It was near the end, when Shaun Wright-Phillips arrived from the substitutes’ bench, that the full sense of all that has befallen Queen’s Park Rangers was laid bare.
The Manchester City fans delighted in the sight of a player who used to be a hero, yet from the small enclave of 500 visiting supporters there was derision and gestures towards one who has become a symbol of the mercenary, grasping spirit that saw the west London club relegated in such a desperately pitiful way.
They went without so much as a whimper, losing 6-0. Their head coach, Chris Ramsey – whose willingness to front up for what had happened should give his players cause to reflect and feel shame today – said the 33-year-old should not be targeted, because he had spent all season on the bench.
But Wright-Phillips has become a metaphor for what wearing the Rangers shirt has come to represent for some: cash above commitment.
Harry Redknapp, who got out in February when he saw the writing on the wall, tried to persuade Wright-Phillips to go out on loan to Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic last winter. However, the £70,000-a-week player – who has played 128 minutes of league football all season – was unwilling to take the necessary pay cut.
Wright-Phillips passed his shirt to the City fans at the end, while Clint Hill – one of the professionals – buried his head in his own, devastated to have been relegated twice in three years.
It was the absence of the Brazilian midfielder Sandro – one of the players Ramsey could actually have used – which most illustrated the chaos of this most wretchedly run club. A problem relating to the expiry of the player’s visa, which Ramsey learned about only on Friday, kept him out of the squad.
“That is professional football,” Ramsey said without a hint of irony. “After a few harsh words to myself I just had to concentrate to change my thoughts and think about who was to play in the position.”
It was generous of him to put it that way. Among Sandro’s representatives and QPR’s administrators, someone has let Ramsey down dismally.
The coach also reflected that he thought “the owners will save us from going over the edge”, but he should not bank on it. Amid the “bits and bobs of what has gone on before I came”, which he said he did not understand, is the question of whether the Football League will impose a £60m fine on the club. That was the penalty for attempting to avoid a financial fair play sanction through the injection of that sum in shareholder loans.
The miasma of uncertainty on that particular issue is what you get when you have spent like topsy for three years. QPR splashed £78m on wages in getting relegated in 2012-13 and then £75m in only just winning promotion from the Championship last year and have the kind of wage bill that FFP was introduced to deter.
It is double the club’s turnover and contrasts with Southampton’s manageable 59.3 per cent. It has been conspicuous Premier League spending at its worst and everyone wants the ride. Jose Bosingwa’s agent even tried to get the club to agree a clause paying his client a £5,000-a-week bonus if he was injured. QPR respectfully told him where to take that suggestion, though proprietor Tony Fernandes’ determination to buy star names minus football expertise knows no bounds.
And when it all came down to it yesterday, nobody seemed to care – however much Ramsey tried to insist that his players had not “given up”.
The fifth goal most encapsulated the vast gulf in spirit between Rangers and the weekend’s other relegated club – Burnley. The Manchester City substitute Wilfried Bony beat Richard Dunne to a header, Sergio Aguero beat Karl Henry to the second ball on the back post and by the time his cross reached James Milner in the penalty area, no one had the mildest inclination to put a challenge in.
Dunne, Joey Barton, Wright-Phillips: everywhere you looked there was evidence of players City had given up on years ago. How you flinched at the spectacle of Dunne versus Aguero. “He was here when we were shit,” the City fans sang of QPR’s centre-half.
Only goalkeeper Rob Green could leave the field with credit, though the look on his face told that there was not the slightest consolation. His save on the hour, palming away point-blank from Aguero when David Silva had calmly stepped into the six-yard box to collect a Bony backheel, was the best of many.
The Manchester City manager, Manuel Pellegrini, could scarcely believe his luck as he watched Aguero begin in the fourth minute a hat-trick that took him to 25 goals, his best Premier League tally for a season in a campaign which has been beset by injuries. (Aguero, five ahead of Tottenham’s Harry Kane, is destined for his first golden boot.)
Pellegrini said: “No club played against us this way.”
He dismissed rumours, spreading like wildfire on Saturday, of City reaching a verbal agreement with Pep Guardiola for next season.
“I don’t hear and don’t read any reports,” he said.
The talk was wide of the mark. The balance of probability remains the same: that Pellegrini is likely to be manager come August. Patrick Vieira, coveted by City’s executives, would be a more likely immediate replacement, though City will all but guarantee a top-three place with one more point from their final two games.
Aleksandar Kolarov had scored the second from a 25-yard free-kick before another desultory QPR moment. Yun Suk-young allowed a speculative arced pass from Silva to slip under his feet and found no one covering. Aguero gratefully scored and completed his hat-trick with a penalty after Matt Phillips barged Silva.
After Milner’s tap-in, Silva eased away from Dunne to take Bony’s back heel and slide in the sixth.
Of his wage bill, Ramsey said: “The accountant will look at it and say we really need to have a look at this.”
Mercifully, half of his players are out of contract this summer.
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