Early season struggles are usually to be expected for a newly promoted team, especially one which has made the significant transition from Championship to Premier League football.
Although Leicester City have surprised many with their promising start – their magnificent 5-3 victory over Manchester United being the highlight so far – Burnley have understandably had a tough time due to a glaring lack of quality in the squad and currently find themselves at the bottom of the table, a position which many believe they will occupy when the last ball is kiced in May. Leicester’s success aside, the expectancy is for teams that have climbed out of the second flight and into the promised land of the Premier League to discover that life in the top division is not as rosy as once imagined, and in this regard Burnley – as well as Queens Park Rangers, who joined the Clarets and Leicester in promotion from the Championship last season – are following the script.
However, there is a vast difference in the chances of Burnley and Queens Park Rangers of survival. Whilst relegation is the expectancy at Turf Moor, and it would be no shame if the Clarets did go down again, such a fate would be unacceptable for the R’s given their financial superiority over not only Burnley, but over a number of other established Premier League sides as well. That Rangers are struggling is a damning indictment of the current situation at the club, and indeed the way that it has been for a while.
News that the club could be banished to the Conference in the event of relegation from the Premier League if they fail to pay a hefty £40million fine incurred under financial fair play rules highlights the vast amounts of money that have been invested into the club since Tony Fernandes became the owner in 2011. Though Fernandes is an affable individual who genuinely cares for the club and who is respected by the fanbase – a rare breed of owner, no doubt – his naivety since taking over has perhaps been his one sin, and is something which he himself has acknowledged, stating in an interview following Rangers’ relegation from the Premier League two seasons ago that he felt that he had been exploited.
It isn’t exactly hard to see why Fernandes held this view. A calamitous season which ended inevitably in relegation is what Rangers had to show for his £50million investment, and although they have since bounced back at the first time of asking to regain their place in the Premier League, Fernandes has persisted in ploughing money into the club – a staggering 46 players have been signed since he became the owner three years ago.
In spite of Fernandes’ continued generosity, the initial signs for Rangers do not bode well. Their radical overhaul over the summer – which saw eleven players arrive and nine players leave – has echoes of their doomed expedition in the Premier League two seasons ago. A rapidly and expensively assembled squad lacking in cohesion was to blame then, and appears to be the cause of the R’s poor start now – seven of the team’s starting XI against both Stoke City and Southampton were new recruits over the summer, with Rangers amassing just one point from these two games. Such a significant remodelling of the team was always unlikely to yield immediate results, which is crucial in the Premier League.
To paraphrase Karl Marx, history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce, and this certainly appears to be the case at Loftus Road. By making the same mistakes as they did in their previous outing in the Premier League – namely a muddled, bloated transfer policy without a clear long-term philosophy – the R’s will receive no sympathy whatsoever should they get relegated again. For the money that the club has at its disposal, survival ought to be the minimum requirement, and in the eyes of clubs such as Burnley who can only dream of possessing Rangers’ wealth, relegation would see the London club get their just deserts.
Ultimately, demotion to the Conference may not be such a disaster for Queens Park Rangers. Starting from scratch would serve as a humbling experience for a club which has tried to solve its problems, like too many clubs do in modern football, with money, money and more money.