The publishing of QPR’s accounts, which show an annual loss of £65.4m, taking the net debt to just over £177m, tells its own story about the state of the club under its Malaysian owners, fronted by Tony Fernandes.
Fernandes, belatedly, has his fair share of detractors, and they’ll have their pound of flesh today, mostly with the benefit of hindsight, as was the case when it eventually became trendy to poke fun at the previously lauded Flavio Briatore.
Anyone unfortunate enough to follow me on Twitter, or worse know me personally, will know what my thoughts have been since the early days of Fernandes’ chairmanship. That debate is done and dusted. Things have moved on.
There has been plenty of speculation about the financial picture at Rangers and the owners’ motives.
Last April, I suggested this could be explained by the fact that even the huge losses being incurred would be dwarfed by the potential income from moving QPR to a Canary Wharf-style redevelopment, and the club subsequently revealed their plans for a move to Old Oak.
For me the real issue is now not the losses, which are and will continue to be huge.
The key question at this stage is I think this: Can those who have presided over such a debacle, who made Rangers a template for how not to run a Premier League club, be trusted with something as important as the sale of QPR’s home, and the creation of a new one while safeguarding Rangers’ long-term interests and integrity?
For some, probably the majority, the answer will be yes. And I suspect that further down the line anyone within the various fans groups who dares express any misgivings will be shouted down.
But all objective, rational evidence based on the last two and a half years suggests alarm bells should be ringing out there.
In fact, given what’s occurred before now, and the massive difference between Fernandes’ fluffy rhetoric and what has actually happened, I’m always surprised at the absolute certainty with which many talk about a new stadium and training ground – often as if they already exist.
The words ‘Warren Farm’ seem to have taken on almost mythical significance as the answer to all QPR’s problems. And I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen and heard Warren Farm and the planned new stadium offered as enough proof that Rangers are in good hands.
I saw a message on a Rangers forum a while ago, where what seemed like a very fair-minded poster said they’d feel better once the first brick is laid at Warren Farm or a new stadium. I think that’s a very balanced and well advised position to take.
Of course, any criticism of Fernandes provokes an angry reaction from some and this will probably be no different.
A common, and totally inaccurate, perception is that Fernandes put his money where his mouth is and was simply let down by the villain of the piece, Mark Hughes.
It just didn’t happen like that. Fernandes was the driver, not the nervous passenger, and the great irony is that the popular notion that he in some way had his ‘pants taken down’ – a term coined by Harry Redknapp – would actually be a better way of describing what’s occurred under the current manager than the previous one.
More recently, Fernandes has found himself between a rock and a hard place.
Having listened to Redknapp’s view that another relegation loomed (a view I absolutely shared and would stand by) unless the board piped down and let him steer the ship, what was Fernandes to do when the manager and short-term strategy he was tied to demanded yet more players be brought in? Stop backing him mid-season?
And so the nonsense, in the shape of Yossi Benayoun and others, has continued, and Rangers, as many fans have observed, don’t look that much different to the overpaid rabble that shamed the club last season.
The bottom line though is that Fernandes, as chairman, is responsible for this. I’ve always believed his unwavering popularity meant he’d have to get through a few managers and maybe one or two CEOs before this became the accepted view, though.
There is an alternative view to the one that says Fernandes has put his money in, backed the club to the hilt, and is basically a fantastic chairman the club are incredibly lucky to have.
It goes like this…
QPR were promoted to the Premier League – the culmination of a lot of factors and hard work that preceded the then owners and even the owners before them. This included fans collecting money in buckets to help the club.
Tony Fernandes inherited that promoted club. He wasn’t involved in the process of getting Rangers to that stage.
With promotion comes a massive financial reward – a huge influx of money clubs can still benefit from even if they go down.
In QPR’s case, that money has gone – and then some, because Rangers are actually worse off for their spell in the top division.
That money, that hard-earned potentially once-in-a-generation (at best) opportunity, was the club’s. It belonged to QPR. And it’s gone. It was wasted by someone with no previous involvement in the Rangers story. That’s the harsh reality.
I know that alternative version won’t go down well with some, especially those who simply blame Hughes.
It should also be acknowledged that although Fernandes inherited a promoted club, it wasn’t a strong one in terms of infrastructure, and many of the issues his board have faced would be a challenge for anyone.
And it could be argued that the pot of gold isn’t gone forever, because an immediate return to the Premier League is still possible.
But for Rangers, having spent so obscenely, to be banking on Charlie Austin’s return and a team largely of loan signings to save them from the financial implications of failing to get promoted, is inexcusable. Questions must surely be asked even if they end up scraping home.
Fernandes insisted he’d be “the first to go” – his own words – if his appointment of Hughes ended in failure. It did.
But he didn’t go, largely because the fans didn’t want him to.
Will that change in light of the new financial figures, or even if Rangers fail to go back up? Probably not.
That shows just how effective Fernandes’ interaction with fans on Twitter and in person has been, because that’s what’s sustaining him in terms of support – he certainly can’t rely on his record as chairman.
And while it’s easy to be cynical about this, the so-called ‘£20 fans’ dismissed by Briatore are entitled to cut what is a very decent man some serious slack when he is seen to treat them with respect.
That said, the most important way of respecting the fans isn’t by holding court on Twitter or in the pubs of Shepherd’s Bush, it’s by running their club properly and carefully.
If that principle is applied, Fernandes’ position arguably became untenable long ago.