PARIS (AP) – FOX Soccer's Barclays Premier League preview continues with a look at one of the promoted teams - Queens Park Rangers.
PR's opening-day blitzing of Barnsley, 4-0, signalled their intent. QPR would never fall out of the automatic promotion places and held top slot for all but two rounds last season - an incredible achievement.
That said, the biggest moment came not on the field but in the English Football Association's boardroom.
PR was faced with the possible of loss of as many as 15 points and potentially being denied promotion because of a dispute involving Argentine player Alejandro Faurlin, whose transfer to the London club involved a third-party fee. (The FA has opposed these after a fiasco involving Carlos Tevez, West Ham and Sheffield United).
Good enough to have been sought after by the likes of Inter Milan, Faurlin chose QPR because of playing time and the FA eventually ruled on the final day of the season that the club was not culpable in any of the third-party issues.
That decision allowed QPR to hoist the trophy; vindicated Faurlin's decision to play in London and manager Neil Warnock could finally reflect on a 24-win season (with only six defeats) and a four-point cushion ahead of second- placed Norwich City.
Promotion to the BPL has become something of a poisoned pawn. While last season's triumph ensured that there will be top level football on view at Loftus Road this season, whether one of London's smaller clubs can manage to relive the days when Terry Venables led them into Europe -- some 30 years ago -- remains very much in question.
Like all of the clubs recently promoted to the BPL, staying up appears to be harder than arriving in the first place. Realistically, QPR will start the season fighting against relegation in a league where at least eight of the 20 members begin each year worrying about the drop.
Warnock's biggest decision will be whether to attack with the kind of reckless abandon that made Blackpool last year's big story (Blackpool, of course, were relegated) or to simply attempt to patch it together and hope for the best in the West Ham style (West Ham, of course, were relegated).
Warnock is known as an inspirational boss so expect plenty of work, but it may not be pretty.
Rangers signed Cardiff striker Jay Bothroyd and veteran Kieron Dyer in the first two weeks of July, an indication that they don't have the deep pockets needed to lure big name free agents. (QPR's transfer budget was reported to be a paltry £1.25m.) Bothroyd, 29, should become attack leader while Dyer was added for his experience and the fact that he is a versatile operative.
Warnock is also chasing Blackpool striker D.J. Campbell and wants to conclude a loan deal to acquire emerging Tottenham right-back Kyle Naughton for at least this season.
Both players would increase the options on a roster that is hardly littered with star names.
One thing won't change: Loftus Road (capacity 18,500) in the Shepherds Bush area of the city is one of the smallest and most compact grounds in top level football. If QPR supporters can maintain their optimism, it might not be an easy place for anyone to visit.
Paddy Kenny and Radek Cerny are the goalkeepers expected to battle for the regular job while the defense includes Bradley Orr, Fitz Hall, Clint Hill, Matthew Connolly, Danny Shittu and new signing Danny Gabbidon, all serviceable players, but not one of them are on anyone's radar for future stardom.
Along with Faurlin, Rangers have Icelandic veteran Heidar Helguson, Hungarian Akos Buzsaky and Latvian Kaspars Gorkss. Only Faurlin is under 30, however, which makes you wonder how this aging bunch will survive the rigors the Premier League places on men.
Ghana's Patrick Agyemang can provide a threat up front if he and Bothroyd can form a working partnership. Not unexpectedly, Warnock's teams play a traditional English game, favoring counters, the long ball and a solid defense.
There is enough veteran experience here for Rangers to be more than a punching bag, but in order for that to happen, Bothroyd must make an immediate impact up front and the back four must quickly prove it has the speed to deal with the clever attackers it now must face. The big name of course is attacker Adel Taarabt, last year's leading scorer with 19 goals, and last year's Football League Player of the Year.
The cash-poor club will be sorely tempted to sell him; if he stays and can repeat his pyrotechnics, QPR might have some cut and thrust.
Survival in the BPL would be considered a major success, if not an outright act of magic pulled off by Warnock. One thing in QPR's favor is the glut of other clubs in similar circumstances which means avoiding the drop could come down to attitude and fighting qualities.
That's something Warnock is very good at developing and his teams have always reflected his personality. Look for Rangers to hit the January transfer market in need of at least two squad players who can keep them on course to avoid relegation: if management has the funds Warnock will surely need, then BPL football might still be at Loftus Road in 2012-13.