Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Man United, Chelsea, Spurs, Marseille and Anzhi Makhachkala.
QPR’s signings during the 2012/13 season came from the richest corners of European football, lured by the promise of exorbitant wages, a chance to play in the Premier League and life in a comfortable corner of west London.
Having avoided relegation from the top flight the previous campaign, Mark Hughes set about spending Tony Fernades’ sizeable income to supplement a workmanlike squad built in the image of Neil Warnock, save for Adel Taarabt’s magical feet.
Julio Cesar, Jose Bosingwa and Ji-sun Park arrived at Loftus Road as Champions League winners, Esteban Granero came fresh from winning La Liga with Madrid and a trio of England internationals in Rob Green, Jermaine Jenas and Andy Johnson joined from three London rivals.
If spirit was high heading into the season, the ceiling was about to come crashing down in spectacular fashion. QPR limped out of the Premier League having won just four games, the first of which fans had to wait until midway through December to celebrate.
In theory, six years later the same club still lies dormant in the Championship. But to lump Mark Warbuton’s current crop in with the mercenaries of QPR’s last Premier League jaunt would be to ignore a complete change in identity at Loftus Road which has got fans dreaming again.
The numbers speak for themselves. QPR spent a grand total of nothing this summer, instead boosting the squad with shrewd free transfers, loans and academy graduates. For the Madrid, Inter and United of six years ago, read Rotherham, Livingston and Man City’s Under-23s.
Paul Finney, a QPR fan since the early ’80s and regular on The QPR Podcast, explained: “We needed to go back to basics because of what happened in the past. The spending had killed our bank balance and some of the love that people had for the club.
“We had idiots like Mark Hughes coming in and agents queuing at the door to fill the club with utter crap. It was a collection of has-beens and never-will-bes. They were some of the worst players and most uncaring souls I’ve ever seen wearing the hoops.
“It was a shocking time for the club, but now it’s all about the youngsters. Identity at QPR is everything. We are a loyal fanbase and a great community club. All we want is a team that we can clap off the park every week.”
No one personifies QPR MKII better than midfielder Eberechi Eze. The versatile 21-year-old was picked up from Millwall in 2016 without a first-team appearance to his name and has gone on to become a firm fan favourite.
QPR season ticket holder Jakey Lathey says: “He’s an exciting player, great to watch. He’s got quick feet and loves to beat a man, so that always goes down well with the fans. If he keeps it up he’ll have the Taarabt effect.
“I think he can definitely play for England one day. He was off with the Under-21 squad recently, so he’ll only benefit from playing with people like Phil Foden.
“It’s quality to see so many youngsters in the side these days. We’ve now got young hungry footballers rather than offering these has-beens £90,000-a-week to sit on the bench.”
Fellow QPR season ticket holder George Sexton-Kerr agrees, adding: “Eze has been fantastic. He’s been a revelation. It looks like Warbuton is the perfect manager to get the best out of all our young players.”
Warbuton has already shown willingness to be tactical flexible, switching between a back three and a back four depending on the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition.
It’s clearly having an impact. With seven Championship games played, only Bristol City and Preston have outscored QPR’s tally of 12 goals. Strikers Jordan Hugill and Nahki Wells, loanees from Preston and Burnley respectively, have hit the ground running, aided by the creative efforts behind them.
Tony Incenzo, QPR supporter and talkSPORT reporter, says: “There is so much exciting young talent at the club at the moment. Bright Osayi-Samuel on the flank, Ilias Chair and Eze. When they’re all on the pitch and they’re passing to each other the football is flowing and delightful to watch.
“That’s the QPR from the past that we all grew up with- developing young and hungry players. Those youngsters get an extra cheer from the crowd. If you look around the stadium today, the Loftus Road Stand and the School End Stand were both paid for by the sale of homegrown players in the ’80s.”
It’s not just on the pitch that QPR have been gaining plaudits.
In June, QPR changed the name of Loftus Road to the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium. Prince was just 15, and a promising member of QPR’s academy, when he was stabbed to death in 2006. Following Prince’s death, his parents set up a foundation to educate young people about the consequences of knife crime.
When fans were offered the chance to nominate a local charity to win the naming rights, the Kiyan Prince Foundation received more than 63% of the votes.
Discussing the ethos of community at QPR, Incenzo said: “QPR have always been a great community club. My firm belief is that you should support your local football club because they put so much into the local community in terms of coaching kids, women’s teams and so on.
“Their biggest project was the Grenfell Tower project and getting behind that. There was a charity game here that raised a lot of money for the survivors and families, so QPR are very much part of the community.”
QPR’s influence hasn’t just been felt close to home. Buenos Aires local Sebsatian Garcia went viral on social media last week after revealing the impact QPR has had on his life.
“I remember a game in 1999, when QPR came from behind to level against Stockport County, and that was the first ever time I heard a radio through the internet,” Garcia reminisces.
“I don’t have any other Argentine QPR fans to follow the team with, but because I told my story I have already been contacted by two guys who happen to have the same passion for the club that I do.
“One of them is from Rosario, where Alejandro Faurlin is from, as well as a lesser-known Argentine called Lionel Messi.”
So will a newly-formed Argentine supporters club have a promotion to celebrate come the end of the season?
Lathey is positive, saying: “I’m keeping quietly confident about this season. It’s the first time in a while that we seem to actually have a plan for games. We seem to be moving forward under Warbs after a lot of going backwards under Steve McClaren.”
Sexont-Kerr is similarly optimistic, adding: “I would hope that we can sneak a play-off place. I think we are there or thereabouts at the moment but it’s a long season. If we’re there at the end of the season I’ll be more than happy.”
Garcia is more cautious, explaining: “Survival is still the goal. I’m very happy with the start of the season so far and I trust things can continue to improve. I’ve been impressed by Warbuton and the impact of the new guys like Hugill. But, most importantly, we’ve got Eberechi Eze!”
Whisper it quietly, but the future finally looks bright for QPR. West London’s travelling circus appears to be closed for business, replaced by stability and youthful serenity.
QPR’s Class of 2019 have QPR fans believing again.
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