If next week could get any more dramatic… it just did, with the news that a four-man Football Association panel will meet on Tuesday to consider the seven charges brought against league leaders Queen’s Park Rangers in relation to the transfer and registered ownership of Argentinian midfielder Alejandro Faurlin.
The hearing is expected to last up to three days with the result due to be made public on Friday – just 24 hours before the final round of nPower Championship games of the season.
Victory for Rangers away at Watford tomorrow would not only take Neil Warnock’s side back to the Premiership for the first time in 15 years, it would also land Rangers the title.
For today The Sun newspaper claimed that if found guilty, Rangers could yet face a 15-point deduction which would then drop them right back into the play-off mix and enable the second-placed Canaries to secure both automatic promotion and the Championship title if all goes to plan away at Portsmouth on Easter Monday evening and at home to Coventry City on that final day of the season.
Today, Rs’ boss Warnock was in a typically bullish mood as an affair that first surfaced last September now threatens to create chaos in the final week of the season – particularly if the decision goes against the West London side.
They are not, of course, now short of a bob or two; Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal – reportedly the world’s fifth richest man with a personal fortune estimated at £26 billion – is one of a clutch of A-List shareholders in the club.
None of whom are used to being denied; all of whom could mount the most formidable legal challenge to the Football Association if they fail to reach the ‘sensible’ decision Warnock expects them to.
Go into that legal battle next week with the title secured at Vicarage Road tomorrow and the pressure will be that much greater on the football authorities not to rock the boat, would appear to be part of the thinking.
“I don’t have any control on when we get the trophy – that’s up to the league, but should we beat Watford, I’ll take it now,” said Warnock today, only denied a return to the top flight at home to Hull last weekend by Simeon Jackson’s 96th minute winner for the Canaries against Derby County.
The extra two points the Canadian’s mid-riff delivered ensured that – mathematically – both Norwich and Cardiff could still overtake the Rs and force them into the lottery of the play-offs.
Now, however, that four-man panel – chaired by a leading QC – could yet decide Rangers’ fate and whip the nPower Championship trophy out of their hands.
“It might mean there’s even more pressure on the commission to deal with the matter sensibly, although I’m not bothered by the hearing,” added Warnock.
QPR themselves were equally confident that they could answer the seven charges laid at their door to the panel’s satisfaction.
“Having co-operated fully with the FA’s investigation, QPR and [chairman] Gianni Paladini shall be denying all of the charges and requesting a formal hearing to determine them. We are confident there has been no deliberate wrongdoing,” the club said.
Part of Rangers’ problem may well be that the 24-year-old midfielder is hardly a ‘fringe’ player. The six-foot Faurlin has made 39 appearances for the Rs; scoring three goals.
He has clearly made a lasting impression on their title charge this term.
Should the appropriate paperwork not have been lodged, should his ownership have resided with a third-party in the manner that it did with Carlos Tevez when at West Ham United then the Rs may yet have an awkward case to answer.
The timing too, is significant, in that the FA clearly know that they cannot let the affair rumble on through the summer.
Should a punishment need to be served – particularly in the form of a points deduction – then QPR could still have the lifeline of a place in the play-offs to deliver their Premiership dream. It could be the best ‘get out’ for the FA.
Certainly given the money that the likes of a Mittal have at his disposal, to slap Rangers on the wrist with a financial penalty will bring howls of protest from wronged Championship clubs – Norwich and Cardiff foremost among them.
Warnock admitted that he had spoken to QPR’s legal representative himself – just to confirm, for his own peace of mind, that all would be well next week.
“I’ve spoken to the people at the club about what was happening but I wanted to speak to someone outside the club myself so I spoke to the barrister involved.
“I had 20 minutes on the phone with him, he went through everything with me and I was very happy with what was said.”