Cottagers Confidential: It doesn't look like QPR will be relegated or promoted this year. With those things off the table, what do you want to see from the team for the rest of the year.
Loft for Words: It's actually something of a relief. We've either been fighting for a promotion or against a relegation for each of the last five years, with two ups and two downs in that time. It doesn't make for a lot of long term planning, particularly last time when Harry Redknapp was in charge and we shifted one whole team on, bought a whole new one, went up, bought a whole new one again and then had to offload as much of it as we could this season. That bloke can be ruinous, but the board are more to blame for that recklessness.
What the rest of this season looks like is almost an extended pre-season for next year. We've shifted some of the big earners in January, and some of the summer signings we made are now getting a chance and impressing – particularly Massimo Luongo, Seb Polter and Alex Smithies. We've signed a couple of other League One players in January – Conor Washington and Nasser El Khayati – so they all need to bed in and get up to the standard of the division. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has been working them hard to get the fitness levels up, and while that resulted in a dire Christmas because everybody was knackered, we're starting to see some benefits from that.
While basically seeing out a season trying things out and bedding people in doesn't sound thrilling, or good for season ticket sales, a lot of clubs who have had that opportunity have gone on to do very well at this level the following year – Bournemouth, Watford, Leicester, Warnock's QPR were all midtable or lower the season before they stormed promotion.
CC: Both Fulham and QPR have been punished for violating FFP rules. How do you feel about the rules? Do you think it's going to be positive, or just cement the clubs at the top in their place going forward?
LFW: Well, we haven't been punished yet. In our 2013/14 promotion season we basically totally ignored the rules, had a wage bill of £79m (Championship record) and gambled on getting promoted – which we did by the skin of our teeth. That moved us out of Football League jurisdiction so they couldn't impose a transfer ban under the rules as they were written – just a fine were we ever to return to the FL. Of course we were back within a year but the rules as originally written would have leveraged a fine so colossal and punitive - £60m or thereabouts – it wouldn't have been legally enforceable. Fines of companies have to be related to turnover, as I understand it – so you could fine BP £1bn no problem at all, but you couldn't fine the local Spar Shop that amount.
So we've been locked in negotiations with them ever since over exactly how much this fine will be. Meanwhile the rules have been relaxed slightly, which weakens the league's case against us as it suggests even they realised they were unworkable. The league obviously have Blackburn and Forest watching on carefully, if a legal ruling were to go against the FL I'm sure they'd be very interested in some compensation. It feels like they're happy to keep kicking the can along the path on that one.
Meanwhile, given that the likes of Fer, Sandro, Green, Phillips, Austin, Onuoha etc have stuck around for some or all of the season I wouldn't be surprised at all if we've breached the rules again this season, for which we will face a future embargo. Hopefully the £9m-odd we got from Raheem Sterling's sale in the summer will keep our nose above the water.
The rules feel like a worthy idea, badly executed. The idea that we don't want to see famous old English football clubs driven to ruin by foreign owners who then simply sod off leaving creditors seeking 10p in the pound is worthy. But the rules as they are basically mean if you have the biggest income – i.e. support base – you can spend the most, which only serves to keep the big clubs big and the smaller clubs in their place. They also mean that if you're relegated from the Premier League, you basically have to get rid of your entire squad immediately or you'll breach it on wages alone – again while encouraging clubs to put proper relegation clauses into contracts is a good idea, and Burnley have shown how you should do it properly, it's not really fair or practical on clubs or players.
Good idea, not very well thought through.
CC: You have a new manager since we've last played and gone through the January window. How different is this squad than the one we last faced?
LFW: This year we started with a sound plan, have a sound plan now, and went a bit mad in the middle. The original idea, and the idea now, revolves around getting rid of the high earners, bringing the average age and wage of the squad down, investing in younger players, scouting lower leagues and so on to try and create a more affordable, sustainable, fitter, hungrier squad than the collections of mercenaries we've had in recent years.
Like I say, in about October time, with several big names still on the books – Sandro, Leroy Fer, Charlie Austin, Matt Phillips – chairman Tony Fernandes rode into town, put out on his Instagram that lots of hard work was being done but "promotion means everything to me" and the whole mantra of the club seemed to change. Players we'd brought in the summer, like Massimo Luongo and Alex Smithies, saw no game time at all, and the likes of Fer, Sandro etc were picked remorselessly under the idea that they're Premier League players and should be enough to get us back up.
Problem is, they were nowhere near as good as we made them out to be, and in most cases either not fit or not arsed or both. Robert Green's form was absolutely abysmal as well and results fell off a cliff, resulting in yet another change of manager.
Actually, it's turned out to be a blessing. Fer, Sandro, Austin (who I don't lump into that group really, as he was fantastic throughout his time at the club) have gone and Green has been bombed out altogether but can't find a taker in the market for a goalkeeper who never could kick or command his area and this season couldn't save shots either. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has come in and improved the fitness of the team, we've signed Conor Washington and Nasser El Khayati from League One, Luongo is back in the team and playing well, Smithies is in goal and playing well, Seb Polter has come back in and looks unorthodox but effective. We're a lot fitter and better organised.
It feels like it's heading the right way again. Hopefully.
CC: Predicted lineup and score?
LFW: A draw is a pretty safe bet but for once I fancy we may just nick it so I'll go 2-1. We certainly owe you!
Perch Hall Onuoha Konchesky
Phillips Luongo Faurlin Hoilett