Oh dear, Mark “Sparkless” Hughes is certainly in the thick of it. Queens Park Rangers are yet to win in the Premier League, despite a third of the season already gone, and sit at rock bottom with just four points as well as the league’s worst goal difference.
This weekend’s results have made matters worse, with Southampton recording a vital 3-1 victory against the West Londoners who put in a lacklustre performance.
The Saints finished the match with twice as many shots on target and three times as many corners than their opponents, also beating them on possession. Not great for QPR, especially at home in front of their own fans. Relegation candidates Reading added salt to the wound by getting their first win of the campaign, lifting them out of the bottom three.
It’s hard not to be critical of the Welshman. He’s not only made QPR worse than last season, he’s made them worse than all three of the newly promoted teams from the Championship. I believe the former Blackburn and Fulham boss’s biggest weakness lies in his transfer policy. The lack of planning and eagerness to sign anyone available reminds me of a Football Manager novice.
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First of all, there’s the issue of goalkeepers. Hughes lured ex-Hammers keeper Rob Green to the other side of London, only to play him for three games and drop him for the newly signed Julio Cesar. The former Inter keeper has been a saving grace in the QPR goal, much to the detriment of Rob Green who’s become a bench-warming regular. The former England man has already expressed he will leave in January if he doesn’t see enough first-team football, and would probably have the “Unhappy” icon next to his name on Mark Hughes’ FM squad screen.
Both Keepers were signed for free by Hughes in the summer, as were Andy Johnson, Ryan Nelsen, and Jose Bosingwa – all of which are 30-years-old or older. The problem with free transfers is you have to ask why they aren’t being offered a new contract. Nelsen only made five appearances for Spurs last season, and the 35-year-old hasn’t been able to stop the rot in the QPR defence. Andy Johnson is another ageing signing. The former England man has failed to score more than ten league goals since the 2006/2007 season, and has been living off his first year in the Premier League ever since where he scored 21 goals for Crystal Palace – many of which were penalties.
Jose Bosingwa’s performances have disappointed QPR fans since signing from Chelsea, and to be honest it’s little surprise. On paper, he is a Premier League and Champions League winner, but in practice, he was arguably the worst senior player in a good team (apart from Paulo Ferreira). The Portuguese defender only played well when thrown on, often out of position, during vital Champions League clashes, but failed to find any sort of motivation against rank and file teams.
Park Ji-Sung is another example, but more alarmingly Hughes paid £2million for the past-his-peak midfielder. The South Korean had a simple job at Manchester United – work to the bone and close down everyone – and for many years, he did that job successfully. However, Sir Alex Ferguson is the best in the business, and he would not have let the 31-year-old leave if he could continue to do his task at Premier League level. Park has struggled in the QPR midfield, despite being another player with Premier League and Champions League winner’s medals.
A pattern emerges here. Hughes has been signing on reputation rather than any sort of consideration of what his squad needs, or particular attention to age or form. It’s reminiscent of scouring ageing legends sitting on the expired contracts list on Football Manager: “Hmm, his pace is 3 out of 20, his acceleration is 2 out of 20…but then again it is fat Ronaldo”.
It would be unfair to judge a man on his failures alone. The former Chelsea and Manchester United player has made some decent acquisitions. Bobby Zamora and Djibril Cisse haven’t performed well this year, but the January signings kept QPR up last season. Esteban Granero has shown glimpses of quality, but is hardly a bargain at £6.5 million and is reportedly unsettled in England. Junior Hoilett has proved to be a good signing and Stephane M’bia was an integral cog of a Ligue 1 winning team.
The sheer number of signings also reminds me of a problem suffered by many pretending to be the next Jose Mourinho via the digital simulation on their computer screens. What is QPR’s first XI? Injury and ill discipline have been a problem for Hughes, but considering the poor form of many of his players, and no particular hierarchy in terms of ability, I believe he would find it hard to choose his best eleven players right now.
It was revealed recently that last season Hughes sent six unwanted players players to train with the development squad. Rob Hulse, Heidar Helguson, Luke Young, Jay Bothroyd, Tommy Smith and DJ Campbell’s training ground banishment is another example of Football Manager behaviour. The cut-throat attitude may be acceptable on the game, but in the real world it is surely a mistake to out-cast players, four of whom are still on the books at Loftus Road.
Hughes’ signings appear to have been done on a whim, without much consideration for the long-term and with little planning. The £18.5million spent in the summer is the fifth highest net spend in the Premier League with little to show for it. The Welshman probably wishes this was all just a computer game so that he could load up an old file and try again, instead of having the very real fear of being sacked by Tony Fernandes constantly looming over him.