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What Went Wrong For Brendan Rodgers At Reading FC?

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Brendan Rodgers was widely criticised by large sections of Reading's fanbase following a poor run during his six-months in the job. We look at just what went wrong for a man who went on to such success with Swansea and then Liverpool.

Jed Leicester/Getty Images

June 8, 2011

On Reading forum HobNob Anyone? there's a thread open about Brendan Rodgers and why his time at Reading was such a failure. As I started writing a reply to the topic I realised to give my full feelings, it needed more detail than was fitting for a web forum so below is my own personal feelings on the 'Rodgers Era'.

I'll preface this entire article by saying that there is no way in my mind that Rodgers would have achieved the level of success that Brian McDermott has had during his time here, and ultimately his dismissal has proved 100% the right decision. Still I'm trying to look at his sacking more as I saw it at the time. I'm also not privy to exactly what happened behind the scenes, either in the board room or in the dressing room. Various rumours and stories have come out about Brendan but in the absence of definitive facts regarding those, I'll have to go by what we do know for certain or has been said publicly.

The Position Of The Club When Rodgers Was Appointed

People talk of the work Brendan did to undermine the Steve Coppell way of playing, a system that had led to the greatest success in the club's history. However Coppell's last six months as manager were blighted by poor form, inconsistent selection and generally drab ineffective hoofball led by Michael Duberry.

Coppell departed in the summer of 2009, taking long serving assistants Kevin Dillon and Wally Downes with him, decimating the backroom staff with the exception of Nigel Gibbs and one Brian McDermott...

Financially the club was also in fairly troublesome shape, having committed the bulk of its two years of parachute payments into retaining the majority of the Premier League era side on high wages for the 08/09 season. That gamble backfired as we failed to win promotion and as a result top scorer Kevin Doyle, leading assist maker Stephen Hunt and arguably the best defender at the club, Andre Bikey were all sold.

Graeme Murty, Marcus Hahnemann, Michael Duberry, Leroy Lita and Dan Harding also left the club before Rodgers was appointed on June 5th, taking with them vital first team experience.

It's easy to say that Rodgers still had a full pre-season to re-shape the side as he wanted, but at the time of his appointment, the financial constraints he was working with at the club were massive. He'd struggle with a lack of financial flexibility until the sales of Stephen Hunt (August 13) and Andre Bikey (August 18).

Even after those sales, the club still had several high wage earners left over from the Premier League era including James Harper and Liam Rosenior. Both were also moved on by Rodgers just before the deadline to give him more room for wages going forward but those deals weren't completed until the week of the transfer deadline. While you can plan their replacements all you want, until you can actually confirm a player has left the club it's a potential financial disaster to bring in other plyers but I'll go more into transfers later on...

On top of the uncertainty over which players would remain in Berkshire long-term, Rodgers also had to deal with a series of short-term problems. Club Captain Ivar Ingimarsson was injured going into the season,  senior striker Noel Hunt was also struggling for fitness while the previous season's Player of the Season Chris Armstrong was also out injured. Adding to his selection headache was also the fact that Andre Bikey was unable to play in the first four games due to a ban handed out for his Burnley meltdown.

All of those factors left Rodgers with just a handful of players who had made more than 20 league starts the previous season. Those players were Khalifa Cisse, Jimmy Kebe, James Harper and Liam Rosenior, with the future of the final two never certain due to their high wages.

What Rodgers did have to work with was a group of promising but largely inexperienced youngsters, including Alex Pearce, Jem Karacan, Simon Church, Adam Federici, Hal Robson-Kanu and Glyfi Sigurdsson.

Transfers

Rodgers is regularly hung out to dry over his handling of the on/off Tommy Smith transfer saga. Brendan does deserves some stick for making our interest public and making the club seem a bit like a bully, but was the conduct of Reading Football Club any worse with its own very public pursuit of Brendan from Watford?

More to the point,  it wasn't Brendan's fault that we missed out on Tommy Smith, it was Tommy Smith and Portsmouth that denied the club his signature. It's silly to think that Portsmouth just saw some quotes from Brendan on Smith and thought 'wow we should sign that bloke!'

Smith aside, the players Rodgers did manage to sign turned out to be pretty good for the short, medium and hopefully long term under Brian McDermott.

Gregorz Rasiak got into double digits for goals in 09/10, Jobi McAnuff started in our play-off final at Wembley, Brian Howard was on the bench and Ryan Bertrand was third in the Player Of The Season voting during his only season with the club. Defender Matt Mills is now our club captain and Shaun Cummings is also looking a good prospect at right back. The only real 'flop' was Celtic's Darren O'Dea who was only signed on a six-month loan and wasn't actually a bad player when played in his natural position of centre-back.

Where Brendan does deserve some stick is over his reluctance to play Matt Mills, his biggest signing at a fee one of the highest in the club's history. Nobody will know the exact reasons for why Mills was dropped, but it was clearly apparent to fans that the former Doncaster man would have been an upgrade over the shaky looking Ingimarsson/Pearce partnership.

