With the 2012-13 English Premier League season on the horizon, Tezini’s crew of soccer experts is here to get you ready for all the cracking finishes, devilish challenges and unforgettable drama. Over the next two weeks, we’ll give each club its proper due in a free-flowing roundtable discussion. We continue with Queens Park Rangers.
AJ: Despite a heartbreaking loss to champions Manchester City on the final day of the 2011-12 season and Joey Barton’s appalling and theatrical exit from that match, QPR survived their return to the top flight — but just barely. You have to think 37 points won’t be good enough for a third season in the Premier League and so manager Mark Hughes has had his work cut out for him this summer. The question, at this point, is has he done enough to make QPR significantly better?
In are Park Ji-Sung, Robert Green, my namesake Andrew Johnson and Ryan Nelsen, along with Fabio on loan, and I have to say I’m not convinced that all that will be enough to make them anything more than potential relegation fodder. [Ed. Note: They have since also signed the terrific Junior Hoilett.] But there is a load of experience there that may win just enough — albeit in a very ugly fashion — to survive another day. QPR strikes me as a club that has come up to the Premier League and made a classic mistake — purchasing expensive and aging “established” Premier League stars that, if they break down or just begin to fade, will ultimately seal the club’s fate. Maybe that won’t be the case, though. Hughes doesn’t win pretty, but it’s hard to say he hasn’t been a success at his last few stops. Sticking with him, for now, might just be the right way to go.
Mark: I somewhat disagree on them not being more than relegation fodder, but honestly that’s based more on feel than anything. The Park Ji-Sung signing I thought was shrewd and adds a bit of energy to a squad that surprisingly lacked it last season (and allows Notorious PJS, one of the few Manchester United players I legitimately enjoyed) to rampage on a regular basis, just as Andrew Johnson rampaged through the Europa (if not Premier) League. A full season of Bobby Zamora is better than half a season, and frankly, once Joey Barton comes back from his severely justified ban, I think this team is decent in the way of attacking options, particularly if Adel Taarabt can keep his head screwed on straight. I think the problem is going to be the back line; QPR let up more goals last season than any team that wasn’t relegated, and I’m not necessarily a believer in Ryan Nelsen as curer-of-defensive-ills, though I suppose former Arsenal man Armand Traore could finally live up to his potential. I’d pip them to have a better season than last — there’s just too much talent and experience to see them drop off — but an aging squad like this is always three injuries away from running completely off the rails.
Sidenote: I was in Morocco in January, and came within inches of buying a Taarabt Moroccan national team jersey, but spent the Moroccan Dirham equivalent of $20 US on a camel ride and a tagine instead, bringing me much more satisfaction. Somehow, this sums up QPR for me.
AJ: Well, it’s taken awhile, but I think we have our first case of complete and total disagreement. It’s good. It’s healthy.
Let’s start with Park Ji-Sung. He wasn’t terribly expensive (rumored to be between £2-5 million), but QPR aren’t spending loads so any outlay like this is significant to some degree. He’s also 31, was a shell of himself last season and hasn’t been a legitimate regular in a Starting XI in years. And he was sold by Manchester United; Sir Alex Ferguson seems notorious for cutting bait on this type of rapidly declining player at exactly the right time. I would know having watched Alan Smith and Nicky Butt at Newcastle United in recent years. I think this is a terrible signing, particularly since QPR probably needs someone reliable in the midfield with two headcases — Barton and Taarabt — their brightest talents in that part of the park.
Moving on to Barton, I can’t see any way QPR holds on to him, other than by default (because no one will pay his wages and he won’t leave), so while I think he’s quite a good midfielder, I can’t see any way he’s a factor for this team. Mark Hughes seems resolved to play anyone but him if at all possible. Even if he does … oh, yes. He’s going to be 30 on Sept. 2 as well.
Bobby Zamora? 31. Djibril Cisse? You guessed it. He’s about to be 31. DJ Campbell? 31 in November. QPR, particularly up front and in the central midfield, have a bunch of talents that would be semi-questionable even if they weren’t all getting old. The fact that they happen to be aging rapidly too is extra concerning.
Now that I size up the Hoops at a little bit closer range, I think this could all go sour pretty quickly. I’ll give you this much, though. Taarabt is terrific. Any success they have is probably going to come as a byproduct of his mercurial skills. I just don’t see much else here that is reason for real optimism.
