Queens Park Rangers could be relegated this weekend. If results go against them, if they lose and their rivals for the drop all win, they will be down. Not even Houdini could escape from a predicament as perilous as theirs. Never mind Harry Redknapp.
It may not be this weekend, but when they go (the 'if' long ago left the Loftus Road building) it will signal the conclusion of one of the most ignominious spending sprees in Premier League history. Sure, back in 2004 Leeds paid the nightmare price of living the dream. But at least they got to the Champions League semi-finals in their midst of their debt-driven illusion. Sure, Portsmouth were plunged into such financial problems they are now condemned to next season in League Two. But they have a replica FA Cup in the trophy cabinet to remind them of the – albeit borrowed – good times.
What do QPR have to show for two years of financial insanity? Not a lot more than a squad the size of a small army, all paid the wages of Croesus, none of whom are likely to find alternative employment anywhere else soon. Across four transfer windows, under three different managers, QPR panic-bought, grafting on another layer of expensively acquired baubles they could not afford to maintain on their income.
And what did they get for their investment? Not much more than misery, a continuous scrap against the drop, their fans wearying of the latest collection of opportunists moving in to pick gleefully off the corpse.
Sure, QPR would argue their case is not the same as Leeds or Portsmouth or Bradford. The difference between Rangers and those who have previously fallen off the fiscal cliff in the Premier League is that they have the backing. The money is not borrowed it comes from the inside. The Mittal family, the ultimate owners of the club, are among the richest men in the world. The club will not go bust with them signing the cheques.
Yet it makes you wonder, if they were such clever businessmen that they could grow their massive steel cartel into one of the world’s most profitable enterprises, why did they allow their football interest to pursue the economics of oblivion? Why are they happy to see their careful accrued cash squandered on a bunch of journeymen, swishing into the training ground in baby Bentleys? Remember QPR are still paying most of Joey Barton’s wages. That does not speak of clever financial management.
Those at the club speak optimistically about how relegation will not derail their long-term ambitions. They talk of a new training complex, of a freshly commissioned 40,000-seat stadium at the heart of an entertainment hub locked in to the new Crossrail-led transport links of north-west London. They talk of the club becoming a viable, self-sustaining corporate entity.
Which all sounds well and good, but if they are that clever and forward-thinking, how come they made such a fantastic mess of the chance they were gifted in reaching the Premier League? This is a club with the backing to rival any in Europe - and about to find its income disappearing down the drain.
The irony is, the alternative way of operating is there for all to see. Swansea City came up with QPR two seasons ago. Their stay in the top division can be viewed as the diametric opposite of Rangers. While the Londoners spent 91% of their income on player wages last season, Swansea spent 54%. Boasting the lowest wage bill in the division, they posted a profit in their first season in the financial uplands of £17 million, money which will be ploughed back into the club in the shape of a new training ground. They have no debt, they even have money in the bank earning interest. Oh, and, in addition to maintaining their place at the top table, they won a trophy this year, the Capital One Cup.
When I met their chairman Huw Jenkins ahead of the final at Wembley back in February, I asked him how he had managed to achieve the apparently impossible combination of success and profit. Was it a conjuring trick? He replied that there was no rocket science involved. Any club chairman had the wherewithal to bring costs under control immediately with the stroke of a pen. According to him, madness was neither necessary nor contagious.
The interesting thing about Jenkins is this: he presided over the largest profit in the Premier League while drawing the lowest salary of any chief executive. He is paid less than a tenth of his counterparts at Arsenal and Manchester United. As QPR head towards a spell in the Championship they insist will be only temporary, that is surely the lesson worth absorbing.