Premier League 25-man squad rule holds the key to QPR’s spending
Warnock wants players - but can he find place for them?
Neil Warnock spoke confidently about the future on Saturday, yet the task of transforming his squad to one capable of achieving Premier League survival looks anything but simple.
At his post-match press conference, after seeing his under-prepared side exposed by Bolton Wanderers, Warnock said: “Every manager would tell you they’d like players. I would love two or three top players in the next fortnight – but I’m confident I’ll get them.”
He was referring of course to the prospective takeover by Malaysian businessman Tony Fernandes, who as the Times went to press appeared set to acquire Bernie Ecclestone’s majority share in the club and take his place on the board alongside co-owners Lakshmi Mittal and Flavio Briatore.
Fernandes, the fans hope, will be QPR’s saviour, the one who will release the funds which will allow Warnock to make the signings he desperately needs, namely, a full-back, a centre-back and a winger.
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Yet Warnock, whose summer transfer dealings have thus far been restricted to free transfers and the �1.25 million for Blackpool’s DJ Campbell, admitted the height of his ambition is to bring in one, or possibly two, Premier League loan signings before August 31.
The reason for this? The Premier League 25-man squad rule, which Rangers are encountering for the first time this summer, and which is proving a headache for the men upstairs at Loftus Road.
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Under Premier League rules, every club must name a maximum of 25 senior players by 5pm on September 1. Eight must be ‘home-grown’, players registered with an English club for three years between their 16th and 21st birthdays, and the squad can be supplemented by an unlimited number of players under 21.
There are home-grown players aplenty at QPR, including the likes of Hogan Ephraim, Matt Connolly, Bradley Orr and Clint Hill.
But there is little in the way of youth talent at the club – thanks to the owners’ failure to invest in the future – and Warnock’s problem is that QPR already have a squad of 30 senior players. The manager is burdened with individuals who will not make the final cut, but having not yet been shipped out, will stay on the wage bill without kicking a ball.
Lee Cook, Martin Rowlands, Rowan Vine and Gary Borrowdale all fit this category. All remain QPR players, on contracts often reported to be in line with Premier League valuations, and as yet no club has offered to take them on.
Warnock’s squad is horribly imbalanced. He has only one natural left-back in Hill, and has no confidence in Orr at right-back, choosing to start Dyer in pre-season and against Bolton.
A midfield geared towards attacking players supporting a lone striker needs at least one more defensively-minded player to support Shaun Derry and Alejandro Faurlin, while Warnock also wants to bring in another wide-man, possibly Southampton’s Jason Puncheon.
But with 25 senior players already at his disposal, someone will have to make way. Suddenly the likes of the injured Jamie Mackie, and second-string figures like Rob Hulse and Patrick Agyemang find themselves at risk of being left out, barely two weeks before the transfer window shuts – more inactive players sitting in the stands but staying on the wage bill.
This is a problem for the owners, and it is one which they, along with chairman Gianni Paladini, have created themselves, indulging in signings without ever trimming the squad, or wage bill, and consistently failing to implement any form of youth policy.
Only now have they seemingly recognised the need to do so, by point-blank refusing to shell out any more money, and that dawning comes at the very point at which the club most needs financial backing.
To borrow Warnock’s words: “To take a giant step in staying up, like we planned from the word go.”
Having Fernandes on board would be a step in the right direction for QPR; this is a man, despite his allegiance to West Ham, who does have a genuine interest in Premier League football and something of an understanding of the way the relationship between the board and the manager should function.
But while he will offer Warnock support in the sense that the manager’s job would finally appear to be safe, he is unlikely to provide the ‘war chest’ some are expecting.
Not until QPR balance their squad – and their wage bill – is any serious cash likely to be invested. And if that doesn’t come before August 31, it may well prove too late to save QPR from a fate which many already deem inevitable – relegation back to the Championship.
Follow Ian Cooper on Twitter @QPRTimes