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In Praise of Nick

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In a positive mood, URZZ1871 pens a defence of a member of the Reading FC team who he thinks doesn't get the credit he deserves - and certainly doesn't deserve the criticism he gets.

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We’re in an interesting time at the moment. The Reading fanbase are almost exactly equally divided on whether manager Nigel Adkins should be replaced or not. I’m not going to discuss that here – it’s a subject more than adequately covered elsewhere.

But what does alarm me is that some of those calling for Adkins’s head are also calling for that of Nick Hammond, too. It’s a chorus usually heard when things at the club aren’t going well, and it’s something I can never quite understand. I can only think that those who criticise him and want to see the back of him just can’t understand what his role is and the contribution he makes.

In some ways that’s understandable, for the generic job title "Director of Football" can mean different things to different people, and it does vary from club to club.

Most people, I think, assume that a ""Director of Football" is someone who sits at the top of the "pyramid" within a football club, and so makes all the decisions about everything that happens in the club – hiring and firing of managers, signing of players, tactical systems and so on. As such they take ultimate responsibility for everything football-related within the club. And, to be fair, that’s the level of responsibility you’d expect, given the job title.

But that all-encompassing role and level of responsibility is certainly not what Reading’s Director of Football does. His role, as I understand it, arose in 2003 out of John Madejski’s self-proclaimed lack of football knowledge, and his need to have someone to advise him on football matters, especially when considering spending money on players. The chairman felt he wasn’t in a position to judge whether prospective players were worth the wages and transfer fees being asked, and so needed an informed link between himself and the football club, and someone who could act as "Chairman’s proxy." After all, at that time Madejski had a whole raft of other businesses in his stable, not just the football club. Furthermore, he wasn’t particularly handing over authority for running anything, he was acknowledging that he wasn’t well-placed to make judgements on the finances of player purchases and retentions, so he employed someone to do just that.

Once Steve Coppell was appointed a few months later, this turned into a marriage made in heaven. As you’ll know, Coppell wanted to be out coaching players and preparing them to win matches. He hated dealing with football agents, negotiating players’ contracts and all the other messy financial stuff that managers in the UK are traditionally expected to deal with. And with Nick Hammond in place to deal with all the contracts and financial malarkey he could concentrate exclusively on the team. We all know just how well that partnership worked, and how the club prospered.

And since then, Nick Hammond has carried on looking after the financial side of things, protecting the manager and coaching staff from all that grief and hassle and those never-ending calls from agents. Isn’t that a good idea - surely those sort of things shouldn’t be down to the manger and coaches? And over the past 12 years, Nick Hammond’s reputation in the game has grown and grown, so much so that a few years ago he was linked with a potential move to Arsenal.

Some of the deals done by him have been truly outstanding – to get an idea of how successful, ask yourself just how often Reading has sold a fading player for an unbelievably good price, and ask yourself how often players sold by Reading have gone onto greater things. Let’s take a few examples of these sales:

· Greg Halford for the same as he cost, despite problems and a lack of success here

· Dave Kitson for £5.5 million (I wonder if Stoke fans sing "David Kitson, what a rip-off, what a rip-off")

· Kevin Doyle and Shane Long for £6.5 million each

· £6 million for Gylfi Sigurdsson – not only a good price but it’s important to note here that Reading received that as a single, cash, lump sum. That’s almost unheard of in football, a game which runs on debt and credit

· Ibrahima Sonko for over £2 million when everyone knew he was past his best days – to Stoke again. I bet they really hate Hammond!

· Sean Morrison to Cardiff for an estimated £4 million – as well as such an outstanding fee, the contract to buy him 3 years earlier didn’t include any "sell-on" clause, so the profit was all Reading’s, with none going to Swindon. Result!

Yes, that list is all about selling players, but all of the above players were always going to leave at that point anyway – the decision that they wanted to move to a higher level of football or had some other reason for going was already made, and there’s no way reading could have retained them. In those circumstances, I think the fees achieved were simply outstanding. But when it comes to buying players, contracts seem to be negotiated so very well too– as in the term of Morrison’s transfer.

It’s noticeable that the contracts which have caused Reading the most angst and financial hardship weren’t ones dealt with in the normal way – where a certain ex-Chairman made extravagant promises to a certain Dutchman and a certain Russian. I’m sure if Nick Hammond had been involved in negotiating these transfers things would be very different.

I suspect the "Hammond out" brigade aren’t much interested in player sales, though – their criticism seems to centre around the lack of players being brought in. In this area too, I don’t think any criticism of Hammond is justified – you can only buy what’s available for the money you have, and choosing the players to be bought is still very much the remit of the manager and coaches, working with the scouting team.

So, if anyone criticises the lack of players being bought and blames Nick Hammond, I’m afraid they’ve got the wrong target - and I’d ask them a simple question: "If I gave you a ten pence piece and sent you down to the shops to buy me a Mars Bar, would you be the one that’s failed when you come back empty handed?"