At Loftus Road you see that great spirit and direct approach. Vargas is aggressive and tenacious. Fer, Henry and Barton are no pushover in midfield. All of sudden, away from home, you start seeing three at the back, diamonds and one striker. An alternative would be to copy the Burnley approach (or Crystal Palace, last season), and stick with the style that produces wins at home. In this case: 4-4-2. What stops QPR is that they lack the legs on a bigger pitch in a more open stadium, with the crowd against them.
When they first came up from the Championship, in 2011-12, under Neil Warnock, they seemed to have that collective spirit you get when a core of players fight hard to escape a very tough league. But the dynamic of the club changed. They made a rash of deadline signings – players from a different mould, rather than the type Warnock might have wanted. From the moment owner Tony Fernandes backed those signings, when the club wanted to make a real impact in the Premier League, I think QPR became a spinning top, and have never recovered.
They never designed a team. Fernandes has the willingness and the passion to get involved. He answers fans on Twitter. When the camera picks him out after a defeat you can see how much it hurts him. But he was led down the garden path of modern football, to a place where it’s easy to make recruitment errors. The ownership structure at QPR looks complicated, too, so that Fernandes has several other decision makers at boardroom level to consult.
You see this often with people who are successful in other businesses. The Venkys, at Blackburn, would be another example. They deal with football business in a way they never would in a more conventional industry. Elsewhere in the Premier League you find clubs with a clear identity: Southampton, Swansea or West Brom. QPR, on the other hand, are suspended somewhere between being a yoyo club who go up and down and a club that go the whole way like Chelsea and City. They are neither here nor there.
They lack a visible strategy. Even though the away form has been appalling – and the league position perilous – I do feel a smattering of the players they have signed in the last six months have been better. Vargas and Isla were quite impressive acquisitions. But if you look for core values in a football, what are QPR’s? You look for hungry players, graduates from the youth system, value for money in the transfer market, fans who feel inspired. These were the aspirations Tony Fernandes doubtless started out with.
Very few of QPR’s signings have sell-on value. Charlie Austin has, but he, with a year to go on his contract, may be playing hard to get. They seem to pick up a lot of players in the twilight of their careers. Even Rio Ferdinand, who is sitting on the bench, must be wondering what the hell he is doing. At the other end of the scale, there is rarely a sniff of a young player coming through.
Two years ago, when they finished bottom, I thought they were rancid in the Premier League. It was as bad as I have seen in terms of a group of players with passion and spirit and caring for their club and their badge. I don’t believe that’s the case this time round. The spat between players and staff and fans at Burnley was hardly a good sign (those travelling supporters must be fed up with seeing them lose on the road), yet the home form shows they are capable of playing with purpose and unity when they go 4-4-2 and are busy and direct.
Commentating at Loftus Road this season for the Man City and Liverpool games, I felt that old gantry we work on rock from the passion in the ground. The cameras are wobbling, the seats and benches feel as if they are going to collapse into the crowd. The atmosphere is marvellous. The ultimate test of the club culture, though, is away from home, where QPR are flaky.
The biggest surprise in this respect was the return of Adel Taarabt to the team at Burnley. There is a talent in Taarabt, but he is not the name you would pick in a fight for your life. To justify his place he would need to score 30 goals a season. And to choose him for a tough away fixture is to take a real risk with the spirit of the side.
I have never seen Harry Redknapp seethe the way he did with two minutes to go against Burnley. His players struggle away from that tight environment they love so much at Loftus Road. As one of the most experienced managers around, he knows they have more talent than some of those around them in the table. The question is whether they have the attitude and determination to stay in the Premier League.
They desperately need to, with potential FFP penalties creeping up on them if they go back down to the Championship, and they must not kid themselves that home form will save them. Starting with Manchester United this weekend, the big names are coming to that tight stadium where Les Ferdinand put me in the net.