using the same criterion. Since the season ended, QPR have made seven signings. Perhaps of more note, volume-wise, they have released 12 players – 2 of which played 35 games between them in QPR’s leaky defence – and have sold another two: last season’s #1 Paddy Kenny and their top-scorer Heidar Helguson. It’s a full-on transition, happening very quickly. Even last season’s captain Joey Barton has spent preseason elsewhere, namely Fleetwood Town on loan.
Four of Hughes seven summer signings have previously played under him: Andrew Johnson at Fulham, Ryan Nelsen at Blackburn, Junior Hoilett at Blackburn (though, he didn’t actually play in the first-team whilst Hughes was manager) and, of course, Samba Diakite last season. A further two come from Manchester United, where Hughes played under Sir Alex Ferguson and has since remained close acquaintances: Park Ji-Sung and Fabio (on loan). That leaves just Robert Green out of seven summer signings that Mark Hughes has no immediate first-hand experience or trusted vicarious experience of. Knowledge is power, as they say, and Hughes is creating a team of which he has the best available knowledge of.
Cohesion is vital for a team’s success: negative energy produces negative effects and thus it will be interesting to see how QPR’s results match up without and then with Joey Barton in the side – he misses the first 12 games of the season for his last day display of madness against Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez (another negative energy) and Vincent Kompany. The Dutch outfit in Euro 2012 this summer is a key example of a divided camp being a weak structure. Under Mark Hughes, QPR have little to worry about in that regard: his summer transfer activity is representative of this.
With Mark Hughes at the helm QPR are assured of mid-table safety: his six end of season finishes have always seen his sides in between 6th and 15th: at Blackburn he achieved 15th, 6th, 10th, 7th; at Manchester City he finished 10th in his only full season in charge and in his sole year at Fulham his team finished 8th. If the constant in Hughes’ performances is a mean average finish of 9th place, the variable is the discipline of his sides: whilst at Blackburn, Rovers finished bottom of the disciplinary table in each and every year, yet at Fulham he achieved qualification for the Europa League through the Fair Play League.
Bearing in mind that QPR have made a total of 9 permanent signings since Hughes’ arrival in January – plus the addition of Fabio da Silva on loan from Manchester United (Hughes’ third dealing with his ex-boss’ side since taking over at Loftus Road) for the following season – time will be needed for the team to fully gel. Or more precisely, reach optimum cohesion. Therefore, a prediction slightly under Hughes’ mean average finish of 11th is perhaps the most wise for QPR. One thing that is unlikely this season is another relegation scrap: firstly, Hughes just doesn’t do them, secondly he has the advantage of knowing the majority of his signings inside out and thirdly, the quality of his signings thus far just doesn’t hint of such a low final ranking.