1. Sort Out The System
It's surely plain by now that Nigel Adkins's system and his desired style of play just isn't working for Reading? That's not to say that he's a poor manager, and I'm certainly not going to say he should be sacked - but something needs to change. The players have looked like fish out of water over recent months, obviously uncomfortable with the system but not allowed to play their natural game - a sort of "playing by numbers" that isn't attractive to watch or effective in gaining points.
After the defeat at Middlesbrough,things seem to be coming to a head at last. Adkins has for the first time openly criticised his players, and I think the tensions behind the scenes at the club are starting to show.
I fear that the essential problem is that the system is just too alien for many of these players, and they just can't - or won't - play it. As just one example, the centre-backs never look comfortable with the ball at their feet, and I think the requirement for them to "win and distribute" rather than just "win and get rid" has made them less effective defenders - every minute at Hogwood spent practicing passing is a minute not spent practising defenfing, after all, and similar applies across the pitch. How many times has it been obvious that Alex McCarthy wanted to kick quickly, but had to follow instructions to wait until players were in the right positions, or to roll the ball short?
Don't think I'm criticising the system, though - Reading playing quick, passing football would be wonderful, and has to be the long term aim. I judt don't think it's achievable with this set of players who are, after all, mostly Brian McDermott's purchases.
So Adkins has a dilemma. He might achieve short-term success by reverting to a faster, more direct system more suited to the players - but that's not a long-term solution, and would leave any team winning promotion thay way as sitting ducks in the Premier League - as we saw last season.
So if the system is right but the players are wrong, the only option is to change the players, which leads us on to resolution number 2.
2. Get January right.
If Adkins is going to change the style of play, long-term, he'll need to bring in the right players. Not only will that involve the pain of getting rid of some fans' favourites, with predictable outcries from many, it'll be difficult and expensive. For a number of reasons players are very reluctant to sign for Reading (that's the subject of another blog, in January, though) and the market for players in January is always heated and competitive. A key factor will be hanging onto the players we want to keep, though, and I fear Premier League agents are already whispering in McCarthy's ear about prospects of World Cup selection playing in the Championship.
But, of course, the whole of January depends crucially on resolution number 3....
3.Sort out the ownership!
I won't go into the current situation again as I'm sure everyone is familiar with things, but the uncertainty of having an "owner" who's not finished paying for his purchase and who seems to have washed his hands of any involvement can't be good for anyone. Does Adkins know if he'll have any transfer funds, and if so how much - and does he even know who to ask about this? I doubt it, and it can't go on. There's talk of Omani money coming in shortly, but the whole scenario worries me gravely, and far more than anything on the pitch does - when a club appears to be in a position where they need to find an owner so urgently, just how much effort will they be able to make to ensure they find the right owner and perform proper due diligence? Having to sell, and having to sell quickly, is never a good position to be in.
But until this whole question of club ownership is resolved - and that includes the questions of who actually makes decisions within the club and what level of financial backing there may or may not be - there must surely be a major disconnect in the way the club can operate on a day to day basis. That may include deciding what their policy will be on my resolution number 4:
4. Support Safe Standing
In late January the Football League will be canvassing their member clubs on four questions related to safe standing. I'd like to see Reading support all four of these options. It may not be relevant in the short term at home, since it would be unfeasible to introduce safe standing at the MadStad without major structural changes, due to the stadium rake and concourse and exit capacities, but it would certainly benefit travelling supporters - and in the longer term could be an integral part of any potential stadium expansion. In any case, surveys have shown that the vast majority of Reading fans, in common with football supporters overall, overwhelmingly support the idea of safe standing, so Reading should support it on that basis alone, even if they're unable to provide it themselves.
I'll be emailing the club at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask them to support this, and I'd hope anyone who feels the same will do so also.
And that, indirectly, links to my resolution number 5.
5. Make it fun again.
Let's be honest - it's been a pretty dire year or so to be a Reading supporter. Results have been inconsistent, performances often uninspiring, and many of the personnel now at the club are difficult to warm to, with some just dislikable.
There just seems to be a malaise over the whole club, including players and management, who often have the demeanour of going to work and doing a job, rather than showing much enthusiasm or looking like they're enjoying themselves.
And the "matchday experience" is often dismal too - all the off-pitch stuff designed to attract middle-class families is getting in the way of the football and a lot of people who I know, most of them long-term supporters are, like me, slowly falling out of love with this club. Many no longer attend games, whilst others are finding it harder and harder to justify the time, money and level of emotional effort required for something they're enjoying less and less.
The last time something like this happened the URZZ movement formed and brought a degree of atmosphere and spontaneous fun back to the MadStad, but I wonder if it's not too late for that sort of thing now. My football club seems to have changed so much for the worse over the past couple of years - in how it does things, in how it relates to its supporters and even in who it wants its supporters to be.
Just to complicate matters, fun and atmosphere can't be manufactured artificially - they either happen spontaneously or they don't happen at all, something football clubs too often find it almost impossible to grasp.
I don't pretend to have a solution, and I'm sure the underlying problems are numerous and not just related to what happens on the pitch, but I do feel that unless the fun comes back one way or another this club will have dire problems come season-ticket renewal time, and I despair for what the future holds.