Whatever your view of Harry Redknapp -- and he certainly divides opinion -- his latest task unquestionably suits him. At Tottenham, he was fond of reminding journalists about the situation he inherited -- "They had two points from eight games before I got here," became a catchphrase, and ultimately a running joke.
But beneath the joke, lay the facts -- Redknapp hauled Tottenham out of the relegation places, and ultimately into a Champions League qualification position the next season. He won't fully repeat the trick, and QPR won't be in the European Cup in 2014/15, but he has experience of this situation.
Like Spurs, QPR are bottom for a reason -- and not because of a lack of talent. Their squad mixes Champions League-winning veterans like Julio Cesar, Park Ji-Sung and Djirbril Cisse, talented technical players like Esteban Granero, Adel Taarabt and Junior Hoilett and dependable fan favourites like Jamie Mackie, Shaun Derry and Clint Hill. Yes, the average age (and average wage) is too high, but this squad should be considerably closer to mid-table.
As any QPR fan will tell you, the problem has been with motivation, determination and belief. Mark Hughes appeared to be in charge of a fractured squad, a perception supported by Lee Cook, the winger who departed for Leyton Orient earlier in the season. Following Hughes' departure, Cook said there was a split in the dressing room and Redknapp needed to address that problem first and foremost.
Maybe Cook had an axe to grind with Hughes, who evidently didn't consider him a Premier League quality player, but his comments fit the evidence on the pitch. Earlier in the season, he questioned Park's commitment. "Every time I saw Park at United, he was a workhorse. For me, he doesn't seem to be working as hard as he did there," he said back in October. "People I know think a few of them are there for a payday. At halfway through the season, you will be able to tell whether this is true or not." We're not yet halfway through the season, but the conclusion is obvious.
To get a talented but underperforming squad firing, Redknapp is the man. He's not a keen tactician, he leaves training ground work to his coaches, and he's the first to dispute his reputation as a wheeler-dealer. He is, put simply, a motivator and understands how to deal with footballers. Even the most eloquent players he's managed can't explain his secret. "He's just a good man manager, a very decent bloke," says David James, who played under Redknapp at Portsmouth. "He looks after his players well and has got the best out of the talent that has played under him." His methods may have limitations, which may explain why the Football Association overlooked him when appointing Roy Hodgson as England coach, but he can surely fire up QPR.
A more specific question, and a nagging doubt about Redknapp's quality, is his strategic ability. Can he out-think opposition coaches? Can he set his side up intelligently and win games tactically?
Redknapp has always portrayed himself as a tactical sceptic, preferring to concentrate on bringing the best out of individuals, rather than concentrating upon the system. Rafael van der Vaart famously supported that theory in his early days at Tottenham Hotspur. "There are no long and boring speeches about tactics, like I was used to at Real Madrid," he raved. "There is a clipboard in our dressing room but Harry doesn't write anything on it! The only words he speaks to me are, 'You play left or right, work hard, have fun and show the fans your best.'"
It's a fascinating insight, but only tells half the story. Van der Vaart would later complain about his defensive duties when fielded on the flank, because beneath the freedom afforded to attackers, Redknapp also likes to defend in a solid shape. Without the ball, his sides are structured and rigid. His mid-game substitutions are often explained from a tactical point of view -- he wanted to play narrower, or with more thrust from midfield, or to get pace in behind the defence, forcing the opposition to sit deeper. It's never complex, and it's a world away from the approach favoured by his successor at Tottenham, Villas-Boas, but they are still tactics.
On Saturday, Redknapp faced Aston Villa's Paul Lambert, a manager who had cleverly defeated Redknapp at White Hart Lane back in April, when his Norwich side recorded a fine 2-1 victory over Spurs. For the trip to Loftus Road, Lambert chose a surprise shape: a 5-3-2, with three centre-backs supported by energetic wing-backs.
Redknapp's tactics weren't disastrous -- QPR dominated possession, but did so by default, because Lambert's formation concentrated on packing the defence, barely seeking to compete in midfield. QPR's area of strength was obvious -- they had overloads on both flanks, outnumbering the Aston Villa wing-backs. Every time QPR had the ball, full-backs Jose Bosingwa and Armand Traore were free, but while the former stretched the play, the latter remained a deep position, level with his centre-backs. QPR had four players -- Traore, the two centre-backs and holding midfielder Stephane Mbia -- marshalling just two Aston Villa forwards, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke.
Another manager would have been content with three against two at the back, and pushed Traore higher up. Another manager wouldn't have substituted Granero, the perfect player to sit deep in midfield and spread play from flank to flank. Another manager would have introduced Cisse, a second striker, to assist Mackie in getting on the end of the resulting stream crosses. But QPR continued their sterile dominance, didn't appear to have a grand plan, and the second goal never arrived.
Maybe Redknapp's selection decisions are rooted in disciplinary reasons. Cisse, Granero and Alejandro Faurlin -- omitted from the squad altogether and selected as an overage player for QPR's U21s on Monday -- have all been cited as difficult characters in the dressing room. True to form, Redknapp is concentrating on squad harmony rather than strategy -- but QPR need to pick up wins sooner rather than later, and he must show his quality in the technical area, as well as in the dressing room.
Michael Cox is a freelance writer for ESPN.com. He runs zonalmarking.net.