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A Takeover Reaction & Hopefully Considered Thoughts

Last week The Tilehurst End's own Jon Keen gave his reaction to the TSI takeover, asking fans to remain patient and to remain cautious until the deal is done with due diligence.

Tonight we welcome Singer-Songwriter and Reading fan Daniel Ward-Murphy, who gives his own views on the takeover and looks at how Reading fans have reacted.

In the wake of the Reading FC takeover announcement, there were a surprising number of extreme, polarised views forthcoming from fans. A horde of jubilant fans stood one side of the chasm, drunk on the prospect of a real transfer kitty, discussing buying that much-needed 10th striker – whilst on the other side, a group of wise, beard-stroking traditionalists stood in ‘Remember Portsmouth’ and ‘Look at Leeds’ t-shirts, voicing extreme caution for caution’s sake. Sat patiently in the great divide were (and still are) a silent group, perhaps a majority, seemingly correct with their adoption of reserved optimism and a wait-and-see approach.

The concerns voiced on the virtual terraces have varied from totally understandable questions such as ‘who is actually putting in the money?’ and ‘what is their motivation?’ to whispered accusations that the money won’t be there and we have all been hoodwinked by shady characters in suits.

So what grounds for caution is there with this particular deal? Well, not all the potential investors in the club are currently known and a quick dalliance with Google can tell you that:

  • details of Anton Zingarevich’s fortune are not well publicised
  • recent years have not been financially kind to Mr Madejski and perhaps reasonably infer that he may need the money urgently
  • not all of Chris Samuelson’s proposed ventures have been successful and his name appears on the same page as words like ‘Russian tycoon’, ‘super-rich agent’ and people linked with a failed takeover of Everton

It is understandable that this information, with false dawn horror stories like Portsmouth front-of-mind, could lead to extreme caution but that does do a great disservice to the current club management, who has prudently steered the club for many years. Indeed there are many grounds for optimism:

  • John Madejski would not allow his legacy to be easily tarnished. He pins his reputation in Reading in part on this takeover and has to work with the individuals involved post takeover.
  • John Madejski is a businessman and proof of funds would be a key concern
  • if reports are to be believed Anton Zingarevich’s father has become richer by hundreds of millions in recent years and there is no reason to think he would not have significant share of this fortune
  • at this stage the new owners do not seem to be brash nor merely looking for a plaything
  • TSI have provided some money upfront to strengthen the squad and this would be a very strange tactic if funds proper were not to materialise

Takeover or no takeover, every club needs money invested. Why? Well you can point the finger at things like high policing costs but the overriding factor is that footballers, even in the second tier, are paid too much. There are many rich owners around, seemingly happy to bankroll these wages and write off a sum of money each season in the pursuit of glory, or perhaps even super-tycoon bragging rights. It is unquestionably sad that in the Premier League, the teams that try and break even are relegated and those that try to do the same in the Championship may manage to stay in the league but they are battling against a group of richer clubs and a group of clubs willing to take reckless risks to chase the pot of gold.

It is easy to dislike the money in football but a pre-takeover Reading is a good example of a team struggling to compete. Healthy(ish) crowds have been seen, good merchandise sales, a couple of lucrative cup runs and even the proceeds of a big day out at Wembley poured in the coffers – yet despite this, a star player needs to be created and sold every single season to plug a ‘black hole’ and break even.

Reading FC do have a responsibility not to overpay their players in the extreme, but it is not their job to fix the issue of high player wages, it is their job to compete in the league.

Some have argued that being financially prudent and running an ambitious Championship club are at odds with each other and impossible to balance – and indeed it would seem to be an extremely difficult balancing act. The naysayer argument is that if you don’t sell these star players then alongside covering the loss in transfer fees their wages need to be inflated beyond our comfort zone but should we take Madejski and Samuelson at their word, then Reading have a good as chance as any in pulling this off. How? Well, by managing contracts well, making astute signings and player sales, making Reading FC a nice place for a player to be and by showing ambition as a club. The recent case of Jimmy Kebe shows that it is not just money that convinces players to stay and if you believe reports, then Gylfi and perhaps Long were happy to stay and play for Reading rather than accept bigger money deals elsewhere. In short, ‘The Reading Way’ works but does need some backing.

Assuming the takeover goes through, the real danger for Reading fans will come if these investors are hell bent on actually making a profit at the club. Indeed, if they need to even break even then we will probably be looking at more of the same (unless commerce could be significantly improved, which would seem unlikely as a Championship club). Sad though it may seem, the ideal scenario is if the new owners are content to lose £3-6 million from their own pocket each year in the quest for the Premier League. If managed well, this can cover the cost of not selling players and slightly raise our wage bill, but not in a way that couldn’t be reversed by selling the odd player and letting some contracts expire. Assuming Brian McDermott continues to do an excellent job, this scenario would guarantee Reading being a competitive and genuine promotion candidate without risking the long term longevity and security of the club.

No one can look into the future and know whether this takeover will ultimately be a success or a failure but while we are understandably not privy to all information at this stage, an approach of innocent until proven guilty should be taken and reserved optimism seems just about right to me.

Thanks again to Daniel and you can follow him on twitter @danielwm if you have your own thoughts on the takeover, or anything else related to the club, or football in general then please drop us a line at thetilehurstend@gmail.com