Rangers in a hurry to get up to speed
Manager Warnock is back in the top flight but he's hoping another Formula One mogul buys QPR and invests in new players, writes Steve Tongue
Sunday 07 August 2011
For much of the past few months, managing Queens Park Rangers must have felt like driving a Formula One car in a 30mph speed limit; enjoyable in its way but more than a little frustrating.
Neil Warnock, who in May led Rangers back into the Premier League for the eighth promotion of his career, admits that in younger days he would have been tearing his hair out about the uncertainty surrounding the club's ownership.
After 30 years in management, however, he is trying to adopt a calmer approach, and one which may shortly be rewarded with an alternative mode of transport. Tony Fernandes, of Team Lotus and Air Asia, is in talks to buy out Bernie Ecclestone, another F1 man, whose only interest in owning a football club appears to have been selling it on at a profit.
"I don't really have the time to pay the attention I should to it," Ecclestone told the BBC. He had admitted just before the Championship title was secured that he was a Chelsea supporter who couldn't name half the QPR team and left matches at half-time to avoid the traffic. Having originally bought into the club with his fellow F1 mogul Flavio Briatore for a modest sum, then purchased the latter's shares, he is now in the happy position of being able to demand tens of millions for them.
Fernandes appears willing to pay and while many Rangers followers are unhappy that his greater love is West Ham, a club he has tried to buy twice in the past 18 months, others believe he can take them sky-high. Air Asia may be a budget airline but its owner, a 47-year-old Malaysian educated at Epsom College and the London School of Economics, is worth some $450 million (£275m) and should the deal go through before the end of this month there could even be the funds that Warnock has craved to give his latest charges a realistic chance among the big boys.
Yesterday Rangers denied reports that Fernandes had already taken a 20 per cent share after he tweeted: "I look forward to talking about football next week. My dreams, my nightmares. How people treated me so badly and insulted me. Why I'm doing what I'm doing."
On tour in Italy recently, Warnock had meetings with Fernandes and Briatore, who is handling the negotiations, and was impressed with the potential new owner. But as a sign of his new maturity, Warnock has been notably careful not to say too much about his employers. He is keen to restrict himself to football matters and to stress the positives about players he has been able to recruit.
He says the latest acquisition, DJ Campbell from Blackpool, is "a QPR fan who can't wait to play for us". Jay Bothroyd, who boasts an England cap, is another new striker: "I liked him from a long time ago, and tried to get him before, so it's funny how it's worked out." Kieron Dyer, also an England player – though not for four years – naturally attracts some scepticism because of his injury record, but Warnock says: "It's not a gamble, the lad just wants to play and I liked him straight away."
Even if no change of ownership materialises, he is hopeful of at least one more new signing and optimistic that Adel Taarabt, the maverick midfielder named Player of the Season in the Championship, will stay. That would appear to be crucial to Rangers' prospects, and Briatore did at least win some plaudits from supporters by refusing to budge from his £15m asking price when Paris St-Germain, offered £3m less.
"He was inspirational at times," Warnock says of the Moroccan, who contributed 19 goals and 16 assists. "He can be a bit of an enigma but you'd pay to watch someone like him. We also had the best defensive record in the League with 25 clean sheets, which takes some doing, and a super work ethic, even the forwards. So we had a good mixture.
"The difference in the Premier League is that you have to have two or three for every position because when the end of August comes you're on your own, like being in a boat without oars. Otherwise if you get two or three injuries, you can't cope."
As he well knows after taking Notts County (in 1991) and Sheffield United (2006) into the big league, it is a huge step. Each went straight back down by a narrow margin, which hurt for different reasons: County missed out on the inaugural season of the Premier League, and Carlos Tevez was allowed to save West Ham, who were then forced to pay his beloved Blades £20m in compensation.
"It was the biggest disappointment of my career. When all's fair and square you can take it on the chin but the way everything went with the Tevez thing, and then to miss out by one goal, it was hard to take."
The irony was that Rangers spent much of last season embroiled in a similar third-party ownership case involving their midfielder Alejandro Faurlin and did not discover until the morning of their final match that they would also only be fined (£875,000) and not have points deducted.
"I don't think it's a League you've got to be frightened of and I wanted one more go at it," Warnock said. "Blackpool really showed people last season that if you play without fear you can give it a good go, and I think we've got to do that. We've got a very good asset in Loftus Road, which with 19,000 in it is a very exciting place. It's an old-fashioned type of ground and I do personally love that, where the crowd are close to the players. And we'll have to do well at home without a shadow of a doubt."
He warns that there may be some beatings along the way: "You can get one or two heavy defeats in this league when the top teams play well on the day, but it's how you bounce back."
As for the season's targets – aside from a settled club – Warnock says: "I'm not one to declare what they are but if you asked the fans they'd be quite happy to be fourth from the bottom. I want to do the best we can and see where it takes us."
Bernie versus Tony
No 4 in UK
Source of wealth: Formula One, CVC Capital Partners; 62 per cent stake in QPR
No 20 in Malaysia
Source of wealth: Budget airlines, hotels, mobile phones and insurance
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