If there is one thing more frustrating for a manager than a transfer saga involving his best player, it’s one that isn’t resolved by the time the season kicks off.
This is the situation QPR boss Chris Ramsey finds himself in currently, with the future of striker Charlie Austin still as undecided as it was exactly three months ago, the day his side were relegated back to the Championship.
Bizarrely, for a man with 18 Premier League goals on his CV in a market desperate for proven goalscorers, there is one key element missing in this transfer impasse: bids.
For all that clubs like Newcastle, Tottenham, West Ham, Everton and Sunderland have been strongly linked with the 26-year-old, Director of Football Les Ferdinand admitted recently that there are no bids on the table from any club, with Leicester’s rejected £12m the only concrete offer received all summer.
With the season having kicked off last weekend, when Austin played 85 minutes in a 2-0 defeat to Charlton, it leaves Ferdinand and co now contemplating the possibility of continuing the campaign with the talents of the star striker at their disposal, so much so that Ramsay has even spoken this week of offering Austin a new contract, with only one year left to run.
Whether this is simply to placate the club accountants or otherwise, Ramsey will surely be delighted if he’s able to plot a route back to the top flight with Austin on his weekly teamsheet.
Yet recent precedent suggests that QPR might be better to cash in on Austin and rid themselves of any unwanted distractions in order to forge a more cohesive promotion push.
Take Norwich, the most recent club to make an instant return to the Premier League. Although they managed to keep the core of their squad together, including keeper John Ruddy, club captain Russell Martin and eventual player of the year Bradley Johnson, they sold arguably their best player (and player of the year when relegated) Robert Snodgrass to Hull for £7m. Leroy Fer was also shown the door to the tune of £8m, to QPR.
The Hoops themselves can cite recent history to prove that clearing the decks isn’t always a bad thing. Following relegation in 2013, their immediate play-off return came after selling Christopher Samba for £12m, only six months after arriving at Loftus Road, along with exits for Djibril Cisse, DJ Campbell, Jose Bosingwa and loan moves for Adel Taarabt, Park Ji-Sung and, crucially given the Austin comparison, star striker Loic Remy.
There are similar examples looking further back into clubs who made instant returns following the gloom of relegation.
West Ham came straight back in 2011/12 despite selling player of the season Scott Parker following their drop. Birmingham, in 2006/07, sold most of their big names – with Emile Heskey, Jermaine Pennant, David Dunn and Matthew Upson all leaving for large fees – yet Steve Bruce was still able to mastermind promotion via the runners-up spot, down largely to using the income to sign Gary McSheffrey from Coventry, who went on to top score.
That season they finished behind Roy Keane’s Sunderland, who had sold fans-favourite Julio Arca to Middlesbrough in order to fund the key signings of David Connolly, Dwight Yorke and Carlos Edwards, with the Black Cats crowned champions just a season after posting the then worst Premier League points total in history.
Similarly two years later, with Birmingham in full yo-yo mode, Alex McLeish followed the same route by bringing in guaranteed championship goals in Kevin Phillips, at the expense of shipping out the disruptive Olivier Kapo for £3.5m to Wigan.
And although they kept a hold of key experienced players such as Fabricio Coloccini, Jose Enrique and Jonas Gutierrez, it was the youth of Andy Carroll they trusted to score the goals to fire Newcastle back to promotion in 2009/10, after allowing Michael Owen to join Man Utd for free and cashing in on Obafemi Martins to the tune of £9m, with Sebastien Bassong also being allowed to leave to Spurs for a similar fee.
Instead, if QPR fans want to look at one side for inspiration and find proof that hanging on to your star players can sometimes come good in the Championship, then Kevin Keegan’s free-flowing Manchester City side of 2001/02 is their target.
Keegan’s mavericks won the division by ten clear points, scoring over 100 goals with a strikeforce of Shaun Goater, Darren Huckerby and Paulo Wanchope. Between the three of them they bagged 60 goals, and crucially all three had been on the books during City’s relegation the year before.
Should Austin sign a new contract, Ramsey will be hoping to follow City’s path, with QPR 11/2 to seal promotion at the first time of asking.