Happy Harry promises ‘mind blowing’ signings as QPR start campaign – preview
Friday, 2nd Aug 2013 23:59 by Clive Whittingham
Harry Redknapp was in bullish mood this morning as he talked up his side’s chances of success ahead of the opening day of the season fixture at home to Sheffield Wednesday.
QPR v Sheffield Wednesday
Championship >>> Saturday August 3, 2013 >>> Kick Off 3pm >>> Loftus Road, London, W12
Tonight QPR stand on the precipice, peering over the edge once more. At 3pm tomorrow they shall leap into the air and only then will their long suffering supporters start to find out what they can expect this season.
Having spent the summer cocooned in a quest to rid themselves of the bad apples and bring in the “right sorts” will they emerge a beautiful butterfly, or the same lousy caterpillar they were last May which has spent a summer encased in a hardened shell of its own sputum for no discernible benefit whatsoever?
Will the arms spread wide to reveal a futuristic pair of Red Bull-sponsored wings enabling them to soar back to the cliff top from which they fell last season? Or is this simply the second attempt of a pathetic, suicidal mess intent on self-harm? In a league where the last play-off spot was separated from the last relegation place by just 14 points last season, and bottom of the table Bristol City scored five more goals at home than promoted Hull City, it would be a brave man to call what lies ahead for one of the country’s neurotic clubs.
For much of the summer another train wreck has seemed a likely outcome for the beleaguered Rangers. They have struggled to shift on the big earners as planned, with clubs stupid enough to match the outrageous terms QPR offered to bring them in in the first place thin on the ground. Several players of varying ability now sit in limbo where they are neither moving elsewhere nor that bothered about playing for QPR.
Even a World Cup in his homeland coming up at the end of the season, for which he’ll surely need to be playing at least semi-regularly to feature in, wasn’t enough to persuade multimillionaire goalkeeper Julio Cesar to accept a cut in his salary to play first team football in Serie A with Napoli this season. He’d like to force through a loan move, with QPR no doubt topping the salary up so he doesn’t lose out. Napoli meanwhile signed Pepe Reina instead.
Joey Barton started the summer insisting that money was no longer a consideration and all that mattered was being happy with his football. Strange then that terms could not be agreed with Marseille, who his agent Willie McKay said http://www.talksport.co.uk/sports-news/football/premier-league/transfer-rumours/ Barton more respect (i.e. more money) for his efforts on loan there last season. McKay this week said the only club Barton would consider dropping his wage demands for were Everton, who he supported as a boy. New Toffees boss Roberto Martinez laughed so hard he actually had to have a little sit down for a while and once he’d composed himself and said “but seriously, not happening as long as I have a hole in my culo” Barton engaged in a row back exercise the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Steve Redgrave got out of the water for the last time in Sydney back in 2000. He does want to go to Marseille after all as it turns out. If they show enough respect (money).
Esteban Granero fluttered his eyelashes but looks set to still be dateless come closing time, Ji-Sung Park seems to have called in a favour at PSV while Stephane Mbia’s agent has linked his name with Arsenal so much it comes up in predictive text whenever he presses 2 on his phone.
QPR knew what they were getting into when they signed all of these players and can have few complaints. They’re not the first club to find that handing out big contracts can lumber you with unsellable players and they should have been wise to that old chestnut at the time. Only in the case of Loic Remy, who has been waving his old chap around in inappropriate circumstances, can the club hold their hands up and plead innocence.
Meanwhile, Harry Redknapp’s attempts to bring players in has become mired in a dysfunctional farce. QPR have become like the emotional retard everybody has among their Facebook friends who uses social media to play out a grizzly divorce battle through the medium of pointed public status updates: “So it’s going to be like that is it Michelle? Stopping me from seeing my own kid on the designated day now? Low blow bitch. Well I’ll be seeing you back in court won’t I cos I is off down the solicitors right now. Think on Michelle.” Think on indeed. Click here to ‘like’.
