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Saturday, September 10, 2011

QPR Report Saturday: Warnock's Perspective...Mittals Involvement


- Throughout the day, the QPR Report Messageboard has news updates, comments and perspectives - even links to other board comments of interest re QPR matters (on and off the field) along with football (and ONLY football) topics in general....Also Follow: QPR REPORT ON TWITTER

The Era of Good Feeling at QPR
- From Thursday Tweet by The Times' Oliver Kay "Been to see people at QPR today. Very enjoyable. Very good feeling around the club post-takeover" Twitter

- Some Great QPR Photos from This Week's PhotoShoot

- Flashback: Three Years Ago Today: Damiano Tommasi Joins QPR

- Ex-QPR Ian Stewart Turns 50...On This Day: QPR's First-ever Win in the Old Division One.......Other "On This Day" QPR Games

- The (Non-QPR) Tale of a player who's prepared to stay at a club and not play and draw a large wage.

- Next: Newcastle: Stats, Previews and Flashbacks

Independent - Neil Warnock: I was like a character in a farce – opening and closing doors as deadline-day deals were struck

What I Learnt This Week

Saturday, 10 September 2011

What a difference a takeover makes! Two weeks ago I could barely fill the teamsheet at Wigan. Now I'm trying to work out who to leave out for Monday's match against Newcastle.

To give you an idea how much has changed, Patrick Agyemang started at Everton two games ago; this week I had to tell him he's not in my 25-man Premier League squad.

When Tony Fernandes said to me: "Who do you want?", I gave him my list more in hope than expectation. When he said: "Go and get them", it was one of those moments when you feel like saying: "Pardon. Will you repeat that?" That started the most demanding period of my management career with the last few days just exhausting. It was a real baptism of fire for our new chief executive Phil Beard, who must have wished he had kept to his original start date of 1 September instead of volunteering to begin early and help us out.

I had enough trouble getting Joey Barton and Luke Young over the line the previous week but that was nothing to deadline day. At one stage we had negotiations going on in three different executive boxes at the ground trying to finalise contracts with clubs and agents. I felt like a character in one of Brian Rix's old farces as I opened and closed doors up and down the corridor. After the Ali Faurlin saga last season, we wanted to make sure everything was done meticulously and while I was disappointed at the administrative issues which meant Luke wasn't able to play at Wigan, the girls in the office were magnificent on the night. So were Tony and Amit Bhatia. They both helped sell the club to players, which in Tony's case meant being available on the phone even though he was in Malaysia, seven hours ahead.

The first one signed was Armand Traoré. That had been arranged for some time but modern contracts have so many pages on them we still didn't get the forms faxed off until the evening. I wanted to play Armand at Wigan but Arsenal had their own problems with injuries and suspensions and Arsène wanted him to play at Old Trafford. Well you all know what happened there. Come Monday I phoned Richard Law, who deals with transfers at Arsenal, and asked him whether they would now pay us to take him off their hands. He had a laugh, but would not reduce the fee.

Shaun Wright-Phillips was next to sign but I was still in a box with him on Wednesday night when I looked at the TV and saw Jason Puncheon entering Loftus Road. It was a surprise as I thought that deal had stalled. It turned out his agent had told him to hang around near the ground in case it could be sorted out, but instead of finding a restaurant nearby he came in. That was an expensive error, because Southampton were also watching and they had not given us permission to talk to him. They immediately put the loan fee up 25 per cent. I said there's no way I was going to pay that because we hadn't asked Jason to come. They didn't believe me, and I probably wouldn't either in the same situation. So we were at a stand-off when Jason said he'd pay the difference. I was impressed. Everyone thinks players are "take, take, take", but here was one so desperate to play for us he footed the bill .

By then I knew I'd missed out on one target after Craig Bellamy rang me himself to say he was going to Liverpool. I like it when players show a manager respect like that, and I told him I couldn't really blame him with what Kenny looks to be building up there. I also missed out on Sébastien Bassong. That was one of those deals which are like buying a house. Harry couldn't afford to release him unless he had signed Gary Cahill.

It was now about 10.10pm, and then the phone rang. It was my physio, Nigel Cox. He was on his way to the ground with Anton Ferdinand after conducting a medical. In a trembling voice he explained there'd been an accident and they were stuck in traffic. I won't tell you my exact words as this is a family newspaper, but I told him to make it, whatever it took.

