LONDON (AFP) - Harry Redknapp admitted he was a relieved man after Bobby Zamora’s last-gasp strike fired QPR back into the Premier League and eased the club’s precarious financial situation.
Redknapp’s side hit the jackpot at Wembley on Saturday as they rode their luck to steal a 1-0 victory against Derby in the Championship play-off final.
Zamora’s fine finish in stoppage-time was QPR’s first and only shot on target and came completely against the run of play after Derby had dominated following the 60th minute dismissal of Hoops midfielder Gary O’Neil.
The frenzied celebrations by QPR’s Malaysian owner Tony Fernandes, who was drenched in champagne by the time he left the on-pitch party after the final whistle, made it clear how important promotion was for the west London club, who would have been in danger of sinking into financial chaos if they had been condemned to another season in the second tier following their relegation in 2013.
Fernandes has funded a £70 million (S$148 million) wage bill reportedly higher than Spanish champions Atletico Madrid, while also coping with annual losses of around £65 million and estimated debts of £177 million.
In that context, promotion to the Premier League, where QPR will now land a minimum windfall of £80 million, was essential and Redknapp’s drained expression when he met the media an hour after Zamora’s winner showed the weight of expectation had weighed heavily over the last nine months.
“I’m sure it’s important (financially) but you will have to ask the chairman about that,” Redknapp said.
“The owner is very excited. He’s a nice fella and I’m pleased for him. It’s great for the club to be back in the Premier League. I’m delighted obviously. It’s good for the club and the fans.
“It was an amazing finish. We were under the cosh with 10 men and I was thinking ‘can we get to penalties?’. That was the only hope.
“It was a backs to the wall job, but I thought we defended for our lives and then Bobby stuck one in the top corner.” In the week leading up to the final there had been reports Redknapp would leave QPR if they lost and may even retire from management.
The 67-year-old former Tottenham and West Ham boss was asked again if he planned to remain in charge at Loftus Road now Premier League action is back on the agenda, and his answer, while slightly non-committal, suggested he would be back in the dug-out for at least another year.
“I’m looking forward to being back in the Premier League. Now I’m looking forward to a break. I’m going to have a week off and see where we go,” he said.
“I’ll have a good look at it. I haven’t even thought about next year. Everything was about this game. Now we know where we’re playing next season.”
Zamora, who scored West Ham’s winner in the 2005 Championship final against Preston, has proved a lucky charm in the play-offs.
But the 33-year-old’s ruthless punishment of a mistake by Derby defender Richard Keogh was cruel on Rams manager Steve McClaren.
McClaren, back at Wembley for the first time since his England reign ended in 2007 with a rain-lashed defeat against Croatia that saw him dubbed ‘the Wally with the brolly’, started the season on the coaching staff at QPR before taking charge of Derby in September.
And the knowledge that his old friend Redknapp was back in the big time was little consolation after such a heartbreaking defeat.“I can’t remember what Harry said at the end. I was in shock,” McClaren said.
“Football is a cruel game. One lapse and you lose a game like that. It is going to take a few days wallowing in our misery before we recover.
“We stayed on the pitch to watch QPR pick up the cup. It does hurt but we said we don’t want this hurt again.”