Between them, Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp have presided over a catastrophic Premier League campaign: Hughes in charge for 12 games, Redknapp the remaining 26, only 23 of which it took to condemn them to relegation. And yet the reaction to their two tenures could not be more different. So firmly entrenched is disgust with the man who began the campaign that you could easily forget that ‘Arry’s reign itself comprised only four league wins, a slew of goalless draws and a comical January transfer window in which Christopher Samba received an almost messianic welcome upon his return from Russian exile before it turned out he was little more than a very naughty boy.
Defending Hughes would be a pointless exercise. Having ended last season with a stern, wrinkled promise that QPR would never again face relegation so long as he was in charge, he duly took a shortcut to the realisation of this prophecy by overseeing a 5-0 home defeat to Swansea City on the opening day. Eleven winless games later and he was out of the door. Nobody in their right mind would claim that Hughes did a good job, his own players and fans having been vocally delighted to see the back of him. But that was in November.
Since then Hughes has, if stereotypes prevail, spent most of his time playing golf in between stints sat by the beach, a holiday paid for entirely by his own incompetence. If at any point he tuned himself back in to the tos and fros of the Premier League, he would have had every right to feel somewhat vindicated by QPR’s continued nose dive. At least until he realised he was still getting the blame for every bad result.
It was easy to forget him at first, with the players showing some intent to stick to the narrative of Redknapp’s Great Escape. Adel Taarabt did a couple of decent things before reverting to his usual state of ambivalence, Bobby Zamora and Loic Remy played well enough once for Harry to spend weeks publicly waging his hopes upon the resumption of their Cole and Yorke style understanding when (or if) they ever stopped being injured. They even beat Chelsea away from home, the implications being clear: Redknapp was getting the best out of them. Hughes was a distant memory.
But when they failed to convert this temporary upstart into anything sustained, when relegation once again loomed and finally proved inevitable, everything changed. Redknapp, so undoubtedly responsible for those good results they did manage, was suddenly absolved of all responsibility for the campaign of which he was in charge for two thirds. Forget their wild expenditure, pitiful attacking form and the general defensive shambles typified by a behemoth Hughes hadn’t been within a thousand miles of in his own tenure. This was all Sparky’s fault. For Redknapp this was a free hit. Come in, hope the lads can turn everything around, take the credit for the good and say the bad was unavoidable. It was all because of his dastardly predecessor.
The thing is, Hughes probably won’t care. Unlike Redknapp his chance of future employment rests not upon public opinion but simply on the fact that he’s a familiar name who’s managed some clubs before with moderate success and others with slightly less moderate failure. He’s tried and tested, which for many chairmen is of more importance than the matter of how those tests actually panned out. That he could even be considered as a potential Pulis replacement at Stoke is a laughable testament to this very fact.
In truth, this points to the factor that cursed both Hughes and Redknapp in their fruitless efforts. QPR are a becoming a parody of the modern football club, clueless ownership pumping money down the drain in a desperate attempt to secure Premier League status. Which for a club of their stature, their weekly attendance, almost feels unnatural. They have not been put in this situation by the greed of their fans or any of their older guard, the Clint Hills and Jamie Mackies of this world. They have been colonised by investors seeking a cheap London-based brand, attracting mercenarys from across the board ready to jump on a sinking ship for the right signing-on fee.
Whether Redknapp can be tarnished with this same brush is unclear. In principle his commitment to stay at the club and fight for their return to the top flight seems admirable. How long will this last, though, if the rag-tag ensemble of those who can’t or won’t take a wage cut to keep playing in the top flight starts next season on the same note as this? He will be ready and able at any time to negotiate another severance, his reputation intact thanks to the man who was thrown overboard long ago.
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