At 10.30pm, Nigel rang back to say they were 10 minutes away. Shaun's forms were now being sent and I was talking to Jason. Anton came running into the building and he and his agent read the forms as quick as they could. Jason and I shook hands and we sent his forms off – fortunately being a loan there was no medical. Then the clock struck 11.

Outside, Sky TV were still waiting so I did interviews with them and some other media. By the time I got to my car it was after midnight. My mind was a whirl and I knew I'd never sleep. I'd planned to drive down in the morning to Cornwall. Instead I went straight there. It was great to get away, but even in the countryside it took me three days to come down from feeling like a zombie.

2. If Becks comes to London, Spurs have the inside track

You never say never, not when the owner has delivered Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips, but despite what you may have read elsewhere I don't think we'll be adding David Beckham to our list of signings. I'm a great admirer of David, but if he does come back to play in England I'm sure Tottenham will be his destination. He trained there last season and Harry nearly signed him. He also has a family connection as his grandad used to support Spurs. The tale did create a stir – I was even interviewed by a radio station in Los Angeles.

3. I feel for my promotion lads who endured unkindest cut

I'm really looking forward to Monday's match. I've a lot of time for Alan Pardew, whose achievements have been underrated, and it always feels like an occasion playing Newcastle because of their fans. Last time they came here it was the final day of the 2009-10 season and they were in great voice as they were celebrating promotion. I remember turning to Keith Curle and saying, "Wouldn't it be nice if that was us in a year's time?", but in my wildest dreams I did not think it would happen because we needed so many new players.

As you know, we did it, but whereas Newcastle went up with what was still a Premier League squad we had players from all over. I've nothing but praise for the way they performed but the lads realise that having come so far so quickly we did need help, hence the activity on deadline day. The downside is I have had to tell some who have taken us up they would not be in the 25. As well as Agyemang, Rob Hulse, Hogan Ephraim, Petter Vaagen Moen and Danny Shittu did not make the cut. I insisted they all appeared in our team photograph on Thursday, but now I'll be looking to get them loaned to Championship clubs to get some playing time.

In case you're wondering, Joey's been excellent in training. He's given the whole place a lift. Adel's also looking sharp. He organised a week at a fitness place in France off his own bat.

4. Bug has me wearing mask and sleeping in a bunk bed

It is like Emergency Ward 10 at home. My eldest, James, and his wife Sarah are stopping with Charlie my grandson – all three, and William, are sick with a bug. Even Natalie, my eldest daughter, has it and she only came round for a day. Sharon and I are walking around with masks on and I'm keeping my distance from the team at training.

As Will is poorly he's been sleeping in with Sharon, and since James' family is in the spare room, it's Will's bunk bed for me. I'm in the bottom bunk, I wouldn't contemplate the top, but it does feel quite enclosed. I was laying there the other night thinking: "I wonder if any other Premier League managers sleep in a bunk bed."

Mirror/Neil McLeman - QPR boss warns Barton not to act the 'Twit'

Neil Warnock says Twitter should be renamed Twit – but he will not stop Joey Barton using it before his first game for QPR against his old team Newcastle.

And the Hoops boss said Barton knows he will face the wrath of the FA and the club if he causes controversy.

Warnock, who faces the Magpies at Loftus Road on Monday, said: “He knows what he can do and it is up to him. The FA have explained what they expect from anyone who is tweeting.

“If he goes over those guidelines they will do him – not just me.”

The England midfielder tweeted about popular culture yesterday, writing: “Red or Black now, strangely addictive watching this. How big are Ant and Decs foreheads? Is it just me.......?”

New QPR owner Tony Fernandes also Tweeted this week that he wants to sign David Beckham.

Warnock said: “He owns the club! You tell him off. It’s the same with the players. One or two of them do it. As long as they don’t bring the club into disrepute, I’m not bothered. But I think it’s stupid. They should call it Twit.” Mirror

Financial Times/Roger Blitz - Mittal ‘came close to selling QPR stake’

Financial Times/Roger Blitz

Lakshmi Mittal came close to ditching his one-third stake in Queen’s Park Rangers in the summer despite the club’s promotion to the Premier League, according to the steel magnate’s son-in-law who handles the Indian family’s football interests.

Amit Bhatia is now restored as vice-chairman of the west London club that a few years ago was a debt-ridden outfit languishing at the foot of the Championship, which had still managed to attract a clutch of high-profile wealthy individuals around its boardroom table.

