The QPR Verdict: Why Neil Warnock’s January transfer strategy is a risky business
As the season approaches its critical point, the Rangers manager’s plans to put his faith in youth represents a gamble
After a first half of the season which slipped into alarming decline QPR are now approaching the period which is likely to make or break their Premier League survival hopes.
Rangers’ last 10 games of the season represent the fixture list from hell: trips to Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City, and home matches with Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool.
The most optimistic fan would accept that if Rangers are not comfortably clear of the drop zone by the time they commence that run against Liverpool on March 17, the final weeks of the campaign are likely to see Neil Warnock’s men embroiled in a fight to avoid a swift return to the Championship.
However, that daunting run-in is unlikely to define QPR’s season. Their fate will largely be decided by the results of the next nine games between now and a visit to Bolton Wanderers on March 10.
After their trip to Newcastle on January 15, the Rs will play six games against sides currently sitting in the bottom half of the table, including the bottom three of Bolton, Wigan and Blackburn.
By the time they embark on that run at St James’ Park, the likelihood is that several more new faces will have joined Federico Macheda at Loftus Road, as Warnock continues his quest to add to his squad with the players he believes will be capable of maintaining QPR’s Premier League status.
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Whoever those players are, they will need to have the stomach for a fight. Relegation is now a very real possibility, and to avoid it Warnock needs players with mental fortitude, tough characters who will relish the prospect of difficult trips north to the likes of Ewood Park and The Reebok Stadium.
That is why striker Macheda, signed on loan from champions Manchester United until the end of the season, is a surprising addition, and a move which may benefit Sir Alex Ferguson more than QPR.
Macheda made just 20 Premier League appearances for United between May 2009 and this month, while 14 games on loan with Italian side Sampdoria last season failed to produce a single goal.
Yet now the 20-year-old finds himself thrust into what is likely to become a relegation fight. He will be expected to settle quickly; time to adapt is a luxury rarely afforded by a club demanding instant results.
In that sense, Warnock’s plan to sign youngsters on loan from the top six or seven Premier League clubs is a potentially risky strategy. In difficult times such as these it is often experienced figures with cool heads and a calming influence, rather than untried youngsters, which can lead a team to recovery.
Macheda’s arrival within hours of the window opening certainly highlights the determination within Loftus Road to avoid a repeat of last summer’s fiasco, when three months’ worth of transfer business was squeezed into barely two weeks in August after Tony Fernandes completed his takeover.
It is crucial that Warnock’s new signings succeed where the players brought in during the summer have struggled. Those players, with the exceptions of the dependable Luke Young at right-back and perhaps centre-back Anton Ferdinand, have failed to lift a team drifting towards the drop zone.
Upon closer inspection QPR’s summer dealings were less than wholly successful. Some of those signings – the likes of Jason Puncheon and Bruno Perone spring to mind – simply have not worked.
Equally problematic have been the players who were left out of the 25-man squad, but who have not signed permanent deals elsewhere. The likes of Patrick Agyemang and Rob Hulse are surplus to requirements yet remain on the wage bill, and would Hogan Ephraim, now on loan at Charlton, really have had less of an impact than Puncheon?
Warnock has largely escaped criticism for those failings due to the nature of his situation under the previous ownership of Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone. But such off-field restrictions are no longer a factor. Warnock now has the full vocal and financial backing of his chairman and the success or failure of this campaign now rests entirely on his ability to get the best out of both his established players and those he brings in.
Such is the emphasis the QPR boss has placed on this transfer window that there is a sense that everything rests on the impact of the signings who arrive at Loftus Road by January 31.
Warnock has arrived at the critical point of his time as QPR manager, and the transfer window which he has been talking up for so long will either be his saviour or his curse.
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