The following article was written by Jamie Jackson and appeared recently in the Guardian. Who would have thought a month ago that we would get to read something like this – Steve Russell
Tony Fernandes, Queens Park Rangers’ new owner, is clear about why he signed Joey Barton: “You’ve got to have winners. If they’re all passive and sweet that’s not any good. I would have taken Craig Bellamy – we tried but Liverpool came along. When I came in I said to Neil Warnock: ‘Who do you want ? My recommendation is to get people who you think you can get more out of than other people have, and who are hungry.’ My whole life has been about looking for that person that money can’t buy in that they’ve got a bee in their bonnet.”
In Barton, Fernandes’s QPR project has unarguably recruited someone whose bonnet never stops buzzing. He joined on a free transfer last month. This followed his fallout with the Newcastle United hierarchy, and a stream of tweets quoting left-field thinkers that revealed the 28-year-old as the Premier League’s most unlikely bard. On Monday evening, Barton makes his debut against his former club at what will be a raucous Loftus Road.
How Barton might blend with another potential recruit would prove an intriguing watch. Fernandes claims LS Galaxy’s David Beckham, a free agent, is on the radar “100%”. “He’s got some things left unfinished and he obviously still enjoys playing football.” Is it realistic, then, to expect him in the hooped jersey soon ? “You are asking me things that generally I hate to answer, because I would rather do it,” Fernandes says. “All I can say is: ‘Do I like him ? Yes. Do I think he fits into the club ? Yes. Do we meet what he wants ? We’ll have to see’”
Fernandes says Barton heads the list of winners recruited by the club he bought a 66% share in last month for £45m. He believes the club he supports and nearly bought at least three times, West Ham United, has historically lacked these. In the 47-yeat-old Malaysian, whose fortune derives from building the low-cost airline AirAsia after he previously worked as a music executive for Virgin and Warner, QPR have landed an owner who should know the way to success.
Fernandes speaks well of allowing Warnock to get on with his job without any of the boardroom interference that blighted the turbulent reign of Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone, the former owners. Between 2007 and 2010 five managers, Luigi De Canio, Iain Dowie, Paulo Sousa, Jim Magilton and Paul Hart were all waved goodbye, with Briatore also offering unwanted input into team matters.
So Fernandes’s approach will be soothing music to Warnock, and QPR fans. He says: “Neil has the personality to bring the best out of players. I love him. And he has something to prove. In three weeks we’ve done quite a bit and now it’s up to him. I’m not going to speak of grand plans. But the tone has been set. We want the fans to feel part of the club and part of the decision-making process.”
The main thing is to avoid relegation this year. It’s not about who we bought that’s going to ensure the future success, it’s about what we build now; the Academy, the training ground, the infrastructure. The future of Harlington (QPR’s rented training ground) and our stadium are all up in the air. But we’re in a fantastic area and don’t want to move out. The message is: I don’t know where we’ll take this club, but we’ll give it our best shot.”
Fernandes, who, as a student, lived above a kebab shop on the Uxbridge Road while taking his accountancy degree at the London School of Economics, possesses a sense of fun that should be sustained by the madcap world he has entered. He already has some choice transfer window tales that feature panicking owners, cack-handed managers and dithering players. All remain off-record while Fernandes punctuates them with a trademark laugh and the verdict: “It’s exciting but not fun at the time. Don’t kid yourself that anyone in the Premier League is going to do you any favours.”
After Barton, Warnock’s recruits since Fernandes took over (with Amit Bhatia, who owns 33%), are Luke Young, Armand Traore, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Anton Ferdinand. Fernandes, who owns F1’s Team Lotus and is based in Kuala Lumpar, has a townhouse in Belgravia next to Eaton Square, whose residents have included Sean Connery, Jose Mourinho and Stanley Baldwin.
The date on which we meet there is a special one for Fernandes. “Its 10 years since AirAsia began. I signed on 8 September 2001 and three days later 9/11 happened,” he says. “I had no experience in the airline business and I signed subject to due diligence because I didn’t have enough money for the insurance – I was re-mortgaging my house.”
“I thought: ‘Bugger it.’ I didn’t want to sit there at 55 with regrets. If I failed, I failed. I didn’t mind failing. The worst thing in life is to have regrets like that. You only live once and you make the most of it. I’d rather be positive. I am one of those lucky people who have done what they said. I wanted to own an airline, an F1 team and a football club. It’s like a fairytale, right ? It doesn’t sound real.”
“But I never thought I would have the balls to be an entrepreneur. Every day you get your salary and you know what you’re doing. To be an entrepreneur you’ve got to chuck that all in. I was so frustrated in my last job at Warner (as a vice-president) during the late 90’s. I walked out of Rockefeller Plaza in New York after I decided to quit. Then I was in the Spaniard’s Inn (a pub) in London and I saw Stelios (Haji-Ioannou), the founder of easyJet) on TV, and I thought: ‘That looks interesting.’ I went up to Luton Airport and saw people flying to Barcelona for £8, to Paris for £6 and it looked great. But there is a fine line between brilliance and stupidity. If it failed everyone would have said: ‘What a fucking idiot.’”
It did not, and neither might QPR if Fernandes’s mix of business nous and wonder is retained. He adds: “I went to my first football match at QPR. When I go to Loftus Road now, I can still picture Stan Bowles and Gerry Francis. When I walked into QPR and I saw Sky Sports saying: ‘Tony Fernandes is about to arrive, the new owner of QPR’, I was in the reception. That was probably the most surreal moment of my life. I mean, I can almost walk there from here.”
Jamie Jackson – The Guardian