There's something different about Reading in 2016/17, an odd element that has been missing in recent times. There's a plan. Not just on the pitch, but off it, too. The tenures of Adkins, Clarke, and McDermott V2.0 were all marked by a lack of coherence and now Jaap Stam's Dutch cohorts are seeking to pull things towards one direction, and it's starting in the transfer market.
Operating in the January window is often a fool's errand but that doesn't mean that business can't be done amongst the second-tier of English football, and the oodles of cash that have poured into the top level of the game has begun to change the face of clubs like Reading's dealings. From top to bottom, the Premier League continues to push for higher quality, bigger name, and more expensive players, thus pushing the fringes of their squad further out, and into the hands of the Championship.
Sure, this has always happened to some extent but Reading are now - finance dependent - a club able to make full use of this growing resource. Liam Moore, Tyler Blackett, Tiago Ilori, and Yann Kermorgant have all had varying success in Berkshire since recently signing (Ilori still hasn't joined at time of writing), but their acquisition makes perfect sense.
With the Premier League being the division it is, those players who've reached it have a hallmark of quality, a guarantee if you will, that at the very least they can 'do a job' in the Championship, and what's more: they're pretty cheap. Already this month, the young Charlton winger, Ademola Lookman, has moved for £10 million, with Brentford forward Scott Hogan worth £15m to his club. Chasing these players is now out of Reading's league. Imagine how much a 21-year-old young English full-back with a long throw - aka Greg Halford circa. 2006 - would cost now?
The alternatives to plucking the low-hanging fruits from above are two-fold. Firstly, you can bring in players from lower leagues, which hits the Jamie Vardy phenomenon of inflated prices nowadays, or you can search even lower. Reading have had great success in digging out the Doyles, Longs, and Kitsons of this world in yester-year, but Brett Williams and Karl Sheppard a promotion push do not make. They're too rare to truly rely on.
Then there's the world beyond our back door. As unbelievable as Paul Merson may find it, Europe's extraneous leagues do have a lot to offer for a Championship club, and at a decent price, too. But once again history shows how quality is a real issue when a club like Reading needs dependable signings. We can't afford to go on trial and error, even if Sandro Wieser and Danzell Gravenberch have found themselves in a promotion-pushing squad.
It makes sense, then, that sporting director Brian Tevreden is looking for, as Stam called it, 'winners' in 2017. Those who've reached the Premier League are, by default, winners. They've made it. Sign the right ones, those that are hungry, decent, and affordable, and the club could well be onto its first winning strategy in the market for some time.