For many of the clubs who finished the enthralling 2010/11 campaign in a new division, as well as those who missed out on promotion or eluded the uncertainty of relegation, the summer transfer window stretching out before us will be a two-month scramble to fill out teams needing that mystical ‘X-factor’ to improve their fortunes.
Each club is looking for something different. Wigan, who has averaged less than a goal per game over the last four seasons, must find another potent goalscorer to partner Hugo Rodallega. For Blackpool, who had no problem scoring goals, the search is on for options to shore up the team’s leaky defence.
But the biggest spotlight in the coming months will be on two London clubs whose varying transfer prospects are making major headlines before the window is even officially open. West Ham, top-flight stalwarts who have missed just three seasons of the Premier League era, find themselves back in the second tier after six years in the Premier League. Queen’s Park Rangers, on the other hand, are returning to the Promised Land for the first time since 1996. One is making hay in the transfer market while the other drifts into ownership disputes and managerial rumour mills – but they’re not in the order you’d expect.
The recently-relegated Hammers, currently chaired by David Gold, David Sullivan and Karen Brady – seemingly one of the most reviled triumvirates in English football – wasted no time following the club’s demise. The ill-starred Avram Grant was shown the door before the season was even over, and the appointment of Sam Allardyce gives West Ham a manager with much national gravitas and global footballing connections and influence (if his previous transfer policies at Bolton, Newcastle and Blackburn were anything to go by).
Although a change of ownership did for Allardyce at Ewood Park, there is no doubt he will relish the task of restoring honour to Upton Park and his early moves must bring much hope to the weary hearts of West Ham fans. The signings of Abdoulaye Faye and Kevin Nolan on free transfers – both established Premier League players who chose to drop down a division to reunite with Allardyce – serve as proof of the man’s ability to attract star calibre to E13.
Across the capital, darker times are looming for Neil Warnock, who above all else is having to contend with continuous rumours over his safety in the Loftus Road hot seat. Since the arrival of the new ownership group of Formula 1 glitterati Flavio Briatore, Bernie Ecclestone and Lakshmi Mittal, QPR have burned through no less than 11 managers (including numerous caretakers) in just four years – and Warnock has been in charge since March 2010.
The man who worked miracles to get the ‘R’s promoted is publicly confident that he will still be around come August and the start of the season. Worryingly for QPR fans, however, Warnock’s starting XI from the last day of last season are equally confident of their places right now – because, largely due to confusion over who is actually responsible for buying players, QPR have no deals in place to sign new players and face the prospect of losing Wayne Routledge, who was on loan at Loftus Road for the second half of last season and was instrumental in the surge for promotion.
While their fellow Premier League newcomers Swansea and Norwich City snap up former top-flight fringe players, QPR are vacillating in a world where to stand still means a step backwards. Briatore is throwing his weight into the club’s day-to-day affairs once more, an unwelcome reality borne out by fanciful rumours connecting Serie A veterans Amauri and Nicola Legrottaglie with moves to West London. Cash flow is no problem for QPR, but misguided investments now could be fatal.
These are not the signings Warnock needs – and he knows it. This is the man who signed Paddy Kenny, Clint Hill and Shaun Derry last summer, bringing in only players he knew he could count on for gritty performances, consistency and dependability. Ironically, Nolan might have been the perfect man to continue that policy – but Allardyce got to him first.
With all the differences in their off-season plans and achievements to date, then, these London rivals retain one similarity: at current pace, they’ll both start the 2011/12 season as hot favourites to swap divisions again.
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