Though Chelsea are currently clinging to a 1-0 lead in their F.A. Cup third round tie with ‘hood rivals QPR, the Guardian’s Dominic Fifield surveys the shifting financial climate for Rangers, calling the visitors “the richest club in English football…a club whose fans plan to brandish £20 notes and gloat at their relatively impoverished opposition.” (thanks to Jesper for the link)
West London is experiencing a second footballing revolution. Roman Abramovich may have shifted the landscape of the Premier League by pouring millions into Chelsea, establishing glamorous underachievers as a real force among the elite, but the wealth boasted by the QPR owners sitting in the directors’ box dwarfs the Russian’s considerable fortune. Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore, the formula one magnates who purchased a club struggling at the foot of the second tier in September for £1m and guaranteed debts of £13m, last month sold a 20% stake in Rangers to Lakshmi Mittal, the world’s fifth richest man.
The Indian steel magnate is worth an estimated £19bn. Two years before Abramovich splashed £30m on Andriy Shevchenko, Mittal lavished the same amount on his daughter Vanisha’s wedding. Some £4m was spent on flowers.
The numbers, presumably like the table decorations, are staggering when Ecclestone’s £2.5bn worth is added to Mittal’s and compared with Abramovich’s £10.8bn-odd. Briatore is valued at a mere £110m and recently admitted he had been seeking to buy a “high end pizzeria or maybe a churrascaria” when he stumbled upon QPR, thinking initially it was a barbecue restaurant. Yet the mind-boggling story slips snugly into the recent history of this club.
Briatore and Ecclestone have been hugely enthusiastic – the latter was in the dressing room after the New Year’s Day victory over Leicester – but utterly realistic in their expectations since assuming control. “We were going to buy Chelsea, then Roman came along,” admitted Ecclestone recently. “But there’s no point buying Ferrari. The only way is down. At QPR we’re in Formula Renault. Next we want to move up to GP2 and then GP1.”
They are an improving side with new manager Luigi De Canio having hoisted them to 18th place, three points from the cut-off, with one defeat in seven. Watford, the division’s leaders, were beaten 4-2 at Vicarage Road last week and the arrivals of youngsters such as West Ham’s Hogan Ephraim and Matthew Connolly from Arsenal, allied to the experience recruited in Watford’s Gavin Mahon, Fitz Hall from Wigan and Patrick Agyemang from Preston, bodes well. All will revel in the creative supply-line offered by Akos Buzsacky (above), who completed a £500,000 move from Plymouth this week having scored six fine goals in a 13-match loan. The Hungarian played alongside Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira, and under Jose Mourinho, at Porto. He is a player who could grace the top flight.
“Mr Ecclestone and Mr Briatore have told us in no uncertain terms that the Premier League’s where QPR have got to be within two or three years,” added Gareth Ainsworth. “They’re winners. We’ve got to be winners with them. They’ve invested emotionally as well as financially in this club, so we know what’s expected of us.”
When and if the Stupor Hoops do return to the Premier League, I’d be pretty surprised if Ainsworth is still on the roster, never mind the starting eleven.