Harry, who “doesn’t know what a Twitter is”, prefers the tried and trusted method of a friendly journalist. There just so happened, by pure coincidence, to be a Sky Sports News camera crew waiting by the eighteenth green for him at the end of a leisurely round of golf back in June, catching him completely by surprise I’m sure and tricking him into revealing that he’d like to sign Wayne Bridge when his guard was down. Bridge signed for Reading half a day later, which Redknapp surely knew was going to happen.
Last week ‘Arry rolled the car window down to talk about how wonderful Gary Hooper would be at QPR and then later blamed the club for not tying the deal up quick enough when the player went to Norwich instead. He may escape from tax evasion cases with a defence of “I can’t fucking read or write” but a football man as experienced as Redknapp surely recognised that QPR were a last-second-of-deadline-day resort for Hooper who wanted a Premier League move and used the club as a stalking horse to get a fee agreed with Celtic so the likes of Norwich and West Ham would know what to bid.
Redknapp pulled a similar stunt with the club over the non-signing of Joe Cole last January. Tottenham fans, to a man, will tell you misfortune is never Redknapp’s fault and it seems Philip Beard may be his, and the supporters’, fall guy of choice this season. Expect plenty of “what do you want me to do? I wanted the boy Hooper in here,” type comments after toothless attacking displays this season.
At times it’s almost seemed like Redknapp has been trying to get fired. I mean six months ago if you’d hypothetically tried to come up with a list of things he should do if he did fancy an early exit and associated pay off I dare say continuing to select Jose Bosingwa, selling Jamie Mackie, ostracising Adel Taarabt and Ale Faurlin, spending £1m on Karl Henry, bringing in Steve McClaren, sending the team to Austria for pre-season and not going with them, regularly sending out barely concealed criticism of the board into the media and so on would all have been on the list.
Chairman Tony Fernandes meanwhile likes to conduct his private business to his 343,843 followers on Twitter. Redknapp clearly doesn’t rate Ale Faurlin, or take kindly to being told what a good player he is by non-football people, and having loaned him out last season has now shifted him out of the first team picture towards the end of the pre-season period. Fernandes says on Twitter that Faurlin is his favourite player and the club would like to extend his deal. Redknapp says he doesn’t see the point in loaning players out – Taarabt, Cesar and Remy have all been linked with temporary moves – but Fernandes Tweets that loan moves could be a good option for the club.
Redknapp seems to be trying to save face and make out that anything that does go wrong won’t be his fault, while Fernandes is in a permanent PR drive focusing on what would look bad to supporters rather than what the manager wants or what might be good for the team. They’re both playing games essentially. The QPR media team, previously so fastidious about early announcements on transfer deals and quotes emerging from the club, are now reduced to tracking two gobby blokes around the globe holding a fire extinguisher.
But then this morning, suddenly, Happy Harry was back: slim, tanned, well groomed, new training top, tub ready for thumping. Everybody, including Barton, is now “good as gold”. The line he’s been trotting out all summer about how many good teams there are in the Championship – eight or nine, apparently, who would grace the Champions League if only they could escape from this infernal pit of class and quality – is tailed with the assertion that QPR will be “right there with them.”
Redknapp says he is chasing signings that will “blow your mind” and has already snapped up Burnley’s 28 goal forward Charlie Austin with both the Clarets and other potential suitors Nottingham Forest bemoaning the financial muscle QPR have at their disposal. Former Portsmouth and Middlesbrough midfielder Gary O’Neil wandered into the press conference by accident – mind blowing in its own way – but as if to counter that Redknapp slung in the name of Colombian striker Duvan Zapata who was last seen tied up in work permit difficulties ahead of a £7m move to West Ham. Perhaps Harry has a trick with a Scottish grandmother up his sleeve.
It was all a little bit like Brian Potter at the start of the second season of Phoenix Nights: sunshine indoors, a sorolium, a lift to all floors. “Balls to the brewery, we don’t need a brewery,” Redknapp told Sky Sports News. At one stage he tipped Charlie Austin as a future England international at which point a press officer moved in and said "come on Harry, we've all had a drink."
