QPR: Ambition to deliver: Hughes out to prove he is no “flop”
When Mark Hughes resigned as Fulham manager in June 2011, citing the club’s lack of ambition as the primary reason behind his decision, Fulham owner Mohamed Al-Fayed was baffled, branding Hughes a “strange man” and a “flop”.
The fact that Hughes resigned after guiding Fulham to an eighth place finish in the Premier League and Europa League qualification was indeed strange. Given the relatively small size of the club it is unclear where Hughes felt he could take Fulham, as even he couldn’t have been expecting Al-Fayed to sanction the kind of spending that would have been needed to take Fulham to the next level.
Hughes had come to Fulham via Manchester City, where he was given the first attempt at delivering success with Sheikh Mansour’s billions, and appeared frustrated at not being able to capture even the more modest transfer targets he had at Fulham.
Hughes was appointed QPR manager in January 2012 and stated that he was “genuinely excited by the ambition of the owners”, in a direct dig at Al-Fayed and his former club. How high those ambitions stretch is unknown to anyone outside the club’s boardroom. Tony Fernandes and Amit Bhatia have learnt from the mistakes of previous owner Flavio Briatore, whose ludicrous claims of immediate success ended with the documentary “The Four Year Plan”.
However with a new training ground, academy and stadium all on the agenda it is clear that becoming an established Premier League club is the first aim. Ambitions above that are unknown, but for Hughes to swap the Cottage for Loftus Road suggests that the intention to progress further exists.
When Fulham came to Loftus Road in February, QPR fans wasted no time in backing their new manager’s comments - “We’ve got ambition, we’re bigger than you” they chanted. “**** your ambition, we’re better than you” was the response from the Fulham fans. A 7-0 aggregate defeat over the season made it difficult to argue with them.
Fulham went on to secure another top half finish in 2011/12, whilst QPR survived by the skin of their teeth on the last day of the season. So, looking ahead to the 2012/13 season, do Fulham have to worry about their supposedly more ambitious neighbours?
With Clint Dempsey expected to complete his long drawn out move to Liverpool, Fulham may find goals hard to come by next season. After Dempsey with 17 goals, the only other Fulham players to score more that two Premier League goals last season were Pogrebnyak (6), Zamora (5) and Andrew Johnson (3), all of whom have now left the club. Mladen Petric and Hugo Rodallega have joined on free transfers from Hamburg and Wigan respectively, but even the bravest Fulham fan would struggle to argue that either (or even both) of them could fill the void left by the Texan.
Other than that Fulham have been quiet in the transfer market although swoops for Andrey Arshavin, Jordan Rhodes and Yossi Benayoun have been rumoured in recent weeks.
QPR on the other hand have been busy adding experience to their squad, with the notable captures of Ji-Sung Park and Junior Hoillett. Andrew Johnson followed Hughes and Bobby Zamora in making the switch to West London and continued the trend of using the buzzword of ambition as a key factor in the decision.
With the signings made, a top 10 finish should be a realistic aim for QPR this season. Completing the majority of his transfer dealings early has given Hughes a full pre-season to work with the squad and the value of that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Predicting where Fulham will finish is slightly trickier, given the fact that Martin Jol has stated that he would still like to add another striker and a replacement for Danny Murphy to his ranks. There is also the uncertainty around Moussa Dembele’s future to consider.
As with any team that loses their standout player, it will take Fulham time to adapt to life without Dempsey. The level of expectation on the other attacking players will increase significantly and the players currently on the Fulham books will struggle to replace Dempsey’s goals between them. As a result Fulham may find it difficult to make it into the top half next season, unless they are able to add a couple of quality signings to replace the players they have lost.
Whatever the circumstances of Hughes’s departure from Fulham last year, it is safe to say that he will be desperate to finish above his former club in the league, and given the transfer business by both clubs in the window to date, who would bet against him making Al-Fayed choke on his words next season?
Calling all QPR and Fulham fans: Do you agree with Rob? How do you think your team will do this season? Will QPR get the top half finish they are after? Whatever your views we would love to hear from you.
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Come back tomorrow where I will be taking a detailed comparison of the two clubs' starting XIs: QPR v Fulham Head to Head: Who would you choose heading into the new season?