QPRs – Wealthy trio
Thanks to Grand Prix tycoons Bernie Ecclestone, and Flavio Briatoreand their mega-rich pal Lakshmi Mittal, Queens Park Ranqers are now fast lane. Can the wealthy trio create a formula for success that will have the club roaring back into the English Premier League following a 12 year exile from their country’s elite?
Queens Park Rangers were standing on the precipice Or relegation when motor-racing supremo Ecclestone – worth £2.25 billion (€2.84 billion) – and Renault boss Briatore – worth £110 million (€139 million) – rode to the West London club’s rescue in October last year to transform its fortunes. “Flavio told me he was looking to buy a restaurant. When he called me to calk about QPR, that’s what 1 thought he was talking about. The club wasn’t on my radar,” said Ecclestone, who usually watched Chelsea alongside friend Roman Abramovich.
The financial problems that had blighted Loftus Road and once pushed the club to within two hours of extinction were suddenly banished as QPR fans started taunting rivals by chanting “One-nil to the billionaires”. Together, the pair spent an estimated £20 million (€25.2 million) taking control of the club a”d clearing debts before the family of London-based Indian billionaire steel tycoon Mitral – worth a cool £19.25 billion (€24.3 billion) – acquired a fifth of the club. The well-heeled trio seem destined to challenge Abramovich and Harrods owner Mohammed al-Fayed at Fulham.
However, whilst Ecclestone and Briatore are synonymous with high-speed activities on the race track, they are determined QPR’s progress will take place at a sensible pace and are prudently setting their sights on a return to the Premier League by 2010. They have resolved not to simply bankroll the club like Abramovich at Stamford Bridge, but instead to place a firm emphasis on up-and-coming new recruits and long-term planning. “Chelsea have done fantastically and Roman has done an amazing job,” Briatore said. “They .should be proud of what they have achieved there. However, we are a Championship club and will take a different approach.”
Briatore warned fans not to expect instant success despite QPR’s status as arguably the world’s richest football club. “QPR were in a very dangerous situation and without us the club might not have existed anymore. People have very short memories and need to show a bit of patience,” said Briatore, who is chairman of QPR’s parent company alongside silent investor Mittals football-mad son-in-law, Amit Bharia, who is vice-chairman. “There is no pressure to go up this season, absolutely not, because it has always been a four-year programme. One year has passed and it wasn’t easy. This year we’re looking co consolidate and be more consistent so it’s now a three-year programme”. The Italian added: “I have come to love the club, the people and the loyalty of the supporters but we must remember this is a business and although you must love what you do, you cannot make difficult business decisions purely with your heart. We have to take it slowly, step by step. I don’t want to go up to the Premiership and come straight down again like an elevator. Little by little – that’s the way to become a leading light in English football.”
DREAMING OF ZIDANE
This cautious strategy has not stopped the club from being linked with high-profile signings such as former Real Madrid team-mates Luis Figo, Michel Salgado and even Zinedine Zidane as manager. Instead, the club appointed former striker Iain Dowie as manager and showed they were building for the future
with up-and-coming players by signing the likes of Argentinian midfielder Emmanuel Jorge Ledesma from Genoa with a view co a £2.4-mi!lion (€3-miIlion) deal, Czech goalkeeper Radek Cerny and ex-Newcastle defender Peter Ramage.
“They might only have made relatively modest signings so far in terms of transfer fees but there’s no doubt at all that Rangers will be able to pay Premier League-style wages to attract high-calibre players,’ former Rangers manager Don Howe told FIFA magazine. “That means the future is looking really bright because the club will be able to pay salaries that others outside the top division won’t be able to match. They’ll be the envy of lots of their rivals and they’re ideally located, right in the heart of London, to attract top-notch players. Plus, they won’t have to sell their best players, as has traditionally been the case in the past. Just look at the likes of Paul Parker, who ended up at Manchester United, Les Ferdinand, who went to Newcastle, and Dave Seaman, who moved to Arsenal for big money the club couldn’t afford to turn down. I sincerely hope it works out because it’s a fantastic club with a fantastic history.”
LIKE A CIRCUS
As for supporters, they are cautiously optimistic about the future after a tumultuous few years. “It’s been like a circus over the last few years. It’s great that stability has now made a welcome return because it’s about time QPR was run properly after five years of madness,” said Paul Finney of fans’ group Independent Rs. What he has in mind is the so-called “Great Brawl of China” when a friendly against China’s Olympic team descended into a full-scale punch-up and a winding-up order from the St
John Ambulance service over an unpaid £18,000 (€22,700) bill. Plus, there was a court case when seven men were acquitted of charges of conspiracy to blackmail, false imprisonment and possession of a hand-gun after Gianni Paladini, the then chairman, alleged a gun had been held to his head before a home match against Sheffield United.
“We have a great tradition of football, with superbly gifted individuals such as Les Ferdinand, Stan Bowles and Paul Parker, and in better days we went to the likes of Oldlrafford, An field and Arsenal’s old Highbury ground and won,” Finney said. “We’re proud of the club because of our heritage and because it’s so closely aligned with the community. We really feel the club is going places but I just
hope the new owners take the current fans with them and don’t go pricing them out with their season ticket hikes because the atmosphere at our home matches has been very special throughout the hard times. It would be a crying shame if that vanished as the club talks about globalisation and brand development.”
AN AMAZING PLACE
Off the Reid, the club has pulled in a number of high-profile sponsorship deals thanks to their owners’ commercial contacts, and the consortium has vowed to modernise the home ground in Shepherd’s Bush, although relocation remains an option. “This is an amazing place and the history is very important,” Briatore said. “The club has been part of this community for generations. It would be a pity if we had to move but it might be necessary. First, let’s fill Loftus Road. If you have a small restaurant then you try to make sure all the tables are busy at night before you move on to the next restaurant.”
The club is preparing to secure a place at European football’s top table alongside the continent’s football elite in the UEFA Champions League once promotion is secured, bur there will be no bottomless pit of money available to make these dreams come true. “QPR isn’t a wealthy club. It’s a club that’s owned by some wealthy people,” Ecclestone said. “No one is going to be splashing out lots of money. “Things need to be done correctly and that’s what we’re going to do.”
“In life you have to set achievable goals,” Bhatia said. “The first was to avoid relegation. The next step is to be promoted. Whether that comes this season or in three years is not really super important. Subsequent to that, does the Champions League figure? Of course it does. I dream just like anybody else does. Should we be competitive in the Premiership? Of course, otherwise there’s no point going up there.”