"Show Me The Money!" - A take on Reading FC's transfer window

Richard Heathcote

Reading fans seem to think that this transfer window has been an unparalleled disaster. It hasn’t and it is time to get real.

There is a famous scene from the 1996 film Jerry Maguire. An obscenely young looking Tom Cruise has decided to start an ethical sports agency. He has lost all of his clients except one, a raw, misfiring American footballer played by Cuba Gooding Jr.

A desperate Jerry is on the phone to him, begging him to stay on his roster. The footballer says four words again and again, slowly whipping Jerry into a frenzy, getting him to scream out, as loud as he can "SHOW ME THE MONEY." He keeps his client.

Judging by the reaction on social media and the local press, Reading fans everywhere seem to be in a similar state of uproar. Much invective has been written about broken promises, incompetent management, insufficient scouting, pathetic ambition, and much else besides.

Watching from afar, such sentiments not only seem disproportionate, but absurd to the point of ridiculousness.

We all now accept as a given the in fact questionable precept that football is a business. But over the last few transfer windows there has been a creeping and deeply disturbing intensification of the corporatization of football.

It's as though clubs and their representatives are now mere traders on a city floor, aggressively competing to screw each other over, strangling competitors, with players baying for every single buck there is.

Football has become a speculative bubble, and, living inside it is sending us fans insane. It's rank and it has to stop. I don't care about businessmen, I care about the club and its supporters.

We're acting like stockholders, fighting one another, demanding heads roll at the club, and threatening blockades of games because the club has deigned it sensible not to bankrupt us. We want instant results and don't care about the long term effects-this is how recessions begin.

Here's what I see to be a fact: this has been possibly the most exciting and potentially the most brilliant transfer window in the history of Reading FC. We have signed a Dutch international who played for Real Madrid. A former England left back who was in the Championship team of the year. An American international who was a regular in a technically and tactically far superior Bundesliga. In all likelihood, we will add a couple more.

Moreover, we have retained what in all likelihood is a future England goalkeeper. We can field an established international, whether at senior or under-21 level, in every single position, with the exception of centre half. Even in our "problem position" up front, we have a player who reached double figures in a relegated side, a Russian international who has won European honours, and a promising young forward who averaged a goal every other game in his first full season in League One last year.

In other words, the aberration at Peterborough aside, now is not the time to panic.

The problem is that, by buying into the media generated hype about transfer deadline day being the be all and end all of a successful team, we're losing sight of the very real, often slow, sometimes painful progress that our club is making. We're demanding that the club maximize short term benefits, and don't care for our future.

Back in the mid-2000s, when we were in the Premiership for the first time, we were playing our then bogey team Portsmouth at home. We were losing of course. I remember thinking, if Portsmouth can have a team that includes Sol Campbell, Jermaine Defoe, David James, and Lassana Diarra, and is managed by Harry Redknapp, then why can't we? After all, their gates make them a significantly smaller club than us. We all know how that story ended.

Now the madness continues. We're somehow looking at QPR and seeing evidence of a well-run club as they were able to complete three signings on deadline day. They have their own way, we have ours. I suspect though that the entire future of their club is being wagered on promotion this season. That's a wager I wouldn't want us to make.

So, one thing that I find deeply reassuring about this window is that fact that we didn't spend stupid money on a single player. Had we done so, it would have indicated to me that the club was spending money we didn't have, that they had been sucked in to the deeply warped world of obscene cash that is modern football. Parachute payments simply don't mean that you can pay 6 million for a single player, not when you're in the Championship. It's time for some fans to get real.

But that we didn't has led to quite frankly ridiculous calls for Nick Hammond's head to be served to us on a platter and then ceremoniously kicked through the streets of West Reading. Embarrassingly a fan-led petition even made it into the pages of the nationals, getting coverage in the Express. In a recent Guardian article Dan Ashworth, formerly of West Brom, now of the FA, described the Director of Football role as follows:

"The structure allows you to build a bigger picture. We went through a cycle of two or three head coaches and what we couldn't have is a whole change of player recruitment philosophy, because it's extremely costly and time consuming. So in the interview process for a head coach, it would be: 'This is our philosophy, these are the profiles of our players, this is how we recruit, are you happy to buy into that?'"

If the same structure applies to Reading, then I think we can say that Hammond is doing a pretty brilliant job, perhaps even masterminding our rise over the past decade. He took on the role in 2003 and since then has overseen the appointment of our two best managers ever in Coppell and McDermott. He has been there as we have consolidated our position in the Championship and gone into to the Premier League twice.

Off the top of my head he has been involved in the recruitment of the following players: Ivar Ingimarsson, Ibrahima Sonko, Glen Little, Dave Kitson, Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Adam Le Fondre, Jimmy Kebe, Sean Morrison, Wayne Bridge, Royston Drenthe, and more. Many of these have been sold at the peak of their value.

Not a bad list all things considered. Sure there have been some duds, usually when we take a risk that can be counted in the millions, but I don't know of a single club that has ever had a 100% track record. If Real Madrid can sign the world's best player in Kaka, and have it backfire there has to be some leeway at a club like Reading.

So in answer to the chant, "spend some f-ing money," I would suggest that we have already. We have signed three top international players to a regional team in the second tier of English football. We have bought the site for a new state of the art training ground and, after years of careful nurturing our academy, has gained top status. The next generation of young players look as good, if not better, than the class that gave us Pearce, Robson Kanu and Karacan.

I have always loved Reading FC precisely because it is a club, not a brand, a place that I was born in, where I feel a genuine fellowship with my other fans. I will never forget celebrating at Brentford, at Leicester, and at home against Nottingham Forest.

But we're in danger of losing this community if we suddenly start acting like city traders, aiming rancour at the club that unites us, demanding it spend money that it doesn't have, all in pursuit of an only half-realized dream of succeeding in the mirror world of intrigue and greed that is the Premier League. Patience is key. Sure, we all want success, but spending extravagantly and ceaselessly is almost certainly not the way to do it.

On that note, I'll leave you with a quote, from the sixteenth century saint, Teresa of Ávila:  "Answered prayers cause more tears than those that remain unanswered." We ought to be wary of what we wish for.

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