Don’t blame Harry Redknapp or Mark Hughes for QPR’s ocean of debt. Give any manager an open wallet and they would have done the same
Managers are forever telling chairmen this or that player is ‘the last piece of the jigsaw’
A cursory glance at social media made it clear who most people thought was the villain of the piece when Queen’s Park Rangers’ eye-watering financial results were released this week. The results revealed Rangers lost £65m in a season, had a £68m wage bill that exceeded their entire turnover, and were £177m in debt.
“The Redknapp effect”, “‘Arry just keeps bankrupting these clubs. #saintsfc #Bournemouth #portsmouth #QPR”, “unlike Harry to saddle a club millions in debt!”, were some responses.
Harry Redknapp, the man who said, soon after arriving at QPR, “I don’t really want to see the owners have their pants taken down like they have in the past,” was fingered as the guilty party. It seemed the arch wheeler-dealer had dealt QPR a very bad hand.
This is wrong, for two reasons. One is that as the financial results referred to 2012-13, a lot of the expenses were incurred under Mark Hughes, who was not replaced as manager by Redknapp until November 2012. It was Hughes who spent £22m-plus on players such as Park Ji-sung and Esteban Granero and sent the wage bill past Borussia Dortmund’s by bringing in Julio Cesar and Jose Bosingwa on frees. Redknapp did lay out £20m on Chris Samba, Loïc Rémy and Jermaine Jenas, but got most of Samba’s fee back after relegation last year while Rémy is on loan to Newcastle, who will be paying most of his wages.
The other misconception is that the spending was Redknapp’s fault. It was neither his nor Hughes’. Their judgement of players’ ability, character and value can be called into question, but it was chairman Tony Fernandes who agreed the fees and wages. Redknapp has a reputation for carefree spending but at Tottenham, where chairman Daniel Levy keeps a very tight rein on transfer budgets, he roughly broke even. At QPR he and Hughes were allowed to run wild, so they did. With perhaps one exception (Arsène Wenger) managers will spend whatever their owners allow them to. Who can blame them? Their job depends on results, the better the squad the better the results (in theory at least). Managers are forever telling their chairman this or that player is “the last piece of the jigsaw”. It is up to the chairman to say “no”.
Fernandes came into football with his enthusiasm outweighing his knowledge. It did not help that he immediately appointed a chief executive, Phil Beard, who though able in many ways also lacked contacts and experience in the industry. Fernandes subsequently took advice from the wrong people, much like Venky’s at Blackburn, and has been chasing his losses ever since.
Fernandes is not the first owner to be taken for a ride by agents and will not be the last. Football is an unusual business, still loosely regulated in many aspects, and its workings often take newcomers by surprise. Not that experienced football men are immune from error, look at the huge debts built up at Bolton under Phil Gartside, and the mess that developed at Sheffield Wednesday while overseen by David Richards.
Fernandes has been highly successful in the airline industry and since he promised yesterday he is at Loftus Road for the long haul one would imagine at some point he will start to exert stricter control over his managers. The relationship between owner and manager is the most important in a football club. For a club to prosper there must be trust and transparency on both sides. The chairman needs to lay out his aspirations at the start, clearly indicate the manager’s parameters in the transfer market, and then stand by him when budget constraints impact on results.
This is what has happened at Aston Villa. After bankrolling an unsuccessful push for the Champions League places under Martin O’Neill, Randy Lerner took stock and decided to reduce his losses. O’Neill left, prompting a period of instability but under Paul Lambert Villa have begun to settle. Inevitably his mix of medium-profile foreign recruits and lower-division English discoveries have had difficult spells, but Lerner has stuck by his manager and they should survive again.
It is a similar story at Newcastle where Alan Pardew has had his autonomy and spending restricted. He has been prepared to work within these limitations, and owner Mike Ashley has backed him through the bad times.
At other clubs the compact has broken down. West Bromwich Albion fired Steve Clarke in part because he pushed the club to spend more heavily than usual in the summer, but the £14m investment on Victor Anichebe and Stéphane Sessègnon has not been a success. At one stage in January rumours began to surface that Tony Pulis felt promises made on his arrival at Selhurst Park were not being kept, then came the deadline-day arrival of a quintet of players headed by Joe Ledley.
It is a difficult balancing act for Palace’s owners. They desperately want to stay up, but having bought the club from the administrators are well aware of the consequences of over-spending. Financial Fair Play (FFP) is there to help owners like them, who want their club to be competitive but not to the extent they risk its future.
It is thus worrying that some Football League clubs (including, it is thought, QPR) are attempting to challenge FFP in the courts. A better way would be to use the league’s structures to reform it because the current model is necessary, but has a fundamental flaw.
Some form of FFP is required to save clubs from owners who are incompetent, over-ambitious, or using the club as a vehicle for their ego. The problem with FFP as practiced by Uefa and the Football League – and to a lesser extent the Premier League – is that its restrictions on owner investment reinforce the status quo; only the big revenue-generating clubs can afford to spend heavily. The regulations do not just stop anyone repeating the example of Roman Abramovich with Chelsea or Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City, they also prevent a local-boy-made-good from boosting his home town, as did Jack Walker at Blackburn and Dave Whelan at Wigan.
A personal view is that owners should be allowed to put as much money as they want into a club, but only if it is in equity, not loans. QPR owe Fernandes £114m – their viability as a going concern depends on the Malaysian’s continued support – as does Hull City’s on Assem Allam, and Cardiff City’s on Vincent Tan.
At least, in its current form, FFP should force owners to restrict their manager’s spending, effectively saving them (and perhaps their club) from themselves.
1. Cup keeps Blades sharp
Regardless of how they perform against Charlton tomorrow Nigel Clough’s Sheffield United have done the FA Cup a service by proving progress in it is not incompatible with league form. Since winning at Fulham they have taken 18 points from 18 to climb to safety in League One, and beaten Forest in the Cup.
2. Macheda stretches belief
Federico Macheda joins the “bash Moyes” bandwagon. Given three league games in Alex Ferguson’s last two seasons, he still says his ex-boss “believed in me so much” while David Moyes “did not give him a chance”. Four goals in 71 matches for various clubs over four seasons prior to this campaign may explain why.
3. When country came first
Jack Wilshere’s injury has re-ignited the perennial club v country row. Hard to believe clubs once played without their internationals, as still happens in cricket and rugby. On 2 October 1965, for instance, George Cohen and Bobby Moore played for England in Cardiff while their clubs, Fulham and West Ham, met in London.
4. Youngsters need pitches
As football and government procrastinate and pass the buck, pitches remain water-logged. The mini-league I’m involved in (500 kids aged 6-16) last played in mid-December. The pitches are still too wet even to mark lines. FA, Premier League and the coalition, get on with providing more 3G pitches – many more.
5. Pulis’s fine line on diving
Well done to Tony Pulis for fining Jerome Thomas after the Palace player was booked for diving. David Moyes once did the same to Phil Neville. But we still await a player being fined by his club after successfully conning a ref and winning a penalty through diving.
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