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Opinion: Reading FC Shouldn't Have Sacked Steve Clarke

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Bucks takes a look back at Reading's last manager, and thinks the club got a key decision wrong back in December.

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Steve Clarke's inheritance

The Nigel Adkins era, despite looking promising in its early stages, ultimately ended with some pretty dire performances, caused by a variety of reasons - poor management, injuries, and financial chaos being just a few. That meant Steve Clarke came into a club that was in an obviously bad way in December 2014, with many fans disillusioned from the club, and few arguing against the change in manager. As a result, the former West Brom gaffer had something of a honeymoon period during which he could get settled in.

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His influence on the club

Following on pretty much immediately from the sacking of Nigel Adkins, Reading's fortunes had been instrumented to a tee by Steve Clarke. Initially, despite poor league form, he'd led the team on a terrific cup run all the way to Wembley - making fans believe once more that good times to be coming back. And he delivered on that after the summer, by rejuvenating the squad and making it into one that was capable of beating the best teams in the division.

In all honesty, a result like that 4-2 loss at Fulham was always likely to come eventually - even the best teams will have off-days sometimes. Really, the crucial thing was how the team would respond. Of course, as we all know, it didn't respond well, winning only once in the last six games of the Clarke era. However, that did only leave Reading in ninth place, and one point off the Playoffs. Sure, it was a sharp plummet from the dizzying heights we'd been frequenting not long before, but it wasn't too catastrophic.

My key point here is that you can attribute pretty much all of the above, whether positive or negative, to Steve Clarke. As manager, he'd largely dragged the team out of the mess it was in when he arrived, making it a much more effective unit by September 2015. And, certainly, the subsequent implosion was similarly down to him - not least the 'FulhamGate' saga in which he appeared to flirt with the prospect of taking up a new job in West London.

As a result, the position we found ourselves in as a club in December 2015 was Steve Clarke's mess - he'd made it by allowing the team to get sloppy, and had then damaged his own reputation. On the surface, that would seem to be clear, blatant evidence that Clarke had to go. Indeed, after the 3-1 loss at Forest, I wrote the following...

"Steve Clarke has to go - now... considering the pathetic nature of the last two performances, you can't now say that he deserves to stay in his job. Clearly, the effect that he's having on both the team and the fans is a negative one - on the basis of today, I'd find it hard to argue that the players even want to perform for him.

...With it being clear (to me at least) that he's got little respect for this club, how can he tell others to show dedication on the pitch? For everyone's sake, a sacking is in order - the negative element needs to be taken out so that the club can heal and move forward - that can't happen whilst Clarke is still in this job."

I've changed my mind

Looking back at the above, I have to sympathise with my past self. I was incredibly disappointed that Steve Clarke had spoken to Fulham - a team much lower than us in the league at the time - and wanted him out of the club as a result. After all, with things going wrong on the pitch, it was easy enough to focus my emotions against someone that had supposedly betrayed me.

However, in hindsight, my analysis on what needed to happen was clouded by those emotions, in particular the bit about the 'negative element' needing to be 'taken out so that the club can heal and move forward'. It was too much of a knee-jerk reaction, and it didn't consider how closely involved Steve Clarke was with the team. After all, if you have a health problem with your heart, you don't cut it out because it's a 'negative element'. Instead, you try to heal your heart, so that your body as a whole can get better.

Thinking about things now, Steve Clarke needed more time in charge to try to mend the damage he'd done, rather than the three matches he was given post-FulhamGate. It's perfectly possible that, if he'd been able to grind out a few wins in late 2015/early 2016, the fans' anger might have died down.

Where we are now

Brian McDermott arrived at a Reading FC that had seemingly been destined for automatic promotion only a few months earlier. Indeed, up until that infamous collapse at Craven Cottage, the supporters were starting to believe that a recently rejuvenated team could quite conceivably make a title charge. With that in mind, I'd say that the last few weeks of the Clarke era were more disappointing than they were alienating. There wasn't the same late period Adkins feeling of 'the team is awful' - rather, it was 'the team should be so much better than this, how have things got this bad?'

Naturally, that made things tough for Brian McDermott. After all, he hadn't been parachuted in to save a club that was doing so badly as to be in a relegation fight. Instead, he was in essence being asked to clear up someone else's mess. That goes along pretty well with my 'heart analogy' from a little earlier in the piece. By sacking Steve Clarke and appointing Brian McDermott, we were effectively getting an organ (manager) that was at odds with the condition the rest of the body (club) was in. And, as a result, the new organ has been rejected by the immune system (fans) pretty quickly - certainly, McDermott hasn't had the honeymoon period that Clarke did.

Closing thoughts

To sum up, Steve Clarke should have kept his job, and I for one was wrong to call for him to be sacked. Basically, he needed more time to work out how he could sort out his own mess. Giving that mess to someone else was counterproductive for all concerned, and in the end the club made the wrong choice in showing him the door so quickly.

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