In a week or so, Queen’s Park Rangers gaffer Mark Hughes may well be flexing his managerial muscles on the latest edition of Football Manager rather than sending his players out to flatter to deceive at home and away.
The computer series, known for its ability to imitate real life with a terrifying degree of accuracy, has perhaps studied the personality of QPR owner Tony Fernandes, and decided that he is a loyal, forgiving, understanding, generous and charitable man.
Yet even on a PC he probably isn’t quite patient enough to put up with a draw or, heaven forbid, a loss against newly-promoted Southampton. After all, this is a hard-nosed businessman, not somebody organising a work experience scheme for wannabe Premier League bosses.
Hughes is facing being out of a job and the ignominy of having managed a club that failed to win a top flight game away from home in exactly a year. Now that is hardly something you would want on a managerial CV.
Other charges that you could pin on the Welshman are his tendency to make excuses rather than face up to the truth – that injuries have only been part of the explanation for a winless streak which now stands at 11 matches – and the even more damaging claim that his team no longer want to play for him.
Whilst it is almost impossible to verify the second accusation, it is certainly true that the R’s should not be gasping for air at the foot of the Premier League table, trapped under minnows such as Reading and the leaky Saints.
At the moment, Hughes is the man responsible for motivating a group of players that is simultaneously unable to defend, blunt in attack and porous in midfield. Internationally renowned professionals such as Ji-Sung Park and Esteban Granero have become passengers almost overnight.
Ever since his shock arrival from Inter Milan, Julio Cesar must have spent about 87 minutes of each game praying to be sent back to Italy: in between picking the ball out of his goal, of course.
This malaise cannot be pinned entirely on Hughes’ shoulders. He has been let down badly by big names like Djibril Cisse, who despite scoring a crucial equaliser against the Royals did absolutely nothing for the remainder of the 90 minutes.
He has also been unfortunate to lost Andrew Johnson to a season-long injury. Despite the journeyman label he suffers from, Hughes clearly brought the former Fulham striker to the club to play alongside Bobby Zamora – not watch in agony on the sidelines.
Perhaps the plan to recruit big-name players and drastically revamp the side that narrowly escaped relegation last season was doomed from the start. Too many new arrivals can unsettle a team: this is well known.
With the influx over the summer it wasn’t merely a handful of signings, Hughes was looking at imposing his style on nearly an entirely new team. This is not an easy task for any boss and it is unsurprising that he seems to have failed.
What is so disappointing is that not only have Rangers failed to address their disastrous form on the road, but the steely core established when teams visited Loftus Road has disappeared without trace. This, and nothing else, kept the R’s up last season. Without it, relegation looks almost unavoidable.
QPR fans know what managerial instability looks like. For years under the Flavio Briatore, Bernie Ecclestone and Gianni Paladini axis of evil there was a sacking every month and constant pressure placed on whoever was brave and foolish enough to take the job on.
Nobody in their right mind should want this to return. Hughes, given until Christmas, could possibly still turn this fiasco around. The trouble is, he must beat Southampton first, or face the first turkey to be slaughtered before the festive season begins.
(The above pic was taken by Martin Percival. All rights are reserved and his photos are used by the Independent R’s with his permission)