Jobi McAnuff followed Brendan Rodgers to Reading from Watford back in August 2009 with the new Reading manager highlighting his "speed and technical qualities" as the main reasons he wanted him at the club. In the five years since then it’s fair to say that those skills slowly diminished yet he managed to engrain himself in the club and became a vital component of it
He was something of a journeyman player when he arrived at Madejski Stadium. Aged 27 he’d had a succession of clubs without ever really establishing himself anywhere long enough to make a proper impact. He had a bit of a reputation for flattering to deceive a little; a classic winger perhaps but any Reading fan who remembered his wonder goal for Wimbledon at the Madejski would have been well aware of what he could do.
It’s strange then that if you fast forward five years, McAnuff will mostly be remembered for his consistency while his moments of real class were often over shadowed by it not quite coming off. Don’t get me wrong, he produced some fantastic moments in his Reading career, but he wasn’t the flamboyant winger that many thought we were signing. Jimmy Kebe managed to retain that position for several years! Although having said that, his goal in the playoff semi final against Cardiff was worth all of the frustrations.
There are several reasons why his game changed. After the debacle of Rodgers’ regime he had to play a much more disciplined game under Brian McDermott. Not only that though, in 2011 he was made captain of the club following the departures of Ivar Ingimarsson and Matt Mills and had to play with more responsibility. It seemed like an odd choice at the time, although that may have been more to do with the club being used to defenders wearing the armband but I doubt I was alone in assuming that Alex Pearce would be the successor. It was clear from his first interview as captain though that this was not a position that he took lightly.
It is this side of Jobi McAnuff that really endeared him to me. He has always come across as a very honest and charismatic man. That honesty was born out shortly after getting the armband when he spoke out against the size of player wages whilst saying that he’d like to become an agent after he retires. Not the normal kind of spiel you normally get from footballers let alone from the captain of a Premier League team.
Personally I warmed to him at a fans’ forum back in 2011 which featured several players. It was the type of event that I would imagine that the majority of players dread as they are thrown some really random questions. However McAnuff was incredibly charming through out. After a period of several players missing penalties (McAnuff himself had missed two) my Dad demanded to know if they ever practiced and "why are you all so useless at it" (that’s a direct quote). McAnuff flashed a big grin, took the microphone and with a huge amount of humility acknowledged that perhaps scoring from the spot wasn’t his forte and that he would let others do it from now on. Rather than trying to duck the question of give the usual dull platitudes, it was an answer that summed him up as a person.
That easy going nature probably worked against him with his relationship with fans on the pitch. Often he wasn’t seen as working hard enough or being the ‘lead by example’ type of captain that many wanted. The truth is that was never his style and a lot of fans struggled to warm to him as a result. It became a running joke under Brian McDermott that you’d know the game was definitely lost when he moved his captain into the centre of midfield and in his last season there were several occasions when he would be visibly frustrated with the crowd or his own players.
There was one particular altercation with a fan however that ranks as one of the funniest things I’ve seen at a football match. We were away to Blackpool and after going on a classic McAnuff mazy run which was finished with an equally classic poor cross, one spectator, lets call him ‘Handbags’, starting yelling exactly what he thought of his abilities. As McAnuff was jogging back he clearly heard this and turned to the crowd, searching for who’d made the remarks. On spotting ‘Handbags’ he shouted back "F*ck off, pr*ck" and carried on up the pitch. It had the effect of totally changing the mood of those who heard it and I’m reminded of it every time he shanked a cross out from then on.
Rather than seeing all that as a negative though, I choose to see all that as a sign of his passion. Reading had Alex Pearce for the chest thumping roars, what they needed from McAnuff, especially in his final season, was consistency. Now I’m not going to suggest that he had a particularly great season, to be honest he spent much of it looking like a player whose best years at this level were gone. Like the rest of his side, he had some shocking performances but in a season in which the side was continually in flux with injuries, his mere presence allowed there to at least be a degree of continuity to minimise some of the impact of the continually changing side. I’m certain that one of the reasons that Jordan Obita was able to flourish at left back was because he was able to develop a partnership on the left flank with his captain.
I really hope that his last season doesn’t define how he is remembered by Reading fans, he deserves a lot more. He was perhaps unfortunate to be part of the post-Coppell era and so will probably not be remembered with the same fondness as say Glen Little or Bobby Convey but that doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be. He is after all only the second man to lead Reading to a Championship title, for that alone he demands respect.
I would have liked McAnuff to stay on at the club, I think he’s a great role model and with the average age of the first team expected to plummet next season, he could have been ideal to help nurture that talent. However with the financial position as it is and with a couple of years left in the tank, maybe it is best for Jobi McAnuff the player to move on.
He was in hindsight a wonderful choice for captain, and the moment that epitomised that is probably the moment he will be best remembered for by Reading fans. Up until 2012 Jobi McAnuff had spent the entirety of his career playing in the Championship, but the look on his face when he realised that Reading were promoted to the Premier League and that he would finally be playing in the top flight was priceless.