Eds note: This was written roughly an hour or so before Steve Clarke was sacked.
Last week Reading Football Club announced that they were recruiting a Head of Player Recruitment Analysis. This news seemed to go unnoticed on social media and in the local press, and merely drew the typical jokes you would expect amongst the Tilehurst End editors.
Should one of us apply because we’ve found a few gems on Football Manager? Should one of us apply because we’ve regularly spent Sunday afternoons in the last year looking at stats following incompetent Reading performances?
All highly predictable but this announcement was actually big news and a big statement. The club were publicly admitting that they have got their transfer strategy, if one even existed, badly wrong in the last few years.
Ever since Anton Zingarevich bought the club in 2012 Reading have made a bad habit of signing players for whom our football club is a step down. Nothing perhaps sums up where the Royals have gone wrong in recent years by the overpaid Pavel Pogrebnyak becoming a cult hero because he tried. Yes that’s right: a man paid more in a week than most of us earn in a year was liked because he showed effort. What does that say about his teammates?
And that is what is griping me at the moment. There are a sizeable number of Reading fans who want Steve Clarke sacked. Now I am not going to pretend he hasn’t made some mistakes in the last few months.
Why he felt the need to sign three attacking midfielders on loan I will never know. It still perplexes me that he went on the cheap in the goalkeeper department whilst spending £3+ million on strikers. That the club are looking for a new Head of Player Recruitment Analysis suggests those mistakes were not entirely Clarke’s fault.
But his decision to persist with such an attacking outlook when we needed to go back to being hard to beat is his mistake. Our quite frankly pathetic attempts at scoring from corners can only be down to the manager and his coaching staff. Questions quite rightly need to be asked about the manager’s performance.
However, it is also time to start asking serious questions about the players and the club’s transfer strategy. Reading’s promotions in 2006 and 2012 were built on squads made up of up-and-coming players, players who had something to prove and players for whom Reading FC was likely to be their only chance of reaching the big time.
Wrong balance in the squad
Our squads since our last promotion could be not be more different. In two years we have signed two Dutch internationals. In the Championship! What on Earth are Royston Drenthe and Ola John doing at Reading in the Championship in their mid-twenties!? Why is Lucas Piazon, a former Brazilian wonderkid and Malaga, Vitesse and Eintracht Frankfurt player now at Reading?
Why was Matej Vydra, a player who averages a goal every two games in the Championship, so quickly dropped by Watford when they got promoted to the Premier League? What is a former Bundesliga regular and US international like Danny Williams, whose effort cannot be faulted, doing plying his trade in the Championship? You get the picture by now. There are too many players who are only at Reading because something has gone wrong in their career and that includes players whose commitment can never be questioned.
There are only three players in the current squad who fit the picture of players who by moving to Reading were making a step up in their career: Jonathan Bond (third choice at Watford), Oliver Norwood (Huddersfield) and Paolo Hurtado (mid-table Portuguese side).
There are quite a few players whose careers have maybe dipped in recent years but Reading offer a chance to get back to where they once were or hoped to be. However, even most of these players have played for bigger clubs than Reading and I have long felt uncomfortable in having so many players who probably view Reading as a step down.
Nice family club
My QPR supporting friend turned to me last night and said she preferred Reading to QPR because the crowd seemed much more civilised. "It feels like a dinner party." She meant it as compliment.
I’m not going to criticise our fans for not being what they aren’t. The reality is we are a nice family club who don’t have a particularly impressive history. For outsiders, which all players who don’t come through the academy are when they join the club, that is not something to get excited about.
However, if you are a Kevin Doyle, Dave Kitson or Adam Le Fondre than Reading FC is an exciting opportunity. It’s a step up and a chance to reach the big time. Players like Ian Harte or Glenn Little might have played at more passionate or historic clubs, but they probably appreciated playing for a decent club offering them one last chance at glory.
I am certainly not saying we shouldn’t sign players in their early or mid-twenties whose careers have failed to live up to their early potential, but at the moment we have too many players who made step downs by joining Reading.
We have a squad of players who have gone from looking like world beaters to relegation candidates in less than a month. That cannot be entirely down to the manager.
I was willing to forget last season’s mediocre squad treat the second half of last season like most people treat Friday afternoons in the office, but I cannot so easily overlook such a dramatic change like we have witnessed since September.
Problems go further than Clarke
You may think sacking Steve Clarke will solve our problems but I don’t. I am not willing to be so lenient with the players. I have no problem with players not being good enough. Those players cannot help it if they sometimes look out of their depth. It is players who waste their talent which I cannot stand.
Some of our current squad need to start looking at themselves. They might ask how they’ve ended up at Reading and yearn for Real Madrid, Benfica, top flight football, passionate Continental football fans, but if they don’t watch it their fall from grace could get worse. After all just ask Royston Drenthe how his career has gone since he left Berkshire.
Whatever happens in the next month, and in the future, there needs to be big changes at Reading FC. We can only hope that the new Head of Player Recruitment Analysis signals a proper transfer strategy.
The club needs to develop an identity and decide on what type of player they want to bring in. It’s time to move away from the short termism approach of signing players who look good on paper and go back to signing players who will fit in at our football club. Mentality is just as important as ability. That has been overlooked for too long by Reading.