Preparations for Queens Park Rangers’ return to the Premier League, after a 15 year absence, started poorly and got gradually worse. A steep rise in ticket prices, uncertainty over manager Neil Warnock’s future, confusion in the boardroom and talisman Adel Taarabt heavily linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain all loomed on the horizon before the season even started.
A transfer budget of £1.25m, used to activate a clause in DJ Campbell’s Blackpool contract, resulted in transfer targets including Danny Graham and Wayne Routledge opting for Swansea instead, while QPR were forced to bolster their ranks with free transfers. A 4-0 home thrashing by Bolton Wanderers confirmed the fans worst fears, but then Malaysian businessman Tony Fernandes rode in to town and their fortunes appeared to improve overnight.
A surprise win at Everton was followed by the arrivals of Anton Ferdinand, Armand Traore, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Luke Young, Jason Puncheon, alongside their new captain Joey Barton, on a free transfer that was reportedly anything but. If the figures quoted are to be believed, the outlay on Barton involved £2.5m on agent’s fees, a £1.5m signing on fee, £40,000 a week, and a four-year contract with a £250,000 bonus if QPR retain their Premier League status.
When quizzed on the sums of money involved, Warnock dismissed the claims: “No
For a lesson in the potential pitfalls involved in overextending to acquire a marquee signing, QPR need look no further than Hull City, who finally rid themselves of Jimmy Bullard’s financial burden this summer. Signed for £5m in January 2009, on a four-and-a-half year deal for £45,000 a week, Bullard arrived as Hull sought to retain their Premier League status after a promising start to the season. Bullard not only represented a financial risk, but concerns over his fitness scuppered his chances of a new deal at Fulham and interest from further up the league table. Those concerns were justified as Bullard badly injured his troublesome knee on his Hull debut and he did not return to action until the following October.
He suffered a further knee injury in December that ruled him out for the next couple of months and Hull were eventually relegated, resulting in them budgeting for a return to the Championship, having to factor in Bullard’s wages for a further three years. Hull terminated Bullard’s contract in the summer following an incident that occurred during a pre-season trip in Slovenia, freeing around 20% of their playing budget in the process, while Bullard took a £25,000 a week pay cut to join Ipswich.
Queens Park Rangers may have more financial muscle than Hull and be willing to write off the investment in Barton if required, but they have smashed through their wage ceiling to accommodate the transfer and Taarabt is already angling for a pay rise. If they stay up, the risk will be justified. If Barton erupts, the chances of him knuckling down without incident for the duration of his contract are slim-to-none, and the collateral damage may be more than just monetary.