Gianni Paladini was in typically expressive form. The former FIFA-registered agent had just been appointed the new chairman of Queens Park Rangers, and the phone would not stop ringing. Call after all came in, from well-wishers, QPR fans and, yes, one or two agents, congratulating Paladini on the appointment. Paladini – who looks at least 10 years younger than his 60 years – would wave his arms in quintessential Latin style, talking animatedly in English or Italian. Loftus Road has rarely echoed to the language of Dante, but the club’s long-suffering fans would not be surprised if a scene from The Divine Comedy appeared in the programme for next Monday’s fixture against Crystal Palace. QPR has become the club where anything can happen.
Paladini’s appointment comes on the back of events that, if they had been scripted into a soap opera, would have been laughed back to the drawing board. “Not a month has gone by without someone trying to get rid of me,” says Paladini, of his 18-month involvement with the club. An acrimonious boardroom dispute blossomed into the realm of fantasy when, minutes before an early season home game against Sheffield United, a gang burst into the inner sanctum at Loftus Road and held a gun to Paladini’s head. They allegedly forced Paladini to sign a letter by which he would resign from the board. Four men have since been charged with conspiracy to commit blackmail and joint possession of a firearm with intent to commit grievous bodily harm.
This week, fresh controversy has surrounded the affable Italian. It has been alleged in the press that he is using QPR to line the pockets of various football agent friends, thanks to deals that the club cannot afford or inflated commission to agents. Typical is the suggestion that one recent acquisition – Marc Nygaard on a free transfer from Brescia – is said to have resulted in a £60,000 lump sum payment to agent Brian Hassell. Similarly, it is claimed that £40,000 was paid to Midlands-based agent Mel Eves for the transfer of Ian Evatt.
“These allegations are stupid,” says Paladini. “They are made by people with no understanding of how football works. If they want to paint a picture of me as a crook, they should find something I have done wrong. In fact, I have done nothing wrong, and they have no idea what they’re talking about.”
The phone rings again, and it is Nygaard’s agent. The tall striker’s stock is high, with two goals in the last two games, including a header against Millwall last Tuesday that had Paladini jumping to the rafters of the New Den. His agent is chasing payment. “The first payment is due,” says Paladini, “but I haven’t had a chance to sort it out yet. There has been so much chaos here.” First payment? “Yes, the first payment – the deal was for four payments over the term of Nygaard’s contract.” So there was no £60,000 lump sum? “Not at all,” exclaims Paladini, clearly exasperated. “Contracts are never done like that. The deal is for four payments, and I haven’t paid a penny yet.”
This, says Paldini, is how all the deals for which he has been responsible have been structured. He adds that he has overseen only three signings. “The others were all signed off by either the ex-Chairman or the Chief Executive. I am very angry that I have been dragged through the mud like this. They have called me a thief with no evidence at all. What does it prove, that I know other agents? I have spent my life in football. If you a solicitor, you know other solicitors. I need to know all the agents in the game, and knowing them means that I can do a better job for QPR. I understand how transfers work. Football is a business and you need to know this side of it as much as the passion.”
The phone rings again, and afterwards Paladini is a little coy. He will not go into detail, but alludes to a deal that is nearly complete, which will see QPR’s £10m debt to the Panama-based ABC corporation – taken out when the club came out of administration – renegotiated. The ABC loan costs the club £1m in interest each year, but Paladini may have found a way of slicing this in half.
He is, indeed, intent on stabilising the club. “People out there must think that there is some kind of mafia involvement here,” he says, “but I want the best for QPR, and I’m putting together the right people to achieve this,” he says. “The moment I came here I felt an affinity for the club, its fans and its history, and I wanted to get involved. I want to be part of the team that takes QPR back to the Premier League.”Between 1958 and 1967, Paladini was on Napoli’s books wearing the no.10 shirt that, thanks to Stan Bowles, Rodney Marsh and Tony Currie, has iconic status at Loftus Road. It would some joy for him – and QPR fans – if this thread had more than merely symbolic resonance.