Dubai or not Dubai, that is the question for Queen's Park Rangers. Not whether their players went out drinking while on a warm-weather training break last month, as reported by a tabloid on Saturday morning, but how much it will affect the rest of their season, either positively or negatively.
If the intention of the trip to the Gulf was to improve team bonding, then the fact that three anonymous players quoted on Saturday apparently broke ranks suggests that it failed. But if its unintended consequences include the development of a backs-to-the-wall siege mentality that helps the team win, then it may prove an accidental masterstroke.
Harry Redknapp, the QPR manager, suggested that the negative headlines had been a powerful motivating factor in Saturday's important victory over a relegation rival. The trick now will be to keep that "us against the world" spirit alive. Redknapp's main issue with the reports concerned the degree of, er, "relaxation" that his players indulged in. "It came from a football agent," Redknapp said, "I know exactly where the story came from. It was a disgusting story. It was full of untruths."
He claims that they had only one evening out, and trained hard every day, and in any case many supporters may not share the manufactured outrage that usually accompanies such reports. Good heavens, footballers like a drink? Next you'll be telling me that some musicians take drugs.
What will concern the fans more are the potentially damaging suggestions in the tabloid that the QPR squad is split over the huge wage differentials and into cliques, especially between British-born players and foreigners. The issues will have to be addressed, but in the short term, the team only needs to be cohesive enough to win games, which will test even Redknapp's famed arm-round-the-shoulder style of management.
In QPR's favour was Saturday's match, which shows that the fans who filled the visitors' end at St Mary's were not too outraged by the tales from Dubai to get behind the team in adversity – Chelsea, take note – and that Redknapp's squad has enough spirit and even quality to deliver victories.
Whether they can win the five that Redknapp has targeted remains to be seen, even with Sunderland, Aston Villa, Fulham, Wigan, Stoke and Reading among their next seven opponents.
"It's hard to look at [fixtures] and think which you'll win and lose," Redknapp said. "You think 'We'll beat them,' and then you go and lose and you win at Chelsea when you think you'll be pleased if you get a corner."
His trump card may be the outstanding Christopher Samba, who finally played as Redknapp must have hoped he would when signing him from Anzhi for £12.5m on transfer deadline day, and he revealed that Tony Fernandes, the owner, had resisted an offer to make a quick profit. "We had an offer of more money than we paid for Samba and the chairman turned it down," he said. " A massive offer, to go back to Russia last week, their transfer deadline.
"If the chairman had sold him I'd have played someone else, that's football – but he's a player. I could never understand why Arsenal or someone didn't sign him. He can head it, he's quick, he's got the lot, hasn't he? He's a proper centre half. He could play anywhere in this country in any of those sort of teams."
That he is still playing for QPR is an act of faith by Fernandes in the club's chances of survival this season. The owner will clearly have plenty to do in summer whether they succeed or fail but for now the job of Redknapp and the players is to ensure that his faith is not misplaced – Dubai or no Dubai.
Goals: Southampton Ramirez 45. QPR Remy 14, Bothroyd 77.
Substitutions: Southampton Rodriguez 7 (Lallana, 43), Shaw 6 (Fox, 57), Ward-Prowse 6 (Ramirez, 75). QPR Jenas 7 (Granero, 54), Green 8 (Cesar, 75), Fabio (Bothroyd, 90).
Bookings: Southampton Fonte. QPR Bothroyd, Mbia, Traore. Man of the match Samba. Match rating 6/10. Possession: Southampton 67%. QPR 33%. Attempts on target: Southampton 7. QPR 3. Referee H Webb (South Yorkshire). Att 31,728.Reuse content