Stability in football is an exceptionally unsexy, yet necessary topic. While fans and the media love big-money buys and managerial changes, the truth is that there is only one surefire way for teams without ridiculous money or talent to outperform expectations: familiarity. Swansea and Wigan are but two examples of how focusing on clear playing strategies instead of expensive player recruitment can pay dividends in the long run. Queens Park Rangers, on the other hand, show how short-term thinking can damage an organization.
The side propping up the Premier League table has been through wealthy owner after wealthy owner, from Bernie Ecclestone to Tony Fernandes, who decided the best way to ensure Premiership survival was to splash the cash. At 40 players, QPR’s current squad is extraordinarily bloated, and not with rubbish players either. Four Champions League winners amid other players recruited from the likes of Real Madrid should surely make a squad too big to fail. Yet failing they are, proving that you cannot throw players into a mixer with no discernable strategy and expect them to succeed.
Not only have playing staff and formations been changed, but the side has no overall identity. Teams like Napoli or Arsenal are known for something, holding possession or being lethal on the break. Harry Redknapp’s deployment of Adel Taarabt as a false nine was just the latest example of Rangers trying something, anything, with the myriad number of players they have.
It’s always better to identify a strategy and recruit players to specific roles, rather than buying talented players and hoping they will be able to contribute in any system. This is especially true for a club like Queens Park Rangers who can’t offer European competition, meaning they aren’t in the market for the very top talent. But QPR are only the most extravagant example of a long-standing problem. Too often newly promoted sides, conscious of the financial rewards of staying in the Premiership, smash their transfer record or wage budget on some superstar in the hopes that individual quality will keep them in the top flight, rather than the system that they’d used to get themselves into the top flight.
Southampton, for example, spent £12m on Gaston Ramirez and made him their highest paid player by some distance. The Uruguayan certainly hasn’t been a disaster, and actually does fit into Southampton’s system, but if that money had been spent on two or three lesser players that could fill roles in Southampton’s fluid offense, the Saints would have more depth and may have coped better with their injury list that has included Adam Lallana and Ramirez himself.
Currently, for a team like Cardiff City, once again close to winning promotion after spending several years in the Championship, QPR must prove a warning. After their own recent spending splurges and financial problems, Cardiff have been admirably more prudent. They developed a consistent style of play under Dave Jones and now Malky Mackay, and bought sensibly this summer after several seasons of solidification. If they do reach the top flight they would be better served emulating their fellow Welsh club and focusing on how they play rather than who they play.