Expectations were bubbling pleasantly ahead of the new campaign after a dramatic climax to the relegation battle in May, and the arrival of big-name players from some of Europe’s top clubs left QPR dreaming of a top-half finish.
In a remarkable summer of transfer activity, the Hoops snapped up Real Madrid’s local lad Esteban Granero, Internazionale’s Brazilian shot-stopper Júlio César and Manchester United’s dynamic Park Ji-Sung.
Between them, the trio have won 10 league titles, eight domestic cups and two Champions League crowns during spells in England, Italy and Spain, but they have never experienced the trials and tribulations of a relegation scrap.
However, that does not concern the QPR manager, who is confident the three internationals will bring vital experience, and a winning mentality to the west London club – something he feels was absent last term.
“When you speak to them they’re really enjoying the emotions of it and the challenge which they have,” said Hughes.
“When they decided to come here, they knew QPR is a club which wouldn’t be winning week after week but they wanted a different challenge and a different stimulus – and they’re certainly getting that!
“They’ve got a different mentality – a winner’s mentality. That has to come to the fore – and it has done.
“We will turn this round because of the players that I have in my group.”
Hughes is particularly impressed by Granero, nicknamed the Pirate at the Bernabeu for his wavy locks but tenacious attitude on the pitch, and the Welshman is impressed by the midfielder’s start to life in the English top flight.
QPR were forced to settle for a disappointing point against Everton at Loftus Road last weekend but notably, Granero was the Hoops’ star player after completing 92 per cent of his 63 attempted passes, creating three clear-cut chances and – perhaps surprisingly bearing in mind his slight build – winning five tackles.
It gives Hughes plenty of evidence to quash any suggestion the 25-year-old does not possess the fight to scrap for valuable victories – in fact, the Hoops boss believes Granero’s decision to leave silverware-chasing Madrid highlights his motivation to prove his worth unlike other Galácticos.
“You look at Granero – he’s 25 and he could have very easily have stayed at Real Madrid because they thought the world of him there and would have given him a contract for the rest of his career.
“But he wanted more. He wanted regular football and to show people what he can do. But it’s a different challenge for him.
“Now he’s a key player but at Madrid, he was a player who was relied upon but he didn’t play that many games.”
QPR have undoubtedly been hampered by a string of injuries which has debilitated their defence this season, while blending 11 news signings into their squad was always going to be difficult initially.
By Hughes’ own admission, the club’s results have been poor, particularly losses to Swansea City and West Ham United at home, which were seen as winnable fixtures for the Hoops.
However, the former Manchester City manager is finally seeing a glimmer of hope, with QPR’s injury problems relenting and a much-improved performance against Everton which saw some of his star signings start to sparkle.
“It takes time [to bed in new players]. We’ve had a number of injuries in defence which hasn’t helped, but you look at the ability of someone like Granero who has come to the Premier League and played really well.
“Junior Hoilett has been in and out of the game through injuries or whatever, but now it seems like he’s coming to terms with his new team-mates and new club, so we’re pleased with how he’s shaping up.
“Once we get that continuity in selection, because we haven’t had a clear dressing room for a number of weeks, then hopefully we’ll reap the benefits. Every manager wants a settled team.”
QPR’s clash against Arsenal on Saturday has been talked up as a potential upset following the Gunners’ back-to-back defeats by Norwich City and Bundesliga outfit Schalke.
But, with the Hoops hoping for a first win after eight attempts, Hughes warned his side to be wary of a potential Arsenal backlash at The Emirates.
“They’ve had two poor results from their point of view, and they could be a wounded animal.
“We hope not. You sense listening to their players after midweek that they view our games as a huge game to get back on track.
“We have to be mindful of that and aware they won’t be thinking it’s a nice easy game – now it’s taken on more significance for them.”
In Arsène Wenger’s likely Arsenal starting line-up on Saturday, only Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Thomas Vermaelen have won top-flight titles – one each in France, Germany and the Netherlands respectively.
So ironically, Hughes’ side should boast more title-winning experience at The Emirates on Saturday should César, Granero and Park start – a strange twist of fate for two clubs with very different ambitions – so it’s an ideal time for the trio to utilise their “winning mentality”.
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