Tony Fernandes wants to see Queens Park Rangers revert to basics for Saturday's Premier League fixture at Manchester United, with the possible recall of stalwarts from the promotion season such as Shaun Derry and Jamie Mackie, as he prioritises a restoration of pride.
The chairman was distraught on Saturday, when he watched his team lose the foot-of-the-table meeting at home to Southampton, with the emotion compounded by the fear that the manager, Mark Hughes, had lost the capacity to motivate key players. It has pressed Fernandes into a bout of soul-searching as he torments himself over whether to sack Hughes.
Fernandes has been hugely supportive of Hughes, whom he appointed last season to keep the club in the Premier League, after their elevation from the Championship the previous spring and, as much as anybody, he wants the manager to succeed. He has repeatedly backed Hughes in comments from his Twitter account, although the lack of support since the 3-1 defeat by Southampton has been ominous. Fernandes had labelled the visit of Saints as a must-win game.
Hughes met the chief executive, Phil Beard, on Monday and he was given no assurances about his future, further darkening the mood. It appears, though, that Fernandes, at least, is ready to give Hughes the United match, with the demand being to show some spirit at Old Trafford. It was notable that Derry and Mackie came on as second-half substitutes against Southampton and they are in contention to start against United.
The aspect that so distressed Fernandes against Southampton was the sight of players not giving their all and the home crowd voiced their anger when they chanted that some were "only here for the money". Fernandes, who is currently in Malaysia, oversaw a summer spree that brought 11 senior players to the club, many of them on huge wages.
Hughes warmed to the theme after the game, when he questioned the mental strength of the players that he had selected and promised there would be changes. He said that the performance had been the worst of his tenure and he conceded that relegation was a real danger. "Given the performance, I picked the wrong players," he said. "That can't be allowed to pass without changes being made."The situation is bleak and the club received another blow on Monday when it emerged that the striker Bobby Zamora faced surgery to correct a nagging hip injury, which would render him a long-term absentee. Hughes and his staff were back in training on Monday, after the players had the previous day off, and it was painted as business as usual. Yet the impression was of a man nervously awaiting his fate, together with his coaching staff.
Hughes has made it plain that he does not intend to resign, despite overseeing QPR's worst ever start to a top-flight campaign. The statistics make for grisly reading: no wins, four points and nine goals from 12 games.
Fernandes is mindful of the potential cost, in compensation, of dismissing Hughes, who is ten months into a two-and-a-half year contract, which is worth £3m-a-year. Hughes has also bought in a raft of additional personal, as he has restructured on several levels, chiefly the coaching set-up, youth academy and scouting network.
Harry Redknapp remains out of work, after his sacking in June by Tottenham Hotspur, and he has been strongly tipped to succeed Hughes. One of his good friends is Gianni Paladini, the former QPR chairman, who retains links to Amit Bhatia, the club's vice-chairman. "Until there is a change - if there is one - it would not be fair for me to discuss it," Redknapp said.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Tom Cuppens