QPR suffer Premier League relegation but their real issues are just beginning
Teams that are relegated from the Premier League generally fall into a few categories. There are those who were over-achieving by simply getting to the top flight, there are previously big names fallen on hard times and there are clubs for whom you fear the pain is only just starting.
You could argue that QPR fall into all three of those categories but after their demotion to the Championship was confirmed in sadly appropriate style by a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Manchester City on Sunday, the third is unfortunately the most likely.
This season at Loftus Road has been about as depressing as it's possible for a Premier League campaign to be. Before Harry Redknapp's departure in February they hadn't won a single game away, and they haven't tasted victory at home since. Their fans have seen a collection of players who should really be better amble around aimlessly, some not caring, some not good enough, far too many both. After relegation was confirmed, several members of the first team (as well as manager Chris Ramsey) either hinted or explicitly stated that it was basically a divided dressing room and that some of the squad simply weren't trying hard enough.
In short, it's a complete mess, and has been for some time. Redknapp is obviously the first and easiest person to blame for the shambles that has ensued; he did indeed lay the calamitous foundations for their demise. It was he that constructed an imbalanced squad (and then complained at how imbalanced it was), he who presided over a start to the season that gathered just 19 points from 23 games and he who quit a few hours after the transfer window closed, leaving a new man no chance to shape his own squad.
As an aside, Redknapp recently declared himself "fit as a fiddle" and available for work, which was certainly an eyebrow-raiser considering he resigned because his knee apparently wouldn't allow him to stand up through games. Whichever surgeon operated on that leg of his must be a genuine magician.
It would be harsh to blame only Redknapp, though. Ramsey gets something of an easy ride largely due to the scale of the task he was handed, because he also seems like a good, straightforward man and by all accounts is a good coach. However, since he took over, QPR have won just two games. They have collected eight points from a possible 39. The "new manager bounce" that looked like QPR's best chance for survival saw them lose six of his first seven games in charge. Ramsey, to say the least, has not exactly enhanced his chances of getting a permanent job.
Of course, it would miss the point spectacularly to blame any single manager for the state QPR currently find themselves in. Ramsey claimed after the game on Sunday: "I think the owners will save us from going over the edge. We have very good owners and board members that will make sure we put something in place so QPR don't end up like some of the other teams that have slid all the way down the divisions and ended up in the financial mire."
The problem being that there is little to no evidence for this. The malaise at Loftus Road is so deep-rooted that it's impossible to see how anything other than a change in ownership or approach can properly correct it. From the infamous "four-year plan" of the previous custodians to the "throw money at it" approach of Tony Fernandes, QPR is a club that has suffered from flawed thinking and cluelessness for years.
Indeed, not a great deal needs to be added to this, written back in January: "Expensive solutions to expensive mistakes have been sought, which themselves were deemed necessary in an attempt to correct previous expensive mistakes. It's a spiral of muddled thinking designed entirely to maintain their Premier League status for the long-awaited move to a new stadium [just down the road, as part of a wide-ranging commercial project involving hotels and retail outlets], but in fact seems counterproductive and could damage their long-term football prospects."
So it has come to pass, and that conclusion didn't exactly require a great deal of incisive analysis.
The most depressing thing is that it's tough to see things getting better in a hurry for QPR. With a colossal wage bill (higher than Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund's, in their most recent figures) it's tempting to call for the first team to be torn down and started again but obviously that's much easier said than done; QPR have a collection of high-earning, under-performing players that will be tricky to get rid of.
Who in their squad will they be able to sell and recoup any sort of real money? Charlie Austin certainly, Steven Caulker probably, Leroy Fer and Matt Phillips possibly, though Caulker and Fer could be tainted by two successive relegations. The remainder of the playing staff are all loans, the wrong side of 30, just simply not very good or injury-prone. Or all of the above.
The other rather sizeable fly in their increasingly congealed ointment is a looming FFP judgement that the Football League are currently deliberating. Clubs who have previously breached the spending regulations have been given fines or transfer embargoes: the former would be a problem, but the latter could be utterly debilitating.
Relegation has been a grim inevitability for some time but the truly depressing thing is that this could be just the start of the bad news for QPR.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.