MILAN – The opening weekend of any Premier League season is an evocative time for all concerned, but this weekend's fixtures were given an added resonance with their being played out in the context of a spate of harrowing civil disobedience which beset many of England's largest cities early last week. While Tottenham Hotspur's fixture against Everton was unable to be fulfilled in the aftermath of the London rioting, there was a semblance of normality restored to the capital as Queens Park Rangers went ahead with their opening day tie against Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.
Returning to the top-flight after a 15-year absence, Neil Warnock's QPR stormed to the Championship title last season with a brand of football which combined canny defensive conservatism with an intuitive attacking flair unmatched by any of their promotion rivals. Led by captain Adel Taarabt - a mercurial genius blessed with extraordinary technical ability - and (at least for the time being) backed by a collection of remarkably wealthy men, there is arguably much more expected of QPR than of their fellow newly-promoted teams, Swansea and Norwich City.
However, in front of an enthusiastic Loftus Road crowd on a sun-dappled August afternoon, the Hoops were given a rather bleak reality check as their opponents produced a cunning and professional performance to consign QPR to a heavy 4-0 defeat. Despite a bright start to the game, the home side's giddy early enthusiasm was steadily ground down by a Bolton side which is all too conscious of the specific faculties required to survive at the highest level. While his side didn't disgrace themselves by any means, Warnock has been served an early reminder of just how great the gap in class between the Championship and the Premier League is.
Of course, as interesting as QPR's on-field return to the top-flight is, events in the Loftus Road boardroom are proving just as intriguing at present. Over the summer cracks have appeared in the edifice of Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone's co-ownership, regular in-fighting and poor public relations strategies having drawn the ire of an increasingly exasperated fan base. For several weeks now rumors regarding an imminent takeover of the club by Air Asia and Team Lotus owner Tony Fernandes have abounded, his presence alongside Briatore in the directors' box on Saturday seeming to confirm much of the conjecture. Indeed, with the Malaysian businessman reportedly in advanced talks with the west London club, there have been whisperings that a deal may be struck as soon as the early part of this week.
The great hope of many of the Loftus Road faithful is that the current owners (who, incidentally, have gradually made tickets prohibitively expensive to swathes of supporters) will move aside and make way for an individual or consortium more willing to invest in the squad and provide it with the slight strengthening many feel it needs in order to fulfill its substantial promise in the Premier League. Above all, it would be fair to say, the fans want to see their club to be run by men who have its interests far more clearly at heart. Whether Fernandes is the man to provide that cohesion and stability remains to be seen, but - at least for a large number of QPR supporters - any change which brings an end to the Briatore/Ecclestone axis would be positive in the short term at the very least.
The team may have endured a disappointing start to the new campaign, but the burgeoning potential QPR has is plain for all to see. Equipped with a squad possessing more than a smattering of quality and a manager who knows the division well and inspires great loyalty in his charges, the basic framework is in place for Rangers to comfortably guide themselves to safety this season. All that is needed now are owners who don't seem bent on destroying the most traditionally positive aspects of this most endearing of footballing institutions.
If the boardroom difficulties are swiftly ironed out and Warnock provided with the funds he so yearns for, then there's no reason why the attractive and successful football we saw from QPR in 2010/11 won't be gracing the Premier League on a regular basis this season.