He may have just won the Championship Player of the year award but Premier League bound Queens Park Rangers would be mad to rely on this misfiring luxury player next season.
Unforeseen balls-ups permitting, Queens Park Rangers are heading back to the Premier League. Their form has barely slipped throughout the season and manager Neil Warnock has installed in the team a miserly, defensive core that has conceded an astonishingly-tiny 27 goals in 42 league matches. After 15 years of wait QPR fans have been cautiously introducing themselves to the idea of supporting a winning side.
If in six months time the Hoops are still playing in the Championship it will be down to the team's legal shortcomings rather than their athletic ones. Dodgy dealings surrounding the signing of Argentinean midfielder Alejandro Faurlin in 2009 may yet see the side docked ten points. Missing out on promotion due to financial mismanagement would be a fate entirely too painful for fans that have watched their team perform beyond all expectations for the last year. It would also be a cruel twist of the knife to Warnock who was still plying his trade at Crystal Palace when the alleged offence took place.
So let's not get bogged down in the unpleasant wranglings of modern football transfer law. Let's imagine QPR's formidable home form continues unabated for the next couple of months and the Hoops secure automatic promotion.
So how will they fare in the Premier League?
Optimists will point to playmaker Adel Taarabt, signed from Tottenham Hotspur at the start of the year, as proof that the side has quality enough to mix it up with the bigger boys. Originally a sporadically-brilliant loanee, Taarabt has since been given the captain's armband and become QPR's talisman. Quite simply Taarabt scores the kind of self-made goals that got Maradonna noticed. And he scores them regularly.
But it's not that simple. Warnock effectively gave Adel Taarabt the keys to the kingdom when he brought in his old Sheffield United accomplice Shaun Derry at the start of the season. A brutally-efficient workhorse who looks every one of his 33 years, Derry was placed in the defensive midfielder role and told to do all of Taarabt's dirty work for him. Every time the slinky Morrocan goes off on one of his frequently-fruitless (but always spectacular) runs, it's Derry who has to track back for him and clean up the mess when it all goes wrong.
We need some nippy little bastard that can knock things in with his shins and poach goals from oblique angles. He doesn't have to be the new Michael Owen – just someone that can find space, doesn't get winded after an hour and won't go missing for half the season. That'll do for me.
As a result Taarabt spends a lot of time, hands on hips, milling about the final third of the pitch, while the rest of his team defend furiously. He may be the team's highest goal-scorer, but he also has by far the most misses, both on and off-target.
Bowing to the every whim of such a player is apparently the price QPR pays for securing such a prodigious talent. But while this might be permissible in the Championship it simply can't be tolerated in the Premier League where Taarabt's myriad shortcomings will be exposed immediately.
Relying on this season's tactics (protect Taarabt, wait for him to score) next season will most-likely see QPR out-passed by Arsenal, bullied by Stoke and crushed by Manchester United. But with a few changes and a couple of savvy transfers the Rs could easily make a home for themselves in the lower echelons of the Premier League.
Firstly, fans seeking reassurance should immediately look away from the sulky showmanship of Taarabt and focus instead on the afore-mentioned Alejandro Faurlin.
Snapped up for somewhere in the region of £3.5m in 2009, Faurlin is the kind of midfielder who can go unnoticed by casual fans for weeks and yet still be considered indispensable. He plugs holes, makes occasional runs, fills in when full-backs get caught out and passes in every direction. He can even shoot from distance. Congratulations to Taarabt for winning the nPower Championship Player of the Year award, but he'd just be another misfiring luxury player without Faurlin working his arse off every week.
Another potential weakness is Shaun Derry himself. It is precisely because Derry puts it all on the line each and every match Warnock should have cause for alarm. As fearless and effective as the man is, he's also getting on a bit and may not physically be up to the pace and power of playing the enforcer role in the Premier League. There is a reason why the Nigel de Jongs of this world are built like middleweight boxers.
To remedy this Warnock needs to buy another defensive midfielder and play them both side-by-side. Some young, monstrous individual that Derry can order about on-field like an Igor to his Professor Frankenstein. Surviving in the Premier League will mean not haemorrhaging goals every week (cough, Blackpool), and having two deep-lying midfielders to protect the back four is the safest way to go about it. Attractive, attack-minded football is overrated anyway.
Quite simply Taarabt scores the kind of self-made goals that got Maradonna noticed. And he scores them regularly.
There is also the club's seemingly-eternal lack of a proven striker. Year after year fans have had to pin their hopes on consistently-inconsistent forwards who lack any kind of killer-instinct when presented with a chance to score. Heidar Helguson is the closest thing the club has to a threatening presence in-front of goal, but in the clear light of day he's nothing more than your run-of-mill target man who can jump a bit and hold up the ball. Where's our Drogba, scream the faithful. Where's our Tevez?
The truth is there are precious-few Drogbas and Tevezes walking the Earth. Plenty of clubs thrash around in the darkness of the transfer window, signing any young goal-hound who's had any success in Europe, in the vain hope he'll blossom into one of English football's top strikers. But for every Javier Hernandez there's 10 Carlos Velas. For every Asamoah Gyan, a lonely Roque Santa Cruz.
As a result supporters need to wean themselves off the fixation with strikers. True – Neil Warnock has a terrible track record with signing forwards, and Rob Hulse has been as much use as a sack of deceased Tamagochis – but the idea that the perfect, 20-a-season striker is just around the corner is a dangerous fallacy.
Let's focus instead on simply finding someone who can work well with Helguson. Some nippy little bastard that can knock things in with his shins and poach goals from oblique angles. He doesn't have to be the new Michael Owen – just someone that can find space, doesn't get winded after an hour and won't go missing for half the season. That'll do for me.
So while it's far from blue skies on the horizon, next year doesn't have to be one long relegation battle either. QPR have a ridiculously good keeper in Paddy Kenny and a back four that have been – even on their off days – organised and persistent. Warnock has been with teams that have gone up and been with teams that have gone down. He knows what's required to stay afloat in the treacherous waters of top-tier football and it's up to him to engineer an iron resolve which will not falter even when the players are up against impossible odds. For the fans it's a thirsted-for spectacle: the chance to see Queens Park Rangers' reclaim its rightful place alongside the other big London clubs. For Neil Warnock, it's a final crack at Premier League glory. No pressure, then.
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