Last month, Tony Fernandes, the Malaysian entrepreneur and founder of low-cost airline Air Asia, became the latest such investor, buying out the combined 66 per cent stake of Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One commercial supremo, and Flavio Briatore, the former F1 team principal .

Mr Fernandes and Mr Bhatia together invested heavily in the summer transfer window to make QPR competitive in the lucrative top-tier of English football. Being a part of the Premier League is “like gold dust”, Mr Bhatia says.

But Mr Bhatia says his summer boardroom battles with the F1 allies caused Mr Mittal to question whether the family’s investment in the financial madhouse of football was worth it.

“We had the conversation when things got very difficult,” says Mr Bhatia, who looks after the family’s financial services interests in the Berkeley Square offices of ArcelorMittal, the global steel group.

Differences in strategy prompted Mr Bhatia to offer to buy up the Ecclestone-Briatore shareholdings, and when it was rejected, he quit the board. “We had to be prepared to let it go,” he says of the family’s 33 per cent stake.

QPR fans have long viewed Mr Mittal as a reluctant owner, his interest only maintained for family reasons. Mr Bhatia, an all-round sportsman who counts the Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar as “a very close friend of mine”, paints a different picture.

“He absolutely knows everything that goes on [at QPR],” he says of his father-in-law. “He is on top of all the decisions made on the board, ticket pricing, budget spending . . . He very much would like to see QPR grow and flourish and develop . . . He looks at the intangibles of what a football club is.”

Yet the Mittals again find themselves having to share their aspirations with other investors. Mr Bhatia does not deny he would have preferred for the Mittals to be sole owner. “My bid was rejected as being too low,” he says. “The bid they accepted wasn’t very far off mine. Maybe they just didn’t want to do business with me.”

For the time being, the Mittals and their new QPR partner, Mr Fernandes, are rubbing along fine, despite a minor difference of opinion aired over the Twittersphere about whether or not to sign up David Beckham, the veteran English footballer. Mr Bhatia is a new Twitter convert, which will enable him to follow the philosophical Tweets of Joey Barton, the most eye-catching of QPR’s 13 new playing recruits.

Mr Bhatia, who runs a hedge fund and a private equity business, is acutely aware of the financial perils of football.

Before their initial investment in QPR in 2007, the Mittals spent time with their friend Roman Abramovich at Stamford Bridge, home of the Russian oligarch’s Chelsea FC. But it was Mike Ashley, owner of retailer Sports Direct and Newcastle United, who has been Mr Bhatia’s most trusted adviser.

“He just gave me tons of his wisdom and taught me the things that he’d learned – everything from how to handle situations to ticket pricing to what kind of contracts players should have and the role of agents,” says Mr Bhatia.

He talks of QPR remaining “financially prudent”, and says the club has an external debt of £5m and loans funded by the shareholders. “We started off first by saying, ‘What do we need this season?’ And then, ‘What will we need for year two and year three if we were to stay up?’ And we’ve stayed well within that, so I think we’re OK.”

The non-playing staff are on incentives based on the money they save the club, while the virtue of the new leadership team of chief executive Phil Beard and Rebecca Caplehorn, the finance director, is that “they have no footballing experience, they’re just good, quality management”.

Mr Beard’s appointment was made with an eye for the future. The former chief executive of the 02, the former Millennium Dome in London’s Greenwich, he is expected to work on QPR’s ambition to move to a new multipurpose stadium. A site at White City in London has been identified.

That is for the long-term, says Mr Bhatia. More immediate is the task of keeping QPR in the Premier League “without throwing large amounts of money at it”.

For the Mittals, QPR is not a trophy asset but a “passion project”, he adds. “It’s not an investment; we’re not hoping to make a lot of money on it. But we’ll find this beautiful happy medium where we can create and build a wonderful club and, hopefully, allow it to be sustainable by our support of it.”

2 of 2
Tony Fernandes, chief executive of AirAsia, is one of the region’s boldest and most successful entrepreneurs. But is his decision to take a stake in lossmaking Malaysian Airline System another masterstroke, or a disastrous mistake? The answer may depend on whether his ego has swamped his business sense.