Mark: It really depends on the terms on which you’re having the debate. Having thought that QPR woefully underachieved last season compared to the other EPL newcomers, I guess I’d hope for more, and I don’t necessarily believe there’s enough steepness in that hill for them to climb from 17th to 14th, for example. For all the talk about Wigan’s run at the end of the season, QPR dispatched Liverpool, Tottenham, and Arsenal and were The Most Amazing Comeback in the History of Sport and Christendom© away from defeating eventual champions Manchester City. As for a player I forgot to mention, I think Alejandro Faurlin, coming off a nasty injury, may ultimately be crucial to them. He has a little Mikel Arteta in him, methinks, and formed a nice partnership with Barton at the beginning of the season.
Agree to disagree on Park — his passing is still something they could absolutely use, he’s always tracked back well, his work rate is high, and while he doesn’t cross the ball particularly well, they’re not going to be asking him to do that. I also have a suspicion that he has a lot of miles left for a 31-year-old, especially considering that he didn’t log many minutes for Man U the past few seasons. I don’t think the idea of him having better players ahead of him at United while also believing he has plenty in the tank to be vital for a team like QPR are mutually exclusive.
This gets to a point that we’ve casually discussed before, and that’s the increased parity of the league at large. At the top, we’re seeing more contenders for Champions League places and more “shocking” defeats of the Big Four (Six? Seven?), but for the bottom, say, seven teams, the margin for error is razor-thin to the point that we’re discussing whether a 31-year-old Park or a healthy Faurlin is going to stave off relegation.
Sam: Love Alejandro and not just because of the Lady Gaga song. He’s very creative. While everything Mark said is true, it doesn’t discount AJ’s points about the genuine age of this team. They’re old, and old guys are either a) injury prone or b) about to fall off a cliff in terms of speed/fitness.
I still don’t think they’re worse than at least three other teams, but I think they will end up solidly in the bottom half of the table.
The question for me isn’t whether they will be in the relegation zone, because I don’t see that happening, but whether they can legitimately compete on a week-to-week basis with the Stokes of the EPL. My answer is no.
And as much as you guys love him, I’ve really soured on Taarabt. I don’t think he’s going to put it together. He reminds me of Ricardo Quaresma.
AJ: You don’t think he’s going to put it together because he’s a lunatic or because there’s a flaw in his game? If it’s the latter, please elaborate. [Ed. Note: We never did get an answer.]
I’m digging in here. I think this team, absent a major signing or two to bolster both the midfield and the backline, is a great candidate for relegation. In fact, what sides are worse than them on paper? The only one I see is Reading.
Mark: Knowing nothing about Southampton, I’m going to say Southampton as well. I also am not a believer in Norwich, which breaks my heart to say, and I’ll get at more in our highly-anticipated Norwich preview.
Sam: I would throw Swansea out there as well, as I am a believer that without Rogers they could have a serious sophomore slump.
Mark: Also, Wigan is worse than QPR.
AJ: Conjecture. I’ll take Wigan’s youth and upside over QPR’s stale nursing home stench, though I admit there’s a hint of wishing and hoping in there as I say that.
Sam: And QPR has just completed the signing of Junior Hoilett, who is exactly the type of player that they need. I am personally very high on him and believe that he struggled last season mainly due to injury. It also adds youth to the squad in the form of someone other than Taarabt.
Personally I think this signing, in addition to any other minor moves they make to fill out their squad, will ensure their survival.
Mark: I don’t mean to sound like a nag — but Sam is there any footballer in the world under the age of 23 that you’re not “high on?” I ask because I suffer from a very similar syndrome across all sports (ask me any time about the Cincinnati Bengals’ last three drafts), but I think in particular we — as well as every major club in the world — have a tendency to vastly overrate potential. The only sport I think suffers from the same tendency is the NBA, though I’ve long held that this is mostly because we get to watch a bunch of 19-year-olds in freshly-tailored suits walk across a stage each year, and it’s just hard not to be mesmerized by that.
None of this is to take away from Hoilett, who I like as well (and, as a bonus, is Canadian). His willingness to run at defenders with the ball brings an element that QPR could certainly use, and I think if he’s paired on the wing opposite Notorious PJS, that could be an outfit that causes a few problems for opposing defenders.
Look I’m not saying Hoilett is the second coming of Messi. Obviously, there are different levels of talent and I could give you a list of the players that I’m highest on and they would generally be the most talented players.
I was never high on Freddy Adu either. Or Gael Kakuta, Josh McEachern and Romelu Lukaku (JUST KIDDING).
Mark: I’m actually not very high on Gael Kakuta either, if we’re going down this rabbit hole.