QPR: Evaluating Queens Park Rangers, Neil Warnock in the English Premier League
Queens Park Rangers - often simply referred to as QPR - are preparing to kick off their first season back in the English Premier League since their relegation at the end of 1995-1996 season.
Those who have only been following the EPL over the last few years could be forgiven for not knowing very much about the West London side from Loftus Road, considering their absence from England's top flight over the last 15 years.
But with new teams come new challenges, and regardless of who you may support in the Premier League, the newly promoted sides will have a great effect on the fortunes of the other 17.
With that said, here is an evaluation of the first of the Premier League new boys, QPR.
Recent History and Last Season
QPR were the champions of the nPower Championship last season
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QPR spent almost all of last season at the top of the nPower Championship table, and it was there that they finished as the Champions of the league. Automatic promotion to the Premier League followed, where they will compete for the first time since 1996.
As is often the case with sides from the Championship, however, their success was far from a foregone conclusion. Almost no one had them pegged to win the league last season.
The mid-noughties proved a very difficult time for QPR, and included boardroom scandals, the surprise death of talented young players, and near-financial meltdown. Salvation arrived in the form of the wealthy Formula 1 owners Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore.
Taking ownership of the side in 2007, there was a great sense of expectation around the club with such wealthy businessmen now at it's helm. Through to the present day, supporters of other clubs will often mention the great wealth of QPR's owners, as if it provides some great advantage to them.
The reality, however, is somewhat different.
The transfer funds to meet the expectation of "big spending" never materialized, with one rare exception signed in 2009.
The club did find itself under sound leadership, however, and in coming out of a tumultuous period, enjoyed mid-table mediocrity through to the appointment of manager Neil Warnock in March of 2010.
During last season, however, everything seemed to fall into place for the West London side. The summer saw the signings of players the like of midfielder Adel Taarabt and goalkeeper Paddy Kenny, who would play vital roles in the side's fortunes.
Middlesbrough were hotly tipped as the favorites to win the league prior to the start of the season, with a significantly-strengthened Bristol City joining them, Nottingham Forest, and Cardiff City. Mention of QPR was simply an aside.
As is often the case with Championship football.
They opened the season with a resounding 4-0 win against Barnsley, however, putting them at the top of the table where they were hardly removed from all season.
The first half of the season saw QPR's stiffest competition from Cardiff City, who looked to be title contenders themselves before waning around the new year. Consistently rising sides Norwich City and Swansea City came to be the team's only competition for the title in the latter half, but by their arrival into second and third place respectively in March, the title already seemed destined for QPR's Loftus Road.
That was confirmed following a 2-0 win over Watford on the last day of April.
With the league won, QPR turned to face the grey cloud looming over the side's victory for the latter half of the season—issues with the record signing of midfielder Alejandro Faurlin for £3.5 million in 2009.
With a hearing scheduled over questions of third-party ownership and how the player was signed, there was great discussion on whether QPR would be docked points for a breach of Football League rules. Would it prevent them from being promoted, or having them start their Premier League season with massive point deficit?
In the end, however, the discussion proved to be null, as the Football Association chose to simply fine the side rather than deduct any point.
Since that decision, the question that has followed is just how much the team would have to spend on players for the coming season. This has been further clouded by discussions of new ownership for the side, with an airline tycoon and fellow F1 owner interested who (may) have more money to spend on the playing staff.
In the meanwhile, however, QPR have currently spent less than £1.5 million on new players, mostly relying on free transfers for their coming campaign.
Star player Adel Taarabt in action for QPR in April 2011
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Despite having to rely primarily on free transfers during this transfer window, manager Neil Warnock's signings for the coming campaign have looked shrewd, if underwhelming.
West Ham's Danny Gabbidon and Keiron Dyer, and Cardiff City's Jay Bothroyd have put pen-to-paper on free transfers, bringing with them Premier League experience that can't be undervalued. The trio collectively have experience in the Premier League with West Ham, Ipswich, Newcastle, Blackburn and Charlton.
Dyer has spent much of his career being touted as an extremely talented player who has constantly failed to live up to expectation. Plagued by injury nearly the entirety of his career, it still waits to be seen whether he can live up to his billing, as age 32 certainly seems to have caught up with him quickly.
DJ Campbell has been brought in from relegated Blackpool for a fee of £1.25 million, which could prove an inspired signing considering the striker managed to bag 13 goals in the Premier League last season before the Seasiders were relegated.
While the transfer money spent right now may be limited, the returning squad at Loftus Road still makes QPR a good side for the league this season.
Much has been written about star midfielder Adel Taarabt, but with good reason. He set the Championship alight last season with a combination of goals and creativity, making his paltry £500,000 fee from Tottenham fantastic business.
The Moroccan definitely has a point to prove to his former employers and Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, and his performances will be vital to whether the club can avoid relegation this season.
While speculation has been rife over the last few weeks that Taarabt could be leaving the club, his departure seems unlikely. He's far too important to the team, and it would take an offer of truly silly-money for him to depart.
Along with Taarabt, however, comes the safe hands of goalkeeper Paddy Kenny, who has done well to revitalize his career following his drug-test debacle in 2009.
While not outstanding in his first outing in the Premier League with Sheffield United in 2005-2006, QPR supporters would be happy to sing the praises of their 'keeper, as his performances last season were incredibly important.
With him comes a backline that only conceded 32 goals all season (or an average of only .69 goals per game)—the best in the Championship—in the form of Clint Hall, Bradly Orr, Matthew Connolly, and Kaspars Gorkss. They and the new defensive additions will need to be at their best to deal with the attack of their Premier League opponents.
Where the goals will come from this season, however, is perhaps much more of a concern. As many teams over the last few years have demonstrated, scoring bags of goals in the Championship doesn't necessarily carry into life in the Premier League.
Record signing Alejandro Faurlin needs to really step up to the task this season, and Taarabt will need to keep up the level of his own contributions away from the penalty spot. Striker Tommy Smith also has a point to prove—previous stints for Smith in the Premier League with Watford and Portsmouth both resulted in relegation and questions of whether he is Premier League quality.
The Manager: Neil Warnock
QPR Manager Neil Warnock led the side to promotion in only his first full season with the side
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He is most well known, however, as the former manager of Sheffield United from 1999-2007, including their stint in the Premier League during the 2006-2007 season. Relegated on the last day of that season, Warnock departed for Palace before arriving at Loftus Road in 2010.
It didn't take long for Warnock to find success in West London, however. Brought in for the last three months of the 2009-2010 side, Warnock led QPR to promotion in only his first full season in charge of the side.
Back in the Premier League, Warnock must focus on the performances of his side from the very beginning of the campaign. Along with Sheffield United themselves, he was outspoken about the role that Carlos Tevez played in his side's relegation in 2007, but he really should have placed the blame a little bit closer to home.
Sheffield United worked to maintain their Premier League status that season and they very nearly achieved it. The reality, though, is that they lacked even the slightest bit of consistency, with December proving the only really successful month for the team.
Things need to be different this time around for Warnock.
He has gained a reputation for being an outspoken manager over the years but truly needs to focus his attentions to the pitch.
Warnock has enjoyed a mostly successful managerial career in the Football League but still has to prove he's a Premier League quality manager. With this QPR side looking a fair bit better than his previous 2006-2007 Sheffield United side—whose only standout player was the talented Phil Jagielka—now is his time to demonstrate it.