Football League World
·7 June 2023
Football League World
·7 June 2023
QPR endured a perilous 2022/23 Championship campaign jettisoning from promotion hopefuls to relegation candidates in the blink of an eye.
Only in October had the West London outfit sat atop the league table under the tuition of Michael Beale, after a remarkable run of nine wins from their opening 16 matches.
But, when Beale sought pastures new and headed north of the border to rejoin Rangers, a club that he had previously coached at alongside Steven Gerrard, the R's waned and went on to claim just four more victories across the rest of the season.
Highly-regarded boss Neil Critchley had taken the reins only to find himself unable to overturn QPR's fortunes as they stumbled further and further down the table, eventually ending up embroiled in the pit of a relegation battle.
Under Gareth Ainsworth, QPR managed to stay up by the skin of their teeth, and they, just like Cardiff City, may be counting their lucky stars following Reading's decisive six-point deduction, for without that, either side could well have succumbed to the drop.
They also had the relative support cushion from their high points total in the season's early stages, which proved crucial given that their form after October resembled that of a side who would usually be relegated without so much as a whimper.
However, they will not be quite so fortunate next term and, as they prepare to launch back up the table in what promises to be one of the most high-quality, highly-competitive Championship campaigns in years, it is vital that they get it right this summer.
With Leicester City primed to lose the talismanic James Maddison following relegation and a subsequent series of reported transfer interest from the likes of Tottenham, Newcastle and now Liverpool, the Foxes are scouring for potential replacements.
This may just appease Leicester, with their desperate attempts to balance the books financially in the wake of a shock demotion from the top flight meaning that they will need to be shrewd when it comes to acquiring talent this summer.
That said, Ainsworth can nonetheless expect to receive a fair fee for the club's chief asset if he is prized away to the east Midlands, given that Chair, who is valued £8.6m according to Transfermarkt, has two years remaining on his current deal.
Therefore, QPR can afford to play hardball and either drive a hard bargain or choose to keep the Moroccan international stationed in West London altogether, but in the event of what appears a fairly plausible departure, discovering a successor to the club's creative throne will prove easier said than done.
Last term, the attacking midfielder was a constant force in spite of the team's struggles, and, per 90 minutes, ranked above 99% of Championship players in his position for key passes made (2.64), above 98% for shot-creating actions (5.09) and above 91% for both passes into the final third (3.25) and progressive ball carries (4.26) according to FBRef, all the while weighing in with five goals and nine assists.
Chair, at his best, is one of the finest technical footballers outside the Premier League and QPR probably feel thankful to have even retained him for so long, and while their current predicament will add a degree of difficulty towards the potential recruitment and replacement process, the best option could be found at Aston Villa in the form of Finn Azaz if the Moroccan does depart.
Even though they have sanctioned significant player sales such as Eberechi Eze and Luke Freeman in recent years, QPR do not tend to reinvest the funds into paying large sums for replacements, instead continuously operating on a tight budget that emphasises negotiating cost-efficient transfer fees and utilising the market of free agents and loan players.
As such, it is the latter transfer store that Ainsworth should be shopping in for a prospective Chair replacement, with Finn Azaz returning to Villa Park off the back of a highly productive loan spell with League One champions Plymouth Argyle.
Having previously excelled in temporary stints at both Cheltenham Town and Newport County, Azaz elevated his game to a new level in the third-tier, and it appears inevitable that the Championship now presents the next step in his career before potentially graduating to Villa's first-team fold.
He may not yet behold quite the inventive arsenal of Chair, but, as per Fotmob, the 22-year-old won possession in the final third on more occasions per 90 (1.3) than any other player in the division barring Oxford United's Tyler Goodrham, created a team-high 57 chances and recorded a healthy return of eight goals and eight assists from 34 outings.
Naturally then, talk has emanated surrounding a potential return to Devon for Azaz, and Pilgrims boss Steven Schumacher explained to PlymouthLive that they "will be having those conversations" with his parent club to see if a second spell at Home Park is possible.
And it would be hard to contest that Plymouth are not well-placed to land his signature either, although the lure of playing for a bigger club in QPR could prove tantalizing in the event of registered interest.
Crucially, the R's also have credit in the bank up at Aston Villa after loaning in and nurturing midfield powerhouse Tim Iroegbunam, who shone in his first full season of professional football and played a big role in securing the club's survival.
If QPR were to swoop for Azaz, they would hope, no doubt, that the way in which they developed Iroegbunam by providing regular minutes in a suited system is not lost on Villa as they have shown they can be trusted with the progression of valuable loan players.
Of course, there is always the counter-argument that, unlike Chair, Azaz is not a seasoned Championship footballer, and it would represent something of a risk given his lack of experience above the third and fourth tiers, though sometimes, risks are worth taking, and Azaz certainly falls into that bracket.
In his young career, he has conquered the two divisional hurdles he has faced away from Villa and seems to have the skillset to not only cope with the demands of the Championship, but indeed, to potentially thrive within them under the right management.