Queens Park Rangers are "being rebuilt", according to the club's Malaysian owner, Tony Fernandes. It is proving a painful process. Amid all the drama at the Etihad Stadium on the final day of last season, the perilously narrow margin by which Manchester City's opponents QPR escaped relegation was rather obscured. "Never again" was the promise, yet they are back at the bottom of the Premier League with a single win from 19 games.
Fernandes and his board have grand ambitions, but there are signs that they may be going too fast and losing something – other than matches – along the way. A down-to-earth, hard- working Championship squad was augmented for two summers running by vastly expensive and supposedly better players, and the result has been 11 Premier League victories in 57 games under three managers. The only one this season was achieved after Jose Bosingwa, a Champions' League winner, refused to sit on the substitutes' bench, whereupon Harry Redknapp fined him a fortnight's wages and just happened to let slip that, by the way, that amounted to £65,000 a week.
It is not quite clear at the moment what Rangers want to be, only what they need to be; time for some old-school virtues of rolled-up sleeves and determination, the sort of qualities exemplified by the former Tranmere and Crystal Palace man Clint Hill, a Merseysider who used to stand on the Kop cheering for today's opponents, Liverpool. "With the upbringing I've had I've always been hard-working on the training ground and in games," he says. "I hope the players are hurting. If they're not they shouldn't be here. It's pretty poor by anyone's standard, especially with the squad we've got. We as a group of players need to have a good hard look at ourselves over the next few days and try to show a bit more pride."
That sort of approach appeals to Redknapp, who for all his Sandbanks houses has always insisted that the flair and ability he loves in footballers must be matched by application. He appears to have instilled into Adel Taarabt, the club's most gifted player, that talent alone is not enough and he appreciates the effort put in by most – though not all – of the others. "People like Clint Hill have been fantastic," he said on Friday, "turned in great performances and given us everything."
The Hill faction, however, cannot understand the mentality of those who will not do the same, and the 34 year-old defender did not shy away from a question about Bosingwa and his attitude: "You can't really understand anyone who doesn't want to sit on the bench for that kind of money. If you don't want to go on the bench, do you want to be here? Do you want to fight? Do you want to be in a scrap with your team-mates?
" That hurts as a group. We all earn good money. You want people who are fighting for the cause and if you can't sit on the bench and support the lads, then why are you here? You're talking about people here who have won the Champions' League and FA Cups. So you hope there is a desire in them. We need that as a team."
Redknapp, who once signed nine players for Portsmouth in a January window, will surely be looking for some fighters next month. It must be one ray of hope in a depressing season for Rangers supporters to hear a voice like Hill's from the dressing room saying: "There is no mistake about it, we are in a dogfight. If they don't realise that now, we are in trouble."
Queens Park Rangers v Liverpool is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm
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