Will Joey Barton become a financial burden like Jimmy Bullard?

Preparations for QPR’s return to the top flight, after a 15 year absence, started poorly and got gradually worse. A steep rise in ticket prices, uncertainty over manager Neil Warnock’s future, uncertainty in the boardroom and talisman Adel Taarabt heavily linked with a move to PSG. A transfer budget of £1.25m, used to activate a clause in DJ Campbell’s 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 confirmed the fans’ worst fears, then Malaysian businessman Tony Fernandes rode in to town and their fortunes appeared to improve overnight.

A surprise win at Everton was accompanied by the arrivals of Anton Ferdinand, Armand Traore, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Luke Young and Jason Puncheon, alongside their new captain Joey Barton, who signed on a free transfer that was 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. All of a sudden, the reluctance of top flight clubs to risk signing Barton appears justified. At 29 with substantial, widely-publicised baggage, he is nothing if not a risk. Barton led his side with distinction on Saturday, opening the scoring as Rangers thrashed Wolves at Molineux, although he also had to be restrained as he left the pitch amid claims of being elbowed in a late challenge.

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. A £5m signing in January 2009 on a four-and-a-half year deal worth £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, with concerns over his fitness scuppering 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 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, removing 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 Joey Barton if required, but they have smashed through their wage ceiling to accommodate the transfer and Adel Taarabt is already angling for a pay rise. If they stay up, the risk will be justified, although the chances of him knuckling down without incident for the duration of his contract are slim to none. If Barton does erupt then the collateral damage may be more than just monetary.

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