There is one Queens Park Ranger hoping that Manchester City win the League this afternoon. As QPR's manager, Mark Hughes, his staff and a handful of players have been recently discarded by City, some desire – beyond the obvious imperative of earning safety – to cancel the party might be understandable. But Djibril Cissé, Rangers' thrilling goal threat, wants City to do it for the sake of a friend.
"For me, the best scenario is for us to stay up and Samir to be champion," Cissé said of City's Nasri, his old team-mate from Marseilles. When Cissé joined Marseilles from Liverpool in 2006 Nasri was the great teenage hope of the club. They played two seasons together, along with Cissé's current QPR team-mate Taye Taiwo, before Nasri left for Arsenal.
But in those two years a strong friendship was forged. Cissé and Nasri are both Marseilles fans. Nasri is from the city itself, Cissé from Arles, a short drive along the coast away. The pair, opponents this afternoon, stay in very close contact. "We talk mainly every day," Cissé said. "I'd be sad for him really [if City do not win the title] because he's a really close friend."
Whether Hughes feels the same way is unclear but Cissé did say his time at City might be of use to QPR in their preparations. "The manager knows the team well," he said, "it's an advantage for us mainly."
Hughes' 18-month tenure at City, which frames so much of what will happen today, nearly included Cissé as part of it, at least according to the striker. "I had a talk with them," Cissé said."Mark Hughes was manager. My agent had a discussion at the time. I had a proposition from Marseilles and they are my club, so I decided to go there. I don't regret it – Marseilles is a big club." The timings do not quite work; Cissé left Marseilles just months after Hughes' appointment at City in 2008 but Cissé was clearly one of the many players to enter City's orbit during their long transformative journey which might culminate today.
But to describe this as City's biggest game in years is to tell half the story. Rangers themselves are playing for Premier League safety. After looking finished, five straight home wins leave them two points clear of Bolton Wanderers. Survival is in their own hands.
Cissé has won the French Cup and Champions' League and describes this as the next biggest game in his career. "I like when the pressure is high," he said. "That's when I like to play. It's something I relish."
With so much at stake, Rangers are not just underdogs. They have important work to do. "It's on both sides," Cissé said. "We have a lot to lose, they have a lot to lose too. The pressure is going to be on both teams. We play for our future and the club's future."
But there is a personal account to be settled too. Cissé's time in blue and white hoops has been traumatic as well as dramatic. Yes, he has scored five goals. But in the two games he has not scored in he has stupidly been sent off, resulting in seven games of suspension. Had he been available for those matches, Rangers might well be clear by now.
Cissé acknowledged: "I think I have to give something back to the fans and to the club. I have to pay them back." The last-minute winner against Stoke City last weekend did some good, judging by the number of fans who invaded the Loftus Road pitch singing his name, but Cissé still feels the debt has not been fully repaid.
"It's up to me to change the situation, and not let them people have these bad memories," he said.
A winning goal today would certainly change a lot. For a start it would guarantee a second Premier League season for a club out of the top flight for 14 years. And, as unlikely as outright victory is, in a meeting between the best home record and worst away record in the league, Cissé is confident.
"In my career I've never started a game thinking 'let's not lose', or whatever. I always go to win, even if it's a difficult team. For me, there's always a chance to win. So we are going for a result, and if it's a draw or a win it's good for us."
The responsibility for achieving that will not just be on Cissé's shoulders. "We've got a quite good defence. There's a lot of experience. They know what to do. That will be the key, if we defend well, we've got a chance." Someone, after all, will have to keep out Nasri.
Cisse's QPR record
1 Feb Aston Villa 2-2 QPR; Scored
4 Feb QPR 1-2 Wolves; Sent off
10 Mar Bolton 2-1 QPR; Scored
21 Mar QPR 3-2 Liverpool; Scored
24 Mar Sunderland 3-1 QPR; Sent off
29 Apr Chelsea 6-1 QPR; Scored
6 May QPR 1-0 Stoke; Scored
Overall 7 games, 5 goals, 2 red cardsReuse content