By Nick Friend
The sacking of Chris Ramsey a day after Queens Park Rangers surrendered meekly at the hands of Derby County provided a sad backdrop of inevitability on a night that pushed a lorryload of sorry coincidences into public view. Not only had Ramsey’s men, spearheaded by the returning Charlie Austin, lost for the sixth time this season, they had done so at the home of a club with whom so much recent history has been written.
For it was County who played the bridesmaid at Wembley when Rangers defied the odds (and their own manager!) to reach the Premier League just fifteen months ago. When the self-professed England manager-in-waiting Harry Redknapp agreed to stay on for yet another swansong in the big time, Rangers fans dreamt of finally establishing a modicum of stability amongst Britain’s biggest sides. How foolish they were. When Redknapp deserted his troops in February in favour of Bournemouth’s golf courses and owner Tony Fernandes gushed over the discovery of his “dream manager”, it was left to Chris Ramsey to pick up the pieces of this most decrepit jigsaw.
The irony of last Tuesday night could hardly be lost on even the most fervent Fernandes enthusiast. Ramsey, appointed on the combination of a whim and a lucky dip, was defeated by the dream manager himself. Derby, after a slow start under ‘dream manager’ Paul Clement, sit fifth. Yet, according to various votes of confidence from the ever haphazard board, sitting thirteenth should never have been an issue for Ramsey.
‘Consolidation’ was the buzzword that the owners turned to – no doubt plucked from an ill-advised Twitter rant.
Yet, much like previous QPR catchphrases such as Fernandes’ ‘WeRTogether’ and the old Mark Hughes favourite “we will never be in this position again while I’m in charge [staying up on the final day]”, this season’s catchword of ‘consolidation’ never caught on.
In a sense, Hughes was right. Under his stewardship, QPR never spent another second outside the relegation zone. This time around, the soundbite lasted until Jim White declared the transfer window shut – the very concept of consolidating leaving the building as quickly as it had come in.
With Charlie Austin, Leroy Fer, Matty Phillips, Rob Green, Sandro and Nedum Onuoha all remaining at Loftus Road, there was some method to this most twisted madness. On paper, these six names form quite the Championship spine. As QPR should know better than most, however, no game has never been won on a sheet of A4. Plenty, though, have been lost.
Sandro, a knee injury waiting to happen, is not fit for the rigours of chess, let alone the rough and tumble of the Championship. Leroy Fer, the victim and perpetrator of two successive Premier League relegations, has shown nothing but flaky flashes of ability since his arrival in England. Rob Green has been a good pro for as long as he’s had a knack for chucking points down the drain. Herein lies the ‘method’ to the consolidatory madness. That, though, is where it ends.
In a footballing culture that waits for nobody, mediocrity spat upon and the Premier League jackpot seen not as a luxury but as a necessity, it is no surprise that time was called on Ramsey’s tenure when his side sat thirteenth – performing the dictionary definition of consolidation.
Ultimately, this was never the issue. Tuesday 3rd November showed that. If Fernandes had genuinely desired a solid yet frustrating peruse of the mid-to-lower echelons of the Championship, Ramsey would have seen out the season. At a club though, where the sheer weight of funds cannot be expressed adequately through words, visits to Ashton Gate and the New York stadium in years to come simply are not of interest.
Hence, Rangers’ managerial wheel of misfortune is complete and back where it first began. Neil Warnock is back. To be clear – and it does need some explaining – Warnock, once sacked by Fernandes for not being good enough, was then appointed by Fernandes to advise Ramsey, who, in turn, was sacked and replaced by the once not good enough Warnock.
Clear as mud.
Yet that is the sort of logic that has seen Queens Park Rangers plummet from London’s top ranked club in 1995 to having had twenty-one different men in charge since 2007.
For how long Warnock is in charge is anyone’s guess. The last QPR manager to understand the club’s traditions and create any sort of rapport with the fans, Warnock is worshipped on the terraces. With Les Ferdinand – arguably the club’s greatest player of recent times – at the helm as the club’s Director of Football, Fernandes has placed his eggs in one schmoozing basket. It may, in the short-term, be a masterstroke.
Indeed, no club does short-termism better than QPR. A legend though he may be, Warnock, 66, has failed at Crystal Palace and Leeds since leaving Loftus Road in 2011. The appointment of Warnock’s long-time lieutenant Kevin Blackwell as his ‘interim assistant’ (a QPR title if ever there was one) is yet another baffling move from a club with more crazy tricks than Houdini himself.
While chaos surrounding a new stadium, training ground, FFP fines and tweeting staff continue to hover in the background, a real apathy concerns this next appointment. There appears to be no popular choice but rather plenty that will provoke uproar.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has had immense success with Burton Albion but would arrive with no experience of the ongoing Malaysian-run bedlam. His current office at St George’s Park is a state-of-the-art complex. Rangers share their Harlington equivalent with Imperial College London. The Dutchman, even without mentioning his Chelsea connection, would surely be a risk too far.
Other candidates have been labelled boring: Alex McLeish, Paul Lambert, and the ostrich-hating Nigel Pearson – all credible candidates but not necessarily accompanied by the sort of personality to re-energise a fanbase pinned to the ropes by a deluge of haymakers for far too long.
More than any, Tim Sherwood’s name haunts bookies’ lists like an unwelcome in-law on Christmas Day. Sherwood’s over-zealousness would wear too thin too quickly on a home support coming to the end of its sceptical tether after eighteen months of homegrown bluster at the hands of Redknapp.
After a four-year plan worse than the previous one that has seen Rangers promoted, relegated and then repeat the trick, Tony Fernandes must get this appointment right. Well-meaning though he is and even with former Burnley CEO Lee Hoos helping the search, you’d be a fool to bet on what happens next.
Photograph: Pgcedave111 via Wikimedia Commons