QPR look set to clinch the signing of former Inter Milan goalkeeper Julio Cesar before the close of the transfer window, but this deal is just the latest in a long line of stop-gap, short-term transfers that could harm the club further down the line, as boss Mark Hughes continues to gamble with their financial future.
A few facts to bring you – QPR were the only club last season not to hand a single start to a player under the age of 21. Of their current 32-man squad, 19 of them are over the age of 30. The average age, factoring in the signing of the Brazilian goalkeeper, of their nine summer transfers comes in at 28.5 years of age. This is far from planning for the future, rather simply trying to avoid the drop before he moves on to bigger and better things.
Stability is the name of the game this season, and on the face of it, you can’t really question any of the summer deals that Hughes has gone for as they all boast knowledge of the Premier League and have been successful elsewhere during their respective careers, but dig a little deeper and nearly all of them are fraught with problems.
The Junior Hoilett capture represented something of a transfer coup as he’d been linked with bigger clubs since January last season, while Samba Diakite did reasonably well during a loan spell which has since been made permanent, but these are the only two deals that you would qualify as ‘good business’ so far.
The rest of the players, however, have either not been first-choice at their clubs for some time, have been playing at a lower standard, or have been involved in clubs which have been battling for their survival. The likes of Andrew Johnson, Ryan Nelsen, Park Ji-Sung and Fabio were all far from regulars in their respective sides last year, while Robert Green played in the Championship and Hoilett was battling the drop all last term.
There’s gelling as a new side, which is no mean task in itself, then you also have to factor in that many of them will not be familiar in recent times with being guaranteed starters week-in, week-out, while others will have to get used to being back in that crucial winning habit again – that’s a lot of minor problems to overcome in a season such as this.
Hughes is clearly banking on experience as being the key to stability this season, but it appears as if he’s gone way too far the other way, and the back four still looks extremely ropey on paper and in practice, while the pursuit of Julio Cesar smacks of desperation and a lack of faith in a fellow summer signing Robert Green after a couple of admittedly shaky performances.
Nothing typifies the short-term trap that they’ve fallen into more than their pursuit of the chunky goalkeeper, and he’s the second number one that Hughes will have signed inside three months. This is not a revolving door policy, more a 100mph merry-go-round, during which any player can be sacrificed on a mere whim.
In all honesty, I couldn’t really tell you what their starting eleven is at the moment and while Park Ji-Sung is a perfectly decent player, naming his as captain seems like an odd move – does he lead by example? Is he vociferous leader on the pitch? The answer is that he’s probably neither and the side does look like it’s lacking in both leadership and direction at the moment.
Also, Park has never really played to the best of his ability in a two-man central midfield while in England, and has more often than not been part of a three-man midfield while being given a specific tactical job to do for the sake of the rest of the side – the role he’s been asked to perform so far must have been somewhat alien to him. His midfield partnership alongside Diakite, particularly at the expense of Alejandro Faurlin, looks very strange to boot and hasn’t really worked so far, with the Swansea performance the most obvious example of such, as both just seemed to go missing in the second half.
You also have to factor in that players like Julio Cesar, Jose Bosingwa and Djibril Cisse and Bobby Zamora did not come cheap in terms of wages and instead of battle-hardened experience, you have a side full of OAP’s looking for one final big payday before they retire. Given the age issue throughout the whole squad, it’s entirely conceivable that the majority of the first eleven will need replacing within two years, which will come at a great expense to owner Tony Fernandes and could unsettle their progress further down the line again.
In key areas, right down the spine of the side, there appears to be little cohesion or understanding about what Hughes’ vision is. A centre-back partnership of Clint Hill and Anton Ferdinand is simply not good enough for the top flight, and while he may be seeking to add a player here before the window closes, with both Michael Dawson and Ricardo Carvalho (another ageing player at 34 years of age who played very little last season on a short-sighted loan deal) linked, you have to question why that wasn’t a priority from the outset at the beginning of the summer.
The main accusation often levelled at Hughes during his time at Manchester City was that his approach to the transfer market was scattergun at best and he was really very wasteful with the resources that he had at his disposal. He resembled a kid in a candy shop, or somebody going on an ill-judged spending spree on Football Manager, with no real thought given to how these signings would adapt, into what system they would go and how much of a role they would play. For every Vincent Kompany there was a Roque Santa Cruz and for every Carlos Tevez, there was a Wayne Bridge and very few of his signings remain key players at the club now under Roberto Mancini.
It seems as if, with a sizeable budget compared to his fellow potential lower mid-table rivals, that he’s been done little more than tried to ensure that the club don’t go down this season. This in itself is a reasonable expectation, but the flawed and somewhat bizarre approach to transfers leaves a lot to be desired and the majority are little more than expensive stop-gap purchases.
Many tipped the Hoops’ for a top-ten finish this season prior to the campaign kicking off, but with such an heavy influx of new faces, the side will take time to gel. Hughes has shown himself in the past to be a more than capable operator in the Premier League, but the moves so far this summer all point to a dampening of expectations and a lack of ambition, precisely at a time when the club should be looking up the table, excited about the future after last term’s escape.
The plan so far of banking on experience to help the club consolidate is something of a gamble and the repercussions if it goes wrong are potentially catastrophic financially, while for Hughes’ sake and the amount that he has personally staked on this policy being a resounding success, it could be a career-defining next few months, with his reputation certainly on the line.
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