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Aug 4, 2014

How to avoid relegation

The FC crew previews QPR's return to the Premier League and discusses what we can expect from the Hoops.

This year, the Premier League welcomes Leicester City, Burnley and Queens Park Rangers back into its profitable embrace. But how will they survive against the big boys? Iain Macintosh offers five helpful tips.

Don't panic

Contrary to popular opinion, newly promoted teams actually have a good chance of survival. Of the 15 teams that have come up in the past five years, only four have gone straight back down again. In 2011-12, all three of the new boys escaped the drop. QPR were perhaps rather fortunate and were spared on the final day, but Swansea and Norwich secured respectable midtable finishes.

Last season also proved that there's no need to freak out in the face of an appalling start. Sunderland picked up just one point in their first eight games under the catastrophic, but mercifully brief, tenure of Paolo di Canio, but Gus Poyet still managed to save them. Crystal Palace lost nine of their first 10 games, yet Tony Pulis was able to drag them up to 11th place by the season's end.

Also, don't be distracted by talk of a magical 40-point barrier. The last time more than 39 points were required to secure safety was in 2002-03 when poor West Ham went down with 42 points on the board. In 2009-10, you could have stayed up with 30 points and a goal difference of minus-39.

Don't be afraid to be yourself

With all that in mind, there's no pressing need for free-flowing teams to sacrifice their values just because they're in the Premier League. Last season, eyebrows were raised at the prospect of Hull City and their back three, a formation that was still something of a rarity. However, the Tigers won four of their first 10 games and were never really in any danger.

In 2011-12, Brendan Rodgers refused to compromise his exciting Swansea team and was duly rewarded with 11th place and a shot at the Liverpool job. That same season, Paul Lambert's tactical versatility secured 12th place for Norwich City and won him the Aston Villa job, though doubtless he views that as something of a booby prize now.

You don't have to feel under pressure to play classy either. West Ham's lumpy but effective style carried them to 10th place in 2012-13. And even if you are doomed to go down, there is at least a certain dignity in going with your sword in your hand.

No one gave Blackpool a chance when their bargain-bucket team tried to freestyle itself out of danger and, annoyingly, they were right. But only just. On the final day of the 2010-11 season, Blackpool still had survival in their hands.

If you're going to make a change, make it early

With tens of millions of pounds of TV revenue on the line, it's hardly surprising that so many terrified owners find themselves making wild, Hail Mary managerial appointments as the season comes to an end. But it doesn't always work. In fact, it hardly ever works. Di Canio's unexpected appointment at Sunderland in 2013 was a rare example to the contrary, though given that the Italian won only two of his seven games, you could argue that circumstances elsewhere played their part in the Black Cats' survival.

Paolo di Canio's short-term boost to Sunderland did not extend into the 2013-14 season.

Usually, these late appointments are only as successful as the last thrashings of a drowning man. In 2009, Alan Shearer's April Fools' Day hiring ended with relegation for Newcastle. In mid-March 2010, Hull's decision to sack Phil Brown and replace him with Iain Dowie ended the same way. Last year, it was Norwich's turn to gamble, dumping Chris Hughton with only five games to go and allowing youth coach Neil Adams the honour of taking the bridge just as the ship keeled over.

It's far better, surely, to bring in an experienced manager and give him the time to at least learn the players' names before the curtain falls.

Avoid cursed players

Some people are born lucky. Champions League winner Djimi Traore, I'm looking in your direction. Some, sadly, are not. Take Hermann Hreidarsson, for example. An entirely competent centre-back, he was relegated with Crystal Palace in 1998, Wimbledon in 2000, Ipswich Town in 2002, Charlton Athletic in 2007 and Portsmouth in 2010. And what about Nathan Blake, capped 29 times for Wales but demoted four times with Sheffield United, Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers and Wolves? Ashley Ward, Nigel Quashie, Marcus Bent -- some people are just synonymous with relegation.

- Premier League previews

You can make a good argument for simply avoiding them for superstitious reasons, but perhaps a better argument would be to recognise the way you are perceived. Do you want to be seen as the tired club, lacking ideas and strategy, reaching out for the same old faces? Do you want to cultivate an atmosphere of success or resignation? It wasn't solely Hreidarsson's fault that so many of his teams were relegated, but what did it say about every team that signed him? Albert Einstein had a word for people who did the same thing over and over again expecting different results. It wasn't very polite.

Buy whom you need, not whom an agent insists you need

On June 21, 2012, Queens Park Rangers signed England goalkeeper Rob Green on a lucrative two-year deal. On Aug. 29, 2012, Queens Park Rangers signed Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar on a lucrative four-year deal. In the space of one transfer window, the West London side agreed to pay two goalkeepers more than many Championship sides pay their entire squads. And that wasn't the end of it. In all departments the squad filled up with entirely unsuitable, highly paid footballers, all unable, or unwilling, to prevent the club's demise.

Owner Tony Fernandes would later admit, "I allowed myself to be exploited." He wasn't wrong. Between their triumphant promotion in 2011 and inevitable relegation in 2013, QPR wasted tens of millions of pounds on transfer fees, wages and commissions to agents.

One simple choice faces every newly promoted club now that the TV revenues are so eye-wateringly high: either take the first-year money and invest it directly in the team or back your existing squad to compete, safe in the knowledge that the TV money and four years of parachute payments mean even 38 straight defeats is essentially a lottery win capable of funding epochal investment in the club.

Giving all that cash straight to agents, players and other clubs, on balance, is not a great idea. For QPR's sake, you hope Fernandes has learned his lesson this time.

Iain Macintosh

Iain Macintosh is a U.K. football correspondent for The New Paper in Singapore, writer for ESPN and co-author of "Football Manager Stole My Life" from @backpagepress. You can follow him on Twitter @iainmacintosh.

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