Enthusiasm. Positivity. “We’re going to have a team here that will excite people,” says Harry. A sell out on day one, money to spend, Charlie Austin on board, Steve McClaren’s Dutch accent… Keep your hands and arms inside the car, the world’s most bipolar football club is about to take that leap again. Perhaps it will be alright after all?
Team News: QPR must decide whether new signing Richard Dunne is fit enough to start after a short pre-season and 12 months out injured, and Charlie Austin only joined the club on Thursday so Harry Redknapp may choose to start him from the bench to begin with. Andy Johnson is in line to start his first game since September after scoring twice in the pre-season friendlies. Other than that the story will be the sheer weight of talent not involved for reasons other than injury – Julio Cesar, Adel Taarabt, Loic Remy, Joey Barton and several others besides are all expected to sit out as they hunt moves elsewhere. Karl Henry and Danny Simpson are in line for debuts.
Wednesday have been dealt a blow with full back Lewis Buxton, outstanding last season, ruled out with shin splints. A rumoured move for Wolves’ defender Roger Johnson has come to naught so far and although Kamil Zayatte has arrived on a free transfer from Hull the move is subject to international clearance and has not been completed in time for this game. The Owls are also waiting on the greenlight to include new striker Atdhe Nuhiu in their matchday squad for the first time. Former QPR loanee Kieran Lee is out with a hip injury.
Elsewhere: The Championship gets underway on Saturday lunchtime with a televised clash between Lancashire rivals Burnley and Bolton. The Clarets face a tough season after losing leading marksmen Charlie Austin to QPR while Bolton will fancy their chances at the top end of the table after winning ten and losing just four of their last 17 matches last season following the arrival of manager Dougie Freedman. Sky’s quest to televise all founder members in the opening week to celebrate the Football League’s 125th anniversary continues on Sunday when Derby meet crisis club Blackburn at Pride Park.
Other than that it’s a 3pm kick off on Saturday for everybody else. QPR v Sheff Wed is the featured game on The Football League show on Saturday night but there’s plenty going on elsewhere to catch the eye. The sacking of Ken Bates from his role as life president at Leeds has seen a surge in ticket sales at Elland Road and 33,000 will now be present for the visit of Brighton – both teams will fancy their chances of promotion this season.
Middlesbrough and Leicester have underachieved in recent years and will be looking to lay down a marker when they meet at the Riverside Stadium. Reading and Ipswich are another two highly fancied by many for a promotion push this season and they start against each other at the Madejski Stadium.
At the other end of the table two matches - Doncaster v Blackpool and Millwall v Yeovil - feature four teams tipped for a season of struggle.
Birmingham must hit the ground running after a fire sale of quality players this summer when they welcome Watford’s foreign legion to St Andrews and Huddersfield have it fairly tough as well with a trip to Billy Davies’ Nottingham Forest side. The list is completed by Owen Coyle starting his Wigan reign at Barnsley and newly promoted Bournemouth hosting Charlton on the south coast.
Referee: For the second season in a row, experienced Cheshire official Scott Mathieson will referee Sheffield Wednesday’s opening league fixture of the new campaign. Last season he was in charge as the Owls battled back from two down to draw 2-2 at Derby County. His appointment isn’t great news for QPR however, who lost at Leeds in the 2010/11 promotion season the last time he was in charge of one of their games and have only won once with this referee in 11 attempts which includes a 0-0 draw at Vauxhall Motors in the FA Cup in 2002. His full QPR case history is available here.