So far, Mr Fernandes has hardly put a step wrong. As a serial entrepreneur, he has founded no fewer than four airlines – AirAsia, its long-haul affiliate Air­Asia X and joint ventures in Indonesia and Thailand. He is also part-owner, with his business partner, of the privately held Tune Group, which runs hotel, financial services and mobile phone businesses.

When he bought AirAsia through Tune for a token M$1 plus M$40m debt in 2001, it was a failing state-owned regional carrier with two aircraft. It now has more than 100 planes, and has just signed an $18bn deal with Airbus for 200 A320s over 15 years – the third-biggest order in the aircraft maker’s history.

Investors are in no doubt about Mr Fernandes’ Midas touch. The shares have outperformed the global aviation index by more than 100 per cent since AirAsia was floated in 2004. No carrier has bettered its average 57 per cent annual increase in net income. The stock, up almost a third this year before the latest turmoil, was worth $3.6bn before the shares were suspended on Monday. That is more than double the market value of the Malaysian flag-carrier.

Of course, AirAsia benefits from being in the right place at the right time. Its pace of growth is underpinned by the rapid expansion of emerging Asian economies. Average economic growth of about 7 per cent a year is lifting millions more people every year to an economic level at which they can afford a budget airline flight.

But Mr Fernandes is not just grabbing chunks of a growing market. AirAsia has grown consistently, as well as fast, thanks to a rigorous focus on expenses. Costs per passenger kilometre are lower than both Southwest Airlines of the US, which invented the low-cost model, and Ryanair, the Irish group often regarded as the world’s most competitive carrier.

By contrast, state-owned MAS has failed either to adapt to the low-cost era, or to trade effectively as a premium carrier, the strategy pursued (albeit with faltering success) by neighbouring Singapore Airlines. MAS has had to be restructured twice in the past nine years following financial crises, and is now in trouble again, losing $79m in the quarter to March. The second-quarter result, due shortly, is expected to be equally dire.

Angered by the airline’s resistance to change and worried by the looming cost of fleet renewal, the government has given up, forcing MAS to accept a deal, confirmed on Tuesday, under which Tune will take a 20.5 per cent stake in return for a 10 per cent holding in AirAsia. Khazanah Nasional, the sovereign wealth fund that owns MAS, will also buy 10 per cent of unlisted AirAsia X.

For Mr Fernandes, this is a moment to savour. Never shy of self-promotion, he has been hurt and offended over the years by the Malaysian elite, which has largely regarded him as a comic upstart. They laughed when he started in business with two old aircraft and $250,000; they laughed again when he spoke of building AirAsia into the region’s most successful airline, when he launched a Formula One racing team and when he tried to buy an English Premiership football club.

Their laughter has now ceased. But it would be ironic if Mr Fernandes’ moment of recognition turned out to be a millstone round his neck. This is not an inconsiderable risk. The deal was officially characterised as a partnership, but would be better seen as a last-chance rescue. Both earlier restructurings of MAS failed to resolve its underlying problems, and Azman Mokhtar, the head of Khazanah, has spent years putting it through a reform programme, to little effect.

The government hopes the freewheeling Mr Fernandes will provide the missing ingredient. Perhaps he will. But focusing his efforts on the fading flag-carrier would surely divert inordinate amounts of time from running AirAsia and its offshoots, which are soon to be joined by a Tokyo-based joint venture with ANA of Japan. With Singapore-based rival Tiger Airways in trouble – suspended from flying in Australia on safety grounds, and bleeding S$2m a week – this is not the moment for Mr Fernandes to take his eye off the ball.

All the signals are that he will not. Indeed, all the obvious gains will accrue to AirAsia: route rationalisation is likely to favour the lower cost operator, and the deal should reboot government thinking on awarding new routes, on which it has tended to favour MAS. Mr Fernandes will aim to push MAS upmarket, and try to close Firefly, the flag-carrier’s largely domestic budget offshoot, leaving AirAsia with a local monopoly. If he can help MAS recover, he will. But not at AirAsia’s expense. Recognition is sweet. But victory is sweeter.
- Kevin Brown is the FT’s Asia regional correspondent
kevin.brown@ft.com - Financial Times


The constantly-growing, online ""Bushman" Photo Archives" offer a truly-significant historical contribution to the QPR Community, and who deserves a big debt of gratitude. Bushman's latest contribution: Some Photos and Memories from QPR's 1936-1937 Season. A few of those from 1936-37 are below. Others from that season at the 1936-1937 Season link

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