Jim White

New Year, new QPR?

Jim White

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There are many questions to be asked about football as the New Year gets underway. Such as: if Mario Balotelli is being paid £150,000 a week for the princely return of one goal and no assists this season, where can the rest of us find an employer as generous as his?

And why did Chelsea feel the need to play in white the other day away at Norwich? Are their players no longer able to distinguish between yellow and blue? Also how long will it be before referees stop allowing their reputations to be continuously assaulted and actually apply some technology to help them in their task?

But the biggest question surely centres around the man who currently looks more miserable than the weather. This time last year, when he was sitting cheerfully near the top of the Premier League, apparently anointed as the next England manager, seemingly able to dictate his own terms to take on the job he had always wanted, could Harry Redknapp have envisaged that merely 12 months later he would be in the footballing equivalent of purgatory, just waiting for the summons to head downstairs?

No wonder he resembles a bulldog channelling the spirit of Jack Dee. Just at the point he thought his career was going to enter its final flourish, he has seen it go into free-fall. And judging by the way his team played against Liverpool, things are not about to get any better. Harry looks as if he is going to go out a loser.

Of one thing we can be certain: the mess at Queens Park Rangers is not of Redknapp’s making. Recently, during his lecture to business students at Harvard, Sir Alex Ferguson referred to his several former players who had gone into management.

“I taught them everything they know,” he said. Before adding with a wry smile: “but I didn’t teach them everything I know.”

After suffering from Mark Hughes’s bizarre, cack-handed stewardship for two seasons, Rangers fans are all too aware of that. Though you might imagine it didn’t require lessons from Ferguson to understand that buying in a bunch of second-rate players and paying them superstar salaries was unlikely to be the best way to progress his club.

But even if he is not responsible for the dire position in which he finds himself, you have to wonder whether even a man of Redknapp’s proven record of escapology has the resources to sort out a mess this intractable.

Saddled with the not good enough and the not interested, he now has a month-long opportunity to do the impossible: bring in sufficient number of better players to make a difference. It is not an easy sales proposition.

Quite why anyone would want to join a club in QPR’s position at this point of the season is hard to fathom. Unless it is for vast financial return. And such a recruitment policy is hardly going to help a dressing room already split asunder by the consequence of salary discrepancy. It seems that half the squad are accusing the other half of being cynical mercenaries, there for the cash and unwilling to put in the necessary graft. They don’t need any more divisions.

Redknapp was talking fondly yesterday of the merits of Frank Lampard and how he would love to bring the man likely to be tearing Rangers' miserable under-achievers apart this evening to the club. Well, yes, Lampard would be a brilliant signing for the hoops. Not just a fine Premier League player, but the kind of hard-working self-improver who would set precisely the kind of dressing room tone so evidently missing at Loftus Road.

Can you imagine Shaun Wright-Phillips or Jose Bosingwa being quite as cavalier in the Rangers cause with Lampard around? This is a man who always puts in a shift and makes it pretty clear he expects his team-mates to do likewise.

But, whatever family pull Redknapp might be trying to exert, the chances of Lampard joining his uncle are about as high as those of Carlos Tevez issuing a dinner invite to Gary Neville. It isn’t going to happen.

Instead, in as precise a definition of the old Hollywood casting adage of “you want, you’d settle for, you get” as you could conjure up, the best Redknapp is likely to be able to recruit is Joe Cole. Nice a guy as he might be, right now Cole is about as likely to lead anyone out of a hole as George Osborne.

What Redknapp needs if he is to stand any chance of escaping is a decent keeper, a good centre-back, a couple of reasonable full-backs, a defensive midfielder and a prolific striker. Most of a team, in other words. And by his own admission, the king of the wheel and deal will find it impossible to do that sort of business in January.

This is a time, he says, of stupid agents and greedy chairmen. A time when desperation forces people to do ridiculous things – like paying £35 million for Andy Carroll. In other words, come the end of the month, we can expect Redknapp to have struck a deal to bring Balotelli to Loftus Road.

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