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Tuesday, 06 March 2012

Outside the Box – Football on TV: QPR’s cautionary tale of success, greed and sweaty men is a real winner for the BBC

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In every avenue of the vast road map of life, there have been distinguished comedy legends. The political world has Boris Johnson, Gordon Brown and Margaret Thatcher; in the music fraternity we have all had a good giggle at Keith Richards and Gareth Gates; and let’s not forget Jordan… she doesn’t really have any talents – we just laugh at her for being her. And of course, the world of football has had more than its fair share of comedy greats; Gazza, Jimmy Bullard, Paul Merson and that Italian bloke on the Ladbrokes advert who shouts “Game On”. However, there is a new name to add to this list of laughable lugs, Flavio Briatore.

Briatore, a millionaire racing mogul and professional idiot was one of the five investors who bought Queens Park Rangers in 2007 and this takeover was the subject of Sunday evening’s stunning BBC documentary QPR – 4 Year Plan. It was a fascinating and at times preposterous insight into the seismic goings-on behind the boardroom doors at Loftus Road during the tumultuous Briatore reign. The filmmakers had incredibly unprecedented access to the corridors, meetings, slanging matches and general ineptitude engulfing the upper-echelons of the club and it was certainly a timely eye-opener for any football fan. I was hopeful that I would be in for a treat before the programme even began as the BBC announcer warned that it contained “strong language from the outset”, although I have to say that I was a little relieved that he didn’t go on to say it also contained “scenes of a sexual nature”. Especially when I knew Neil Warnock was going to feature heavily.

So rather predictably, the documentary began with the frenzied days of Braitore and his fellow investors arrival at the club. For the record, the other dodgy dealers involved read like a character list from Grand Theft Auto 4. So we had Alejandro Agag, Lakshmi Mittal, Amit Bhatia and everybody’s favourite rich hobbit Bernie Ecclestone. This cast of cretins spent the first days and months of their tenure making wild proclamations such as, “we’ll bring them the Champions’ League” and “we want to make QPR an international brand”; clear then that they were a fairly grounded bunch of businessmen. However, football rarely sticks to the script and QPR’s turgid form on the pitch was a million miles away from the owners’ fanciful aspirations. It was in these difficult early months that the greasy hulk-like Briatore cemented his hilarious façade. Seemingly producing an unending trail of sweat from his enormously-bronzed forehead, Briatore spent his days in a haze of swearing, shouting, talking gibberish and generally making about as much sense as a Chris Coleman team talk. Early on in the documentary I was particularly tickled by his sheer hatred of poor Martin Rowlands, he seemed to hold the QPR midfielder personally responsible for every problem the club faced. Lack of goals on the pitch, poor attendances and the quality of the sandwiches in the restaurant, Rowlands was blamed for the lot.

And Briatore’s irrational anger didn’t end there. The venom he spat at the numerous managers passing in and out of the Loftus Road revolving doors was also entertaining. Iain Dowie, Paulo Sousa, Paul Hart and Jim Magilton were all on the receiving end of Briatore’s ire at various times – the footage of meetings with Sousa were particularly revealing and at times it felt like a Gervais-scripted comedy, such was the intense awkwardness of the interactions. Perhaps the most outrageously hysterical piece of Briatore magic though was his response to the QPR fans’ growing wrath at his ownership. After attending yet another defeat, Briatore was leaving Loftus Road to a chorus of boos and less-than-favourable chants when he became embroiled in heated discussions with supporters outside the ground. Now, put yourself in his shoes; if you owned a football club and were enduring such vociferous anger at the job you were doing, how would you attempt to rectify the situation? Maybe you would do what Briatore did: announce to the assembled fans that, “I want the names of all the people booing me” before theatrically throwing his hand in the air and adding, “or I sell the club”. Yeah that’ll work Flavio, you tool.

As much as I found this engaging documentary funny, it also served as a stark warning about some of the murky business types currently infiltrating the world of football. If the chaotic disarray of in-fighting, inappropriate interfering, shadowy deals and plain incompetence is endemic of the current crop of owners, then the game of football is in a far worse state than we thought. I don’t do this often, but if you can catch QPR – 4 Year Plan on the BBC iPlayer, then you should do so right now, it really is a terrific watch. Just be wary though, it may make uncomfortable viewing for fans of teams with questionable owners, although I can assure you that Neil Warnock keeps all of his clothes on. Phew. - Football News & Transfers

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