Queens Park Rangers (QPR) secured a quick return to the Premier League with a 1-0 playoff final victory over Derby County at Wembley on Saturday. The victory may have appeared undeserved on the surface, but it owed itself to a fantastic team spirit Harry Redknapp built for the promotion playoffs despite a bloated squad and question marks over both his future and that of the club.
When QPR was promoted by winning the Championship in the 2010-11 season, the club boasted the richest owners in club football and an eclectic band of players from across the globe. But ownership questions made the summer of 2011 a painful time for manager Neil Warnock. Tony Fernandes did not buy a majority of the club until August, meaning Warnock had little time to use the window and resorted to a certain degree of desperation/panic buying.
The team spirit fostered through the veteran leadership of Joey Barton and Clint Hill, British players with an understanding of what it takes to be successful in English football, which can be contrasted with the decision of Warnock to build around the enigmatic Adel Taarabt — a player of fantastic quality but one who possessed zero leadership skills or consideration for the greater goals of the team.
The promotion is vindication for Joey Barton who has been ridiculed by critics but whose on-the-pitch demeanor this season and his off-the-field leadership helped spur Rangers forward. With a core of players expensively assembled to build around, QPR should have staying power this time in the Premier League.
This summer Redknapp needs to buy a striker that can complement the young Charlie Austin while simply adding resourceful younger depth in other parts of the pitch. If Rangers can secure a deal for Ravel Morrison permanently from West Ham or extend Niko Krancjar’s loan, the concerns in the attacking end of midfield will be partly alleviated.
If QPR can attract one or two younger stars to the side, perhaps even the likes of Derby’s Will Hughes (who Rangers faced off with on Saturday), survival is likely. A possible model for identifying good young talent could come from Norwich’s promotion after the 2010-11 season. Instead of spending insane money in the transfer market for top-flight players, something QPR has already done, the Canaries bought the best they could find a division down and finished midtable the next two seasons.
Harry Redknapp has the reputation of a big-spending manager who splashes the cash on players and agent fees. But with a core already in place, he can show the world his ability to look for useful young talent while continuing his ability to motivate the older players he has on the squad. If he pulls this off, QPR should ensure Premier League safety next season.