The Old Way
Way back when it was fairly easy to be ambitious with a football club. Local businessmen and fans 'done well' could simply purchase the club and wouldn't have to spend their entire fortunes bankrolling it. This model existed well into the early 90s, with the likes of Blackburn's Jack Walker, Wolves' Jack Heyward, Middlesbrough's Steve Gibson, Wigan's Dave Whelan and even Reading's own John Madejski showing that with a few bob behind you, you could try and revolutionise a football club.
Of course it didn't always work as any Wolves fan will readily point to, but there was still the chance to gatecrash the elite if you had a modest amount of wealth behind you.
Hey Premier League!
As the Premier League became bigger and bigger, this model slowly started to become unworkable. With wages and transfer fees skyrocketing, suddenly the TV companies became a club's chief source of revenue and all of a sudden you needed hundreds of millions of disposable income if you truly wanted to transform the fortunes of a club. Enter men like Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and Manchester City's Sheikh Mansour, who spend untold millions—if not billions—on their clubs to help them gatecrash the elite.
Holding Out For A Hero
That left the rest of the league suddenly scrambling for billionaires of their own to come and save them. Countless teams have tried to live the dream on limited means and paid the price. Bradford, Portsmouth and Leeds are just a few examples of clubs that tried to play the game and lost in spectacular style. Reading themselves almost became another victim of this overspend when Anton Zingarevich pitched up and promised the world. Yet within two years he had left us on the brink of administration.
Reading In 2016
Fortunately a Thai consortium stepped in and ensured debts were paid and creditors satisfied. Since then we've seen moderate investment in the playing staff and some plans outlined for off field projects like the new training ground and Royal Elm Park that should benefit the club long-term. Financial Fair Play has certainly played a part in limiting spending to this stage but the summer's transfer activity showed they were prepared to sanction a decent amount of investment.
Since the Thais took over we've seen Oliver Norwood, Simon Cox, Anton Ferdinand, Orlando Sa, Stephen Quinn, Paul McShane, Ali Al-Habsi and Jonathan Bond all arrive on a permanent basis while the likes of Glenn Murray, Matej Vydra, Ola John, Andrew Taylor and Lucas Piazon all pitch up on short-term spells. It's not a spectacular spending spree by any measure but compared to the later years of the Madejski reign and Mr Zingarevich, it's been pretty good.
So What Counts As Ambition?
Well according to the dictionary, ambition is described as...
'An earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment'
Now I'm just a host of an unprofessional joke of a podcast, but to me signing a bunch of former Championship promotion winners with Premier League experience, plus players who've played in top leagues around Europe, certainly counts as being ambitious.
Yet more importantly than that, shouldn't ambition be to build something sustainable and workable?
While fans may be outraged at selling our top scorer to a Championship rival, you have to consider that Derby A) have a much better chance of promotion B) are a bigger club and C) because of A and B have much more financial muscle than we do.
Derby's average attendance this season is 29,441 with Reading's a fairly modest 17,772. So at £25 a ticket, on average Derby are probably going to be making around £300,000 more than us every home game. That means they can take more risks and spend more money because quite simply they're making more than us. Now of course the Thai owners could make up that cash from their own pockets, but they're under no obligation to do so and for the long-term survival of the club it's probably not something we want them to be doing on a regular basis either.
Nick Blackman was a player who was out of contract this summer, had apparently not got close to a new deal and is a player with a history of patchy form. It made all of the business sense in the world to take money for an asset that could have simply walked away for free this summer. Instead, Reading can bank the cash plus his wages saved and decide what to do with it. That might be jumping on a decent deal this January, or it might be keeping it in the bank for the summer when there will be more reasonable deals to be done.
If we were second in the table and looking likely to go up, sure maybe you gamble. But we're a midtable team with plenty of teams between us and the promised land. Be honest, how many of you would be putting your hard earned money on us to go up right now? The bookies have us as 33/1 shots for good reason (#gambleaware).
In saying that, at present we've already assembled a squad we know is capable of beating the best sides in this division. Few players in our squad are on the downside of their career and there's far more to come from our younger players who've only just scratched the surface of their potential. It's consistency rather than quality that seems to be lacking in recent months.
So Are Reading Ambitious?
To me the club have already shown a fair amount of ambition. We've been financially sensible, recruited some exciting players and set in motion plans that could see long-term benefits and higher revenue streams for the club.
Yesterday I was pondering whether investing in the team should come before the wider club but that's only a judgment that can be made with hindsight and not one we can make a call on now.
This is one of the most talented squads we've ever assembled, an opinion that was held by more than just myself even before Nick Blackman turned from an unwanted late Christmas gift into one of the league's top scorers. Doing a good deal shouldn't be frowned upon right now, especially with the window still open and our long-term prospects still looking bright. By all means be disappointed—but this is still a club with a lot going for it, not a club in a tailspin.