Going down won't ground Tony Fernandes' flight plan for QPR

The Loftus Road chairman tells Tusdiq Din he is intent on building the same team spirit at the club as he put at the heart of his airline Air Asia

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The Independent Online

Tony Fernandes has moved to reassure Queen's Park Rangers fans that whatever league they find themselves in next season, it will not affect his vision for the club. The Malaysian businessman, who also owns the airline Air Asia, points to his track record in business to underline his commitment to a long-term approach.

"If we get relegated, then we get relegated," says Fernandes. "Yes, it's harder, but we just continue our project and build. This isn't a one-year project. I've never done anything with the short term in view. I'll just plod on and continue to do what I think is right to build something special at this club. I'm looking long-term, not at just one season.

"The similarity with Air Asia is uncanny. I was competing against big-money airlines, with lots of cash. I went out and put my money into building an academy to train my pilots. Why? For two reasons. We only had seven planes; I put all our profit into building an academy because of two very important things and one that isn't talked about in football very much. I want to start a culture."

Loftus Road is the same, Fernandes says. "I want players with heart. When I buy players who have played for seven other clubs, yes they're passionate, but it's very different from a boy who has been here from 16 years old who comes up the ranks.

"When I get a pilot from Singapore Airlines to join Air Asia, yes he works hard, but it's very different from a boy who carried bags for me, who now is a captain; it's different. So the academy is critical. There has been underinvestment in QPR youth teams."

We are sitting in one of the VIP executive boxes at Loftus Road, a much-loved but now dated and cramped venue which Fernandes intends to replace as soon as possible with a new stadium. A new training ground is also on the agenda; Rangers currently rent theirs from Imperial College.

"On the pitch we've got a good squad which hasn't got the results I think it really should be getting – but that's football. It's out of my control and we'll leave it to Mark [Hughes, the manager] and the team.

"I'd love to have a few more points. We've thrown away points by having players sent off. Against Wolves we could've been four or five up [when Djibril Cissé was dismissed]; that could have changed our season, but nothing good is easy. We just have to deal with it."

The appointment of Hughes was controversial, given that his predecessor, Neil Warnock, had taken Rangers into the top flight after a 15-year absence. Fernandes said it was one of the toughest calls he has ever had to make, and admitted it was not universally popular at Loftus Road.

"It was very hard because you must remember Neil brought this club up," he said. "There's big love for him out there. This is a club that was almost bankrupt, it was effectively in the Third Division, and you know he really was a saviour, so it was a very painful decision. It's not fair for me to say all of my reasons for doing it, but no, of course, not just on results. Otherwise Mark would be..." He breaks off in laughter.

I put it to Fernandes that it appeared as if it was Hughes actually interviewing Rangers, and he responds with refreshing honesty. "Yes! He did. He came to find out our plan, which is fair enough. I have been under no pretence that we had to do more selling than him. Let's be real, it was the same with some of the players; we have to go out there and sell ourselves."

There is a mutual respect between Fernandes and Rangers' fans, and that is something that he wants to build on and learn from. "This is me!" he says. "It drives people nuts when I say I want to sit out there [on the terraces], that I want to go and visit the pubs. I know they sit there and go, 'Why is he doing that?' But I can't pretend to be something I'm not. I can't pretend to be a chairman and sit there and not get excited when we score a goal, so I'm not going to.

"I'm not saying you have to be a fan to run a football business, but it helps. Once you get in, you've got to immerse yourself, otherwise you're going to make a pig's breakfast of it." He laughs.

"So this is not something that is easy to run; that's why I go out and meet people, that's why I sit down with Ian [Taylor, the club media officer] and I get his views on players. I suck in everything. I don't think you could run an airline or any business without immersing yourself in it."

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