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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Amit Bhatia Speaking About QPR, Owners' Involvement - and Ainsworth Future

Sandy Macaskill/TelergaphQueens Park Rangers owners want to get their 'hands dirty', says Amit Bhatia
- For Flavio Briatore, Bernie Ecclestone and Lakshmi Mittal – between them the richest club owners in English football - buying Queens Park Rangers last year must have been like shunning a shiny new Bugatti in favour of a beaten-up old banger.
- Of the 24 teams in the Championship, QPR were positioned dead last when they assumed control; they were hardly buying into glory.
- But, according to Amit Bhatia, the club's vice-chairman and Mittal's son-in-law, that was not what it was, and is still, about. "We could have gone out there and bought a club that is already winning everything – I'm sure it is a lot of fun for those people that do it," he explained.
- "But we love the club. That they need improvement is part of the excitement. This is much more than an investment that sits in a portfolio. We want to enjoy the football."
- Their love affair with the club this past year has not always run smooth. A mediocre start to the season has brought with it rumours of boardroom interference in team affairs, culminating in Iain Dowie's departure last month after just 15 games in charge.
-Dowie was said to have been frustrated with the board's interest in team selection and overbearing approach to the transfer market.
- Suggestions that caretaker manager Gareth Ainsworth's decision to introduce Samuel Di Carmine and Damiano Tommasi, two players brought in by chairman Briatore but overlooked by Dowie – and rumours that Briatore has bought himself a tactics board – have done nothing to down play such rumours.
- It is an accusation that is, in the current climate that condemns meddling owners, far from complimentary, and one that Bhatia is keen to dispel.
- He accepts that the board maintains a close interest in team affairs, and has revealed how, instead of observing events from afar, they are desperate to "get their hands dirty".
- He also admits to having conversations with the manager in the dressing room, and putting forward selection suggestions, but he vehemently denies claims that either his or Briatore's interest in team matters spills over into an unhealthy attempt to force the direction of team selection.
- "A lot has been said about Flavio picking the team," Bhatia said. "I don't know how involved other owners or other chairmen are, but at our club we care a great deal and as a result we might be more hands on than most people.
- "But we respect the fact that the manager is there to do a job, and the team selected, regardless of what anybody around us says, has to be the manager's. Otherwise, we should be the ones standing on the sidelines in tracksuits.
- "Do I have suggestions over what the team should be, of course I do, like any fan. But when Gareth puts out a team, it is Gareth's team."
- Those who maintain an interest in the club have been bewildered by the fact that the three owners, all billionaires who have shown no shyness in flashing the cash in the past – Mittal's house in Kensington, for example, cost a reported £75 million – have made no major signings to speak of.
- Briatore has said in the past that he wants QPR to provide "boutique football", so their continued decision not to bring in attractive players seems odd, especially considering their moves off the field in attracting Premier League-style sponsors.
- Indeed, the board moved quickly to secure a £20 million five-year kit contract with the Italian firm Lotto, and a three-year sponsorship with Gulf Air earlier this year. They also attempted to increase ticket prices this season, although the scheme was quickly withdrawn after causing uproar among fans.
- The club now understand that to hike prices, they need promotion. Bhatia refuses to countenance suggestions that there is a huge weight on the manager and players to achieve promotion this year, but he does accept that QPR must be competitive. And competitive means reaching the play-offs.
-"Just like any other fan, I wish that we could be promoted this season," he said. "But realistically, if we didn't get promoted this year, but were very competitive and made the play-offs, I would define that success."
- So Ainsworth has his target. Bhatia says that he is "thrilled" with the caretaker manager's performance to date – but allows that there is uncertainty about what the immediate future holds.
- "If Gareth is the best man for the job, then we have to give him a fair shot at it," he said. "He may not have much experience of being a manager, but he has the respect of all of the players.
- "It is only fair that Gareth gets the chance that he deserves, and for now I am absolutely thrilled.
- "Improvement is important," he added. "There is not a lot of pressure to go up, but there is a lot of pressure to perform well and get good results." Telegraph

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