It’s at that point of the summer. The friendlies have finished, the transfer window is still open and, in theory at least, anything is possible over the next 8 months or so and this coming season, more than any in recent memory, has so much uncertainty attached to it.
The size of the squad, the quality and readiness of the youngsters, injuries to key players, the status of the ownership and the depth of the pockets of our (hopefully) incoming Thai owners are all questionable to such a degree that I don’t think anyone can say with any real certainty how the season will pan out.
Broadly speaking I think Reading fans sit in three camps, the optimists, the pessimists and the realists. Going off comments made on facebook and twitter, along with conversations I’ve had with my own friends, there seem to be three potential scenarios, and I think they’ll go like this…
The Optimistic View
It’s good to know that there are still optimistic fans out there and that their enthusiasm won’t be dimmed by all the naysayers. The Thai takeover will of course go through and will be exactly the boost that the club needs. Everything will be confirmed with just enough time for money to be made available before the transfer deadline. That money will be invested wisely in a couple of positions but the headline will be the marquee signing of an exciting centre forward such as Jordan Rhodes or Glenn Murray.
That big signing along with a couple of talented youngsters from the Academy will be just the injection that the team needs. Taking their lead from their new captain, Jem Karacan, the side will play a high pace attacking brand of football that sees them quickly fly up the table.
The team just click. Alex Pearce adapts his game and becomes comfortable on the ball, easily providing the link up to the midfield where Danny Guthrie’s new found energy after his summer rest releases him to become a dynamic creator. Garath McCleary’s injury turns out to be a fuss over nothing and soon enough he’s embarrassing full backs on a weekly basis while providing assist after assist for the forwards. And what forwards they are. Pavel Pogrebnyak and his new strike partner hit it off immediately and cannot stop scoring, the big man even forcing his way back into Fabio Capello’s plans.
The form of the youngsters is what is most encouraging. January is spent nervously hoping that the Premier League big boys are rebuffed in their approaches, which, thanks to the new funds, they are. In fact such is their form that Jordan Obita and Alex McCarthy are unexpected inclusions in Roy Hodgson's squad to face Lithuania in March.
The atmosphere in the stadium every week is electric as the Madejski becomes a real fortress. The new song choice will be loudly sung at every opportunity and every fan will go home happy with the after goal music still buzzing in their heads.
The Pessimistic View
This school of thought is normally the one reserved for the battle harden fans. The fans who have learned the hard way that when it comes to being a Reading fan, sometimes it’s best to set your expectations really low and be pleasantly surprised. This pre-season has been manna from heaven for these fans.
The club drifts listlessly with no owners, no real sign of any transfers arriving and to top it all, an injury list that seems to exclusively feature the key players left in the side. All this can only mean one thing: disaster.
Starting the season away to Wigan is the worst possible way to begin and the injury depleted, inexperienced side stand no chance. One of the early season favourites steamroller Reading’s young side and they struggle to recover from the mauling. Youngsters such as Aaron Kuhl, Ryan Edwards and Michael Hector have their confidence shot and Reading’s passing play disappears completely as the team consistently have to resort to long balls that Pavel Pogrebnyak has no help in dealing with.
To top things off Alex McCarthy is a transfer deadline signing for a Premier League club looking to strengthen their bench with some English talent and the injury list doesn’t show any sign of improving. Several key players either stay in the treatment room and when they do come back they look a shadow of their former selves, leaving the youngsters to struggle away.
As 2014 comes to an end Reading struggle at the bottom of the league, in real danger of relegation. With the mood of the fans now turning on Nigel Adkins and no sign of further investment forthcoming, the manager resigns. With no budget for a new man, Eamonn Dolan is promoted to the top job and briefly oversees an up turn in fortunes.
A couple of cheap signings/loan deals in January give the side a small boost which, as the season comes to a close is just enough to avoid a humiliating drop to League One.
During this time the crowd numbers plummet, leaving the stadium a cold bowl of silence. The new owners, shocked by what they see, walk away from the club and what is left of the side is sold off to pay HMRC. Administrators step in and nothing but a future in the lower leagues is in store for the once mighty Royals.
The Realistic View
Of course neither of those scenarios are all that likely to occur. Whilst pre-season could have gone a lot better, it certainly could have been worse. With Adam Le Fondre and Jobi McAnuff the only first teamers to depart, the core of the squad remains and after being burned by the Russians, Sir John has made sure that the new owners have both the cash and inclination to look after the future of the side.
Injuries to key players does mean that the season starts slowly as the team have to include fringe players and untested youngsters but as things on the pitch start to click, and players return, results improve. One or two of the youngsters that come in look the part but they aren’t overexposed and once the senior players have returned, several go out on short term loans.
Aware of the upheaval going on and the limitations that Reading have had in the transfer market, the fans have lowered their expectations and give the team patience as they start to rebuild. A win in the first round of the League Cup against Newport County is the start of a mini cup run that gives the side enough momentum to get them through to January safely ensconced in midtable mediocrity. The season unfolds as a frustrating one as good performances against the top sides are followed by dire defeats against those clubs at the bottom but by Easter the club’s safety is all but confirmed and the season finishes with several youngsters being allowed to play without the fear of results weighing them down.
The new owners, having not rushed into any silly early spending, use their money wisely in the January window to bring in a some experience to mentor the young side whilst also using their financial clout to ensure that none of the remaining silver is pawned off. The players new to the side who have impressed will be rewarded with new, long term contracts and, despite some very poor showings, there will have been just enough shown to suggest that there is more to come from the side.
It is very much a season of transition that is as fascinating as it is frustrating for its unpredictability in terms of on the pitch results but acts as a springboard to bigger and better things.
I’m sure every Reading fan is hoping for the ‘optimistic’ view but knowing full well that it’s probably more unlikely than the ‘pessimistic’ one. The truth is though that I fully expect it to be somewhere in the middle. To that end I guess the ‘realistic’ view is the one that I have, it’s pretty much the closest I get to optimism and no doubt many will think me deluded for even thinking that positively!
So which view do you have? Is there a fourth view that I’ve totally ignored? Can things be even better/worse than I’ve suggested? Please let me know