However, before Rodgers is crucified for dropping an expensive acquisition, don't forget that Steve Coppell bought Emerse Fae and Greg Halford to the club and also failed to play them. Sometimes players get to a club and they just don't fit under a manager, hardly a sackable offence.

The signing of Shaun Cummings was also widely criticised at the time. Cummings had a steady start but was horrendously exposed by West Brom's Jerome Thomas in a 3-1 Royals defeat at the Hawthorns. Some have suggested that Rodgers was wrong to leave him out there, as it shattered the youngster's confidence but who else was he supposed to play? Injuries to Julian Kelly and the departure of Rosenior meant that Cummings was the only natural right back available. Jay Tabb was subsequently slotted in but hardly set the world alight in his time at the position. In hindsight the only other option would have been Brynjar Gunnarsson but at the time he was being used in the midfield.

Brendan ultimately did decide to take Cummings out of the firing line and tried Tabb at right back, while rumour has it he lined up Andy Griffin on loan to come in when the window opened in January, so it's clear he had identified that Cummings needed a bit of help.

Another chief complaint was over Rodger's decision to hand the vice-captaincy (and with Ingimarsson out, the defacto Captaincy) to Alex Pearce, with many saying he gave too much responsibility to a player so young.

While it's true that being made captain and being promoted as 'the new John Terry' were big asks, some younger players can thrive under such situations. Pearce may not have lived up to the hype quite yet but I'd still bet on him being a Reading captain somewhere down the line and again with Ingimarsson out who else was suitable for the armband?

How Long Does It Take To Bed In?

Given what I've outlined in the first two sections I'm surprised that some fans are still so shocked by Brendan's comments of it still feeling like pre-season after a few games. With all the uncertainty around the Football Club, what more was expected in those opening four league games?  It's not just Brendan who makes these claims, Brian McDermott himself said it took 12 games for us to get over losing Gylfi.

Even so lets look at the results from that extended 'pre-season'

OPPOSITION VENUE SCORE RESULT
Nottingham Forest Home 0-0 Draw
Newcastle Away 0-3 Loss
Swansea Away 0-0 Draw
Sheffield United Home 1-3 Loss

In hindsight those were four very difficult games and if you said at the start of the season you'll get two points out of 12 from games against teams that will finish in the top eight, including two of the top three I don't think you'd be overly shocked or disappointed, or if so, certainly not by much.

One justifiable criticism though was alarming though was a lack of goals - with the team scoring just once, against Sheffield United from a set piece.

We've mentioned the lack of transfer activity, but after Brian Howard, Rasiak and co were signed at the end of August, here was our record.

PLAYED WON DRAWN LOST POINTS
17 5 4 8 19

Once again that run including defeats against teams who'd finish second, fourth and fifth.

That's not a stellar record by any stretch of the imagination, but at that pace we WOULD have survived relegation.

More importantly, it's not just Rodgers who needed time to bed into his Reading career either as you can see by the starts of some other recent Royals bosses compared to Rodgers.

PLAYED WON DRAWN LOST POINTS
Steve Coppell 22 9 2 11 29
Mark McGhee 21 6 8 7 26
Alan Pardew 22 5 10 7 25
Brendan Rodgers 21 5 6 10 21

So there's only a difference of around eight points between the man who many describe as the best manager in our history, and Rodgers.  Both Alan Pardew and Mark McGhee took over third tier sides during periods of little success and achieved similar openings. McGhee and Pardew had the benefit of much lower expectations than Brendan did, while Coppell at least had points on the board accrued by Alan Pardew at the start of 2003/04.

Turning The Corner?

I can't argue against the fact that there were some dire, dire performances when Rodgers was at the helm.

I had the misfortune of being at West Brom and as others have said, it's hard to remember a more pitiful performance by a Reading side. Add in the debacles at Peterborough and QPR and you can easily see why many felt Brendan was doomed and getting it so totally wrong.

That being said, those dire performances at QPR and West Brom did seem to be the catalyst that saw Rodgers get the hint that he couldn't get these players playing effectively in a 4-3-3 and so he went back to a more tried and tested formula, playing 4-4-2, using 2 wingers.

From West Brom onwards our results were by and large MUCH better. His record from after West Brom read..

PLAYED WON DRAWN LOST POINTS
8 3 2 3 11

That type of record would have seen us survive even without any new signings, which already seemed on the horizon when he was dismissed. The defeats in that aforementioned eight game spell also included a very unlucky defeat at home to Leicester, throwing away a lead at Derby, plus a wonder performance from Victor Mosses combining with an Adam Federici nightmare that saw us throw away any chance of points against Palace.

With each passing game experience was being gained by some of the younger players. Rodgers had a largely inexperienced core to work with at the time and while that group has slowly developed over the last two seasons, it's something they were just as likely to do under Rodgers as they have under Brian McDermott.

It's fairly certain that Brendan wouldn't have been able to get as much out of Jimmy Kebe and Shane Long as McDermott, due to Brian's own close relationship with those players but Rodgers arguably got far more out of Jobi McAnuff while he was also the man that gave Sigurdsson his league break.

