|QPR are a smaller club than Hughes' old haunts Man City and Fulham but they have the ambition [GALLO/GETTY]
Things are likely to get worse before they get better as new manager Mark Hughes tries to turn around Asian-owned Queens Park Rangers.
The January appointment at the newly promoted club is a shrewd one because it means that the former Manchester United and Chelsea striker will be able to attract better talent in the transfer window than his unfashionable predecessor, Neil Warnock.
Already he’s been linked to players like Andrew Johnson, Chris Samba and Nedum Onuoha with whom he’s worked before. They’re clearly a cut above the likes of Shaun Derry, Clint Hill and Paddy Kenny, who go back a long way with Warnock.
And with an annual salary of around $4.6 million a year that puts him just behind Roberto Mancini, Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson, Hughes will soon be feeling the weight of expectations as he prepares himself for a relegation dogfight.
It’s a different kind of pressure to what he experienced during his 18-month stay at Manchester City, but the fans will be no less impatient for instant results.
The problem is that he takes over a dressing room in turmoil.
Argentine midfielder Alejandro Faurlin, QPR’s best player this campaign, has just been ruled out for the season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury. Another midfielder Joey Barton is serving a three-match suspension after the outspoken club captain received a red card against Norwich in the Hoops’ last Premier League game.
And last season’s top scorer Adel Taarabt is on his way to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea to represent Morocco in the Africa Cup of Nations.
Defensively, the R’s have been a shambles, especially with the prolonged absence through injury of their key August signing, Anton Ferdinand. During their miserable run of just one win in 12 games since October, they’ve failed to keep a clean sheet as they’ve slid to 17th on the table.
Fitz Hall, Matt Connolly and the unfortunate Danny Gabbidon – who debuted with an own-goal in QPR’s opening day 4-0 home defeat to Bolton – can simply not cope with the high demands of the Premier League.
And, up front, the west Londoners are even worse with only Wigan having scored fewer times. Take away the unexpected return of seven league goals in 13 matches from Icelandic veteran Heidar Helguson and QPR could be propping up the table.
Jumping through Hoops
Hughes’ challenge is that he must get his team clicking within a fortnight – even before new signings arrive - to have a realistic chance of ensuring premiership action next season.
After Sunday’s tough trip to Newcastle, relegation rivals Wigan, Wolves and Blackburn loom in the next month so those results will go a long way to deciding QPR’s fate. With matches against Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City in the final three weeks of the season, it would be unwise to count on any late escape act.
Relegation would be an unmitigated disaster for everyone at Loftus Road, including Malaysian owner Tony Fernandes who’s promising a budget of $30 million for new players before the end of January.
It is only seven months since a perceived lack of ambition saw Hughes walk out on Fulham after guiding the Cottagers to eighth place and into the Europa League via the Fair Play League.
Yet there are so many similarities between Fulham and QPR. They are small, historic and not very successful clubs with compact grounds in the same London borough. Yet Hughes clearly believes more in the vision of Fernandes than of Fulham owner Mohamed Al-Fayed.
| Hughes will have the task of controlling Joey Barton and making the right signings in January [GETTY]
And that takes some imagination as Hughes works at Rangers’ Harlington training ground off the M4 motorway and under the flight path near Heathrow Airport, the same depressing cow paddock where the Welshman first kicked the ball around during his days with Chelsea in the mid-1990s. That was before Roman Abramovich’s billions turned QPR’s neighbours into one of the world’s slickest and most successful clubs.
Fernandes has shared his plans of building a new training facility along with a 30,000-seat stadium. But for now, that’s no more than talk with Hughes and his assistants having to make do with modest facilities.
In September 2004, he took over a Blackburn team in the bottom three and guided them to a comfortable 15th position – nine points above the drop-zone – and an FA Cup semi-final. The following season they finished sixth, thus qualifying for the UEFA Cup.
They were known as a super-fit and sometimes overly physical side. In all of Hughes’ four seasons in charge at Ewood Park, they finished bottom of the premiership’s disciplinary table.
A harder edge wouldn’t be a bad thing for QPR who’ve won just once at home this season – and that was against a Chelsea team reduced to nine men. Too many times they’ve just rolled over, including a dire 6-0 drubbing against Hughes’ former side Fulham on October 2nd.
Back in 1996 as Hughes rounded off his first year playing for Chelsea in London, the Blues finished in the bottom half of the Premier League standings and QPR were relegated. And Fulham? They were 17th in England’s fourth tier.
The following season Manchester City were one of the teams that QPR faced in the second tier, with the latter finishing higher on the table.
That shows how quickly things can change with the right players and philosophy. Hughes knows this. But for longer-term rewards, he will first have to ride out the storm that’s sure to arrive during his first weeks in Shepherds Bush.
* Former CNN & BBC anchor Jason Dasey is an Asia-based international sports broadcaster and host of Football Fever , the world's first international soccer podcast with an Asia-Pacific perspective. Twitter: JasonDasey
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