We've already discussed the two teams most closely connected to LAFC via the MLS team's 24-person ownership group, the NBA champion Golden State Warriors and local institution Los Angeles Dodgers. Now, we turn our attention to some of the other teams associated with LAFC, albeit at more of a distance.
Queens Park Rangers are a team that should be familiar to anyone who has followed the English Premier League the past several seasons. However, they haven't actually always played in the Premier League, as they've been the main "yo-yo team" of late. Returning to the EPL for the first time in 15 years for the 2011-12 season, they survived their first season in the top division, but were relegated back to the English Championship the following season. After a year there, they won the promotion playoff in the most dramatic fashion:
But this past season, back in the EPL, under veteran manager Harry Redknapp, who just a few short years ago looked like the next England manager, QPR sputtered badly, squandering a terrific season from forward Charlie Austin as Redknapp jumped ship midway through and the team finished 20th out of 20 teams, booking a place back down to the Championship after just one season back in the Premier League.
LAFC owner and director Ruben Gnanalingam is a co-owner and co-chairman of QPR. He was installed as co-chairman just this month, following relegation, with the release of the news stating he would be taking on a more hands-on role with the club. Previously, Tony Fernandes, who purchased the majority stake in the club in August 2011, had been the public face of the ownership, but Fernandes has had a rocky tenure in the British press as the figurehead of the club. Having Gnanalingam may help make QPR more stable all around, though time will tell on that count.
So what can the experiences of Gnanalingam with QPR do for LAFC? On one hand, the context is considerably different between the leagues involved, as of course MLS does not feature relegation, so LAFC doesn't have to worry about dropping out of the league.
But QPR has attempted to make a splash in the EPL and mostly failed pretty spectacularly. Signing good Premier League players who were aging is a risk that works out sometimes, including at MLS! But bringing the likes of Ji-Sung Park, Jose Bosingwa, Rio Ferdinand, Sandro, and Shaun Wright-Phillips didn't really light the world on fire or lead to good results in both relegation seasons.
So spending your way into the Premier League isn't a recipe for longevity at the highest level, something that can be applied to LAFC. To become a perennial playoff team in MLS, at the very least, the formula seems to be to balance a squad between a couple marquee players, regardless of Designated Player status or not, a handful of international players of differing ages, some Americans with experience in MLS, and some young players, at least a few of whom are Homegrown products from the club's academy. Simply maxing out the payroll and signing three really famous players doesn't really lead to success, least of all for an expansion team.
But stability is key for any sports team in any league, and QPR's yo-yo status should be a lesson for LAFC to not radically change plans year to year. Of course, there's a failed MLS team that is an even closer lesson for LAFC in that respect, but while QPR did well to win the Championship the first time they were promoted in recent years, and then somewhat miraculously won a promotion playoff for which they were big underdogs shows they've done some things right. Many teams get relegated then get stuck in the Championship for a long, long time, and QPR's ability to bounce back was impressive.
But doing what it takes to succeed in the Championship turned out to be far different than what it takes to remain in the Premier League, a hard lesson for QPR to learn yet again. And just because something works in England doesn't mean it can be wholly applied to the American sports landscape, or to a league structured so very differently in MLS. Still the sport is the same, and hopefully Gnanalingam can both help bring stability to the London club and bring some hard-won lessons to the new MLS team, even if it's mostly from long-distance.
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