The former Watford manager was trying to mould a group of younger players and former fringe men into a team capable of playing patient passing 4-3-3 but we just didn't have the players capable of adopting it at the time and Rodgers waited far too long before changing his style. Without those right players in the team it was often horrible football to watch. All to often we'd be seeing too many sideways passes with no end product which led to frustrations on the terraces with fans feeling the manager wasn't getting the best out of his best players.

As for the infamous as the post-match argument between BBC Radio Berkshire's Tim Dellor v Rodgers. As petulantly as Rodgers reacted, I can see why Brendan thought the Scunthorpe game was far better. Reading created far more opportunities against Nigel Adkins' team, while we only conceding once rather than four times. As I've said on other occasions, if Sigurdsson puts one of four golden chances away against Scunny, maybe he survives, but then football often boils down to such fine margins as Brendan found out in his favour at Wembley when Karacan's shot deflected onto the post.....

What Otherwise Went Wrong?

Brendan never really endeared himself to a fanbase who had seen unprecedented success under Steve Coppell and Alan Pardew. Coppell was the very definition of understated and unassuming while Brendan came with the tag of being the apprentice of the 'special one' Jose Mourinho. While Brendan didn't exactly bring that fact up on a constant basis, it was a tag he did little to distance himself from. Rodgers was also far more open about his plans, be they tactical (his big book of tactics) or transfer targets (Tommy Smith).

His backroom staff also seemed to win him few fans.

Reading supporters were rightly angry that the club was paying Frank Lampard Senior to be a 'football consultant' despite the former England midfielder being regularly away from the club and having no clearly defined role. Lampard Snr even admitted to watching his son's games at Stamford Bridge rather than being at the Madejski to watch Reading, hardly something that would endear you to the people that pay your wages.

Brendan also always came across as super confident, something that's great when your team is flying (like he's done at Swansea or Mourinho at Chelsea/Porto) but aggravates and winds up fans when things are going badly.

Officially his petulant and aggressive reaction to Dellor's questioning after the Scunthorpe game had nothing to do with his dismissal but it MUST have been in Sir John Madejski's mind when the decision to sack him was being taken.

Another factor to consider was a mixed indication of the amount of time that Rodgers would be given to get things right. Brendan was given a long-term contract and sold the club on a three-year plan to get back to it's previous heights if not higher. His signings, team selection and tactics showed that he was clearly more focussed on the long-term than the short term.

However, you can make all the plans you want but in the short-term the points just never came and as Reading sunk further and further his desire to find a winning long-term formula cost him short term results that would have kept the dressing room, fans and the board happy. The need for short-term results eventually sank in after the humiliations away at West Brom & QPR but by then it was always an uphill struggle.

Beyond those problems with Rodgers himself, I can't help but think there was a volcano of frustration within the fan base that was always about to explode which  Rodgers took the brunt of that.

The meek way that we fell from the Premier League and then blew promotion back to the top flight under Coppell was something that many fans couldn't pin on a set of players and a manager who had got them to such heights in the first place.Rodgers on the other hand, with his confidence and ego was seemed a perfect target on which to blame the clubs problems, a burden he shared with Nick Hammond and Sir John Madejski.

Again I'm not suggesting that Rodgers didn't deserve some criticism and to be the target of some frustrations, I just feel the relegation hangover was unleashed taken out a bit unfairly on him.

Verdict

As I said at the start of this article, it's impossible to argue against the fact that the decision to sack Rodgers in December 2009 has worked out positively for Reading or for Brendan himself.

Reading were still deep in a relegation battle at the time of his sacking and the fact that they finished in the top ten means that ultimately the decision to replace him worked out. Under Brian McDermott Reading survived comfortably last season while reaching the play-off final this year.

For Rodgers, he was given a job at Swansea where they already played a passing style and with lower expectations. Helped by his Reading experiences, Brendan has flourished and has lead the Swans into the Premier League for the first time in their history.

The Northern Irishman has admitted since his sacking that he understands the decision, holds no ill will towards the Chairman and has acknowledged that he learned a lot from the experience, while Brian McDermott is already on course to be one of our most successful managers.

While Swansea's success was directly to our detriment, it's still pleasing to see a man who has given such great service to this club achieve personal success. Rodgers worked his way through our coaching system, lived in the town for two decades and helped recruit some of the youngsters and senior pros who fill our squad today.

Ultimately I just think he was the right man at the wrong time for the club.

Had he been appointed when Reading were in the Premier Leauge, or even in the first season after relegation he may have had a better chance of success. As it transpired he came in during one of the most difficult summers in our history and couldn't cope. It's a shame that it didn't work out and that his learning curve had to come with his home town club and the club he has the greatest feelings for.

Still, In the future I still think he'd be a good fit for Reading but that time isn't now and won't come for a good while yet.

So what do you think? please let us know via the comments section below, on Twitter @thetilehurstend, or via our Facebook page.