QPR: Rangers’ form was infamously bad last season – it could scarcely have been worse had they set out to purposely make it so. Just four victories in the league all season, only two of them at Loftus Road, and last place in the Premier League. Rangers lost seven and drew two of their final nine matches last season and haven’t won a competitive game since beating Sunderland 3-1 on March 9. They also failed to score a goal in open play in any of their last six fixtures – managing just Loic Remy’s penalty against Newcastle in the final home match. QPR will hope to be the sixteenth club to bounce back to the Premier League immediately after relegation since it was formed in 1992 – but only three of those had finished in last place the previous season. They’ll hope for a better start than they managed over the last two years when the opening day of the season brought 4-0 and 5-0 defeats at Loftus Road against Bolton and Swansea. The last two times QPR have won promotion they’ve started with a 5-0 win against Blackpool, and a 4-0 success against Barnsley.
Sheff Wed: The Owls looked to be in real trouble at the mid-point of last season. Having won promotion from League One they found the step up tough and having won two of their opening three league matches subsequently went on a run of 15 defeats and just two victories from 19. That was always going to keep them in and around the relegation zone regardless of their form after Christmas so a final league position of eighteenth masks how good their results were in the second half of the campaign. They won 12 and drew eight of their last 28 fixtures, losing just two of the last nine, and finished with a win at home to Middlesbrough. Away from home they won seven times last season which was more than fifth placed Palace (six), sixth placed Leicester (six) and seventh placed Bolton (four). But goals were a problem, with a succession of loaned strikers unable to help greatly. On 16 occasions they were kept scoreless last season which was the division’s worst total. Wednesday had a formidable record against QPR during the 1990s, winning eight and losing only four of 13 games but they haven’t won at Loftus Road in six attempts – four of which have finished as draws.
Prediction: A new season and a new champion of the Prediction League joins us to offer his thoughts on the QPR game each week. Mase beat our previous columnist Nathan McAllister to the crown last season only to discover that as well as the £50 top prize, you are kind of obliged to write us a bit for the match preview each week. Given that QPR only won four times last season you’d think that the winner of the Prediction League might be a tad on the pessimistic side, so let’s see what he has to say this week…
“Hello and thank you for reading this far down. I've been invited by Clive as winner of last year's LFW Prediction League to contribute my prediction for our matches this season. I'll admit, my crown was as much a reward - or confirmation - of my pessimism as it was of any genuine insight.
“As our previous champion Nathan made reference to in his prediction for our last Premier League match at Anfield, predicting 'No Scorer' in every match last year would have yielded a regrettably healthy return for those participating in the LFW competition. With the new site in operation I can't be all clever-clever and tell you who, had they shared Nathan's and my insight into the weekly free two points habitually available for ‘No Scorer’, would have won the contest outright themselves but suffice it to say I already feel a fraud for being here. Thank you Rangers for your ineptitude last year. At least, in agreeing to participate in the column, I am assured that my services won't be required next season.
“So - Sheffield Wednesday. The Owls. Dave Jones. Chris Waddle. Big club. Nearly sold out the School End.
“I have been rather underwhelmed and unconvinced by our pre-season. To my mind, it has by and large been characterised by lightweight opposition (which has nevertheless not brought much success) and an ongoing battle of wits between our chairman and manager. Perhaps most tellingly, I defy anyone to predict accurately our starting XI for 3pm on Saturday. As ever with Rangers, who knows?
“Wednesday have had a similarly mixed pre-season but with at least there are no mind games on top of the undoubted drought of actual ability on the pitch. They will struggle this season, but for the right reasons (lack of money, ability), rather than internecine Rangers. Togetherness counts for a lot in this league.
“I am not expecting us to receive a pasting like on the opening days of our two previous seasons but equally I think Wednesday will have too much for us. I think they will score, we will retreat into our shell in front of a hostile crowd, and they will get another with their decent support behind them.
“For prediction league purposes, I am tactically going for a 1-2 No Scorer combination. In my head, we go down 0-2. Let's hope this is the first of my wrong predictions this year.”
Mase’s Prediction: QPR 0-2 Sheff Wed, No Scorer
LFW Prediction: QPR 1-1 Sheff Wed, Johnson first goal
Photo: Action Images
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