Party's over for QPR as Ecclestone keeps it tight
The Premier League is an unforgiving arena for newly promoted clubs, but with the campaign still three weeks away fans should be able to look forward with optimism as well as trepidation.
That is certainly the mood around Carrow Road and the Liberty Stadium. Norwich City and Swansea City will be among the favourites for relegation, but both have promising managers who are strengthening their teams.
Paul Lambert made Kyle Naughton his seventh summer signing on Thursday with the fee for his season-long loan taking the Norwich manager's spending past £9m. Swansea's Brendan Rodgers is on the brink of capturing Wayne Routledge for £2m, pushing the Welsh club's outlay towards £7m. Both clubs look as if they will be giving it a go, without risking their futures.
Then there's Queen's Park Rangers. The celebratory air that infected Loftus Road in May has dissipated. The Championship winners are owned by some of the richest men in football, but Bernie Ecclestone and Lakshmi Mittal are not just reluctant to spend their billions, they have not even touched the £40m TV boon QPR will bank this season.
Rangers have been linked with everyone from Fabio Cannavaro and Marco Materazzi, to Peter Crouch and, more feasibly, DJ Campbell, but the only players they have signed are Jay Bothroyd, Kieron Dyer, Danny Gabbidon and Danny Webber, all on free transfers. While Bothroyd had several suitors it is hard to imagine too many Premier League clubs were chasing the others. To compound this, Rangers are about to sell Adel Taarabt, the creator and taker of most of their goals last season, to Paris St-Germain.
A third of his £15m fee will go to Tottenham, due to a canny sell-on clause inserted by Spurs chairman Daniel Levy when Taarabt left White Hart Lane. The rest, indicated Warnock this week, will not be re-invested in the team. "I've just got to look for Bosmans and shrewd acquisitions, loan players etc." He added: "We'll be trying to survive on the smallest transfer budget ever."
Most galling of all, for QPR, is that they are being outbid by their fellow promotees. Routledge was on loan to Rangers last season, and Warnock wanted to sign him permanently. Naughton, who was under Warnock at Sheffield United, had been a target for months. As with Watford striker Danny Graham, another Swansea recruit, QPR were not prepared to pay the asking price, not even Naughton's loan fee.
It is not just the approach to recruitment that is prompting fans' ire. QPR have increased season ticket prices by 40 per cent (for four fewer games), but they are yet to release this season's kit, announce a sponsor, or reveal individual match-day prices. None of this dispels the impression that Ecclestone is only interested in making a fat profit on the club he bought four years ago. Though the dominant shareholder, he admits he has little interest in the team. It is Flavio Briatore – who owns no shares but has Ecclestone's ear – who dictates transfer policy. Since Mittal's son-in-law Amit Bhatia resigned as vice-chairman in May the Mittal family have been silent partners.
Many Rangers fans hope they will launch a takeover but Mittal has no intention of meeting Ecclestone's £100m asking price, more than twice what Venky's paid for Blackburn last year. Instead there are reports of Russian interest with speculation centreing on Alexei Mordashov, owner of Severstal, a steel and mining conglomerate. Severstal sponsors several sports teams in Russia and the 45-year-old Mordashov – worth $18bn according to Forbes – has business connections with Mittal and lived in England a decade ago.
Any takeover needs, however, to be swift as the transfer window closes in six weeks and two-thirds of QPR fans, according to a poll on one website, believe the club need at least four to five players to survive. Warnock hailed Rangers' promotion – his seventh in management – as his finest achievement in football. Keeping QPR up would top even that.
Spending to survive
How promoted clubs have fared:
Blackpool (spent £2.5m, relegated)
Newcastle United (£3m, survived)
West Bromwich (£5.3m, survived)
Wolves (spent £16.5m, survived)
Birmingham City (£17.6m, survived)
Burnley (£6.6m, relegated)
Comings and goings at the Premier League newcomers
In: Jay Bothroyd (Cardiff, free), Kieron Dyer (West Ham, free), Danny Gabbidon (West Ham, free), Danny Webber (Portsmouth, free).
Out: Mikele Leigertwood (Reading, free), Pascal Chimbonda (released)
In: James Vaughan (Everton, £2m), Steve Morison (Millwall, £2.5m), Elliot Bennett (Brighton, £1.5m), Anthony Pilkington (Huddersfield, £2m), Bradley Johnson (Leeds, free), Richie de Laet (Manchester United, season loan), Kyle Naughton (Tottenham, season loan)
Out: Matt Gill (Bristol Rovers, free)
In: Danny Graham (Watford, £3.5m), Jose Moreira (Benfica, £750,000), Steven Caulker (Tottenham, season loan), Wayne Routledge (Newcastle, £2m, tbc)
Out: Darren Pratley (Bolton, free), Dorus de Vries (Wolves, free)
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