The Guardian ran a story today about Flavio Briatore and his new toy, Queen's Park Rangers. It was framed as your typical fish out of water story. You know, glamorous Italian buys lower league club, brings style to the bottom of the Championship. The piece also plumbs the depths of naivety on occasion. Pretty women with big sunglasses in the directors box! Rich people wear nice clothes! Flavio impregnated Heidi Klum! After the jump, what Flavio & Co are really up to, and why other London clubs should be worried.
QPR are a West London club with a mildly illustrious history, winning a League Cup in 1967, and a reputation for a bit of hooliganism. They also had a Lou Dobbs moment last year and brawled with the Chinese U-23 national team. At times in the 1980s and 1990s they were probably on par or better than most of their local rivals, notably Chelsea. They finished fifth in the inaugural season of the Premiership in 1992. After they were relegated in 1996, QPR slid all the way down to what is now League 1. The club's finances mirrored the shoddy state of play on the pitch, and QPR even went bankrupt in 2001.
Into this environment came Flavio Briatore, Bernie Ecclestone, and recently Lakshmi Mittal. Flavio is one of slimier team bosses in F1, which is quite an accomplishment given the shark pit that is the modern pit lane. He was actually running Benneton's retail operation in the United States in the late 80s when the Benneton family took over the struggling Toleman team. Briatore became team boss in 1990, enjoying great success thanks to Michael Schumacher, a bunch of cheating, and the death of Ayrton Senna. Flavio was sacked in 1997, but returned to the team when Renault took over in 2002. He then won two more titles due to the fine driving of Fernando Alonso. Flavio, at the very least, has a well deserved reputation as a pretty good talent spotter, taking both Schumacher and Alonso under his wing very early in their careers.
The day job: models in Monaco.These days, running an F1 team isn't enough for the perma-tanned Italian. Thanks to the fortune he has somehow managed to accumulate from his time in Formula 1, Flavio now owns a ridiculous game lodge in Africa, a new clothing line, a night club in Sardinia, and god knows what else. He has also engaged in a bit of model sportfucking, having relationships with Naomi Campbell, Heidi Klum, and others.
In August 2007, Flavio teamed up with Ecclestone, who has managed to trouser a couple billion pounds from his shrewd exploitation of F1's tv rights (picture Roger Goodell, but if half of the NFL's tv rights revenue went directly into his pocket), to buy QPR. The cost was somewhere around 14 million pounds, which is like couch cushion change for these gentlemen. Lakshmi Mittal, multibillionaire owner of the eponymous ArcelorMittal steel empire, has since bought 20%. In combined financial might, the trio blows Roman Abramovich out of the water. Like many of his previous business deals, Flavio is the frontman for richer financial backers.
The new regime installed Luigi de Canio as manager before the start of this season, and he has QPR playing some attractive but inconsistent football. QPR beat Championship leaders Stoke 3-nil on Sunday at Loftus Road and currently sit 15th in the table. Obviously they won't be pushing for promotion this year, but our rather wealthy protagonists didn't buy QPR for the midweek fixtures at Leicester City.
Flavio told the Guardian that "'[w]e have to take it slowly, step by step. I don't want to go up to the Premiership and come straight down again like an elevator. Little by little. That's the way to become a protagonist in English football." So clearly they are gunning for promotion next year! If they do make the Premiership, it wouldn't be surprising to see them open up the purse strings a little more. After all, what's the point of owning a club if you can't impress your billionaire friends with your all-Brazilian $200 million midfield. There are also rumors that the new owners are looking to either renovate Loftus Road or move to a new stadium. Either way, it would be exciting/terrifying if another club with wealthy backers had delusions of glory and really splurged on the transfer market.