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Don't say we didn't warn you... How QPR's window madness raised eyebrows in the North East

By Mark Douglas on Feb 2, 13 10:42 AM


THERE were 10,276 people at Fratton Park on Tuesday to see the latest act in the tragic comedy unfolding on the South Coast.

Desperation has long given way to defiance at Portsmouth FC, the club that won the FA Cup in 2008. Their team, made up of a rag tag bunch of desperado free transfers and greenhorn kids, lost 2-0 to Notts County and seem destined to start next season alongside Hartlepool United in the bottom tier.

If you consider this shell of a football club to be anything like the Pompey that have been around for more than a century, that is. To the few faithful fans still dutifully turning up in spite of everything, it probably doesn't feel much like that at all.

48 hours later Harry Redknapp leant out of a car window, blinking into the sun, to announce that Christopher Samba had signed for QPR in a deal that will see him bank an estimated £100,000-a-week. Samba, whose release clause was £12.5million, is 28 years old.

Samba joins Loic Remy, lured by a contract offer that Newcastle insiders feared would distort the entire transfer market for years to come, on a wage bill that apparently accounts for some 175 per cent of the club's weekly turnover.

Whichever way you spin them, the numbers simply don't stack up. Loftus Road is the poorest stadium in the Premier League, with an capacity of less than most in the Championship. It would take an extended run in the Champions League to redress the wage/turnover balance and even that might not be enough with their limited potential for expansion.

The Portsmouth parallels are alarming, right down to the presence of Redknapp running the ship. When it was put to the then Tottenham boss in 2010 that he might have had a role to play in Pompey's demise, he said he was just an employee. It was, he asserted, nothing to do with him that Portsmouth were haemeorraghing money having signed players that he had recommended on long, lucrative contracts.

"I had no control over the financial well being there and how it was run. I was an employee and it was my job to manage the team and make it a success," he said.
Even allowing for this abdication of responsibility - and to be fair to Redknapp, he was incredibly successful with the players expensively hired - it seems strange that at a club of similar size, he is allowing it all to happen again.

What seems even more bizarre is that the wider football community is completely complicit in it. On Sky Sports News, where the transfer window lives these days, they wheeled out Iain Dowie and Alan Smith to praise Redknapp for pulling off a coup by signing Samba.

"They needed players," Smith said. Perhaps they did, but why is no-one inside the game questioning the financial logic that underpins the desperate recruitment of the last couple of years at Loftus Road?

The sport's authorities have swept Portsmouth under the carpet. Their demise was met by some mealy mouthed talk of financial sustainability but everyone can see the mess that is about to engulf QPR if they do go down. Hell, even that might be enough. Pompey won the FA Cup and played in Europe but it wasn't enough to save them.

Rangers' business plan - if there is one - makes no sense. In these pages on Tuesday, Newcastle Eagles owner Paul Blake talked of limiting wages to turnover ratio to around 50 per cent, saying it was the only way a club could remain viable going forward. Why is Blake's model considered so unfashionable for Premier League clubs?

The January transfer window doesn't help. The sport spends the month allowing shady agents, desperate clubs and self-interested players to lead the agenda: contorting the truth and flagrantly bending the rules in a mad dash to try and alter the course of a season of mismanagement.

Redknapp likened it to the Glasgow Ice Cream Wars in a move of breathtaking hypocrisy. His insistence on going 'on-the-record' with his interest in players is a clear breach of Premier League rules yet it constantly goes unpunished.

To be fair, he's hardly alone in bending the regulations. Most agents are decent professionals trying to make a living but some operate as close to the edge of the rules as they can, and it is unedifying - especially when supporters are smarting at paying up to £62 for away games.

In the North East, disquiet will be muted by the way both clubs have come away from the window in credit. They recruited sensibly and to a budget, so more power to their elbow.
Just because Newcastle and Sunderland have cracked it, it shouldn't dilute opposition to this lunacy. It is time this unproductive window - and everything it stands for - is smashed.

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