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OPINION: Reading FC At A Crossroads

A drop in form on the pitch and a shaky outlook of it leads The Inspector to ponder the future.

Juke Joint Festival Celebrates Mississippi Blues Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Jaap Stam will have plenty to think about over the next six days before his Reading team travel to Derby hoping to rediscover their mojo after two miserable defeats.

Events on and off the field have created a mini crisis (hopefully not a full-blown one) which threatens to leave the season - and maybe the immediate future of the club - in the balance.

This may seem a harsh judgement on a team that has won nine of its last 12 matches to sit fourth in the Championship. But such has been the nature of the depressing circumstances of the last seven days that it is not unreasonable to suggest that alarm bells are starting to ring.

Behind The Scenes

First let's take the situation off the field. What's happening with the proposed takeover? Nobody seems to know (least of all Stam) but the delay is a serious cause for concern. The Chinese brother and sister partnership who are attempting to buy the club have already been part of a consortium which failed the suitable persons test set by the Premier League when they tried to purchase Hull City.

Now, if reports are to be believed, the Premier League are taking a long time to be convinced that the Chinese siblings now pass the test. What does that tell you? Even if they are eventually deemed suitable and complete the takeover, will they have the Royals' best intentions at heart? Or will they have some ulterior motive?

The current Thai owners have been OK - up until now. They came in, stabilised the financial situation and made some sound appointments in Brian Tevreden and Jaap Stam. More importantly they retained the heart and soul of the club by, for example, keeping ticket prices down, subsidising the fans' travel to Old Trafford and overseeing warm-hearted treatment of the bereaved families of Royals fans. All those things made me proud to be a supporter of Reading FC and, while we all love to watch a winning team, those are the things the club should be about.

Where the Thais have let themselves down is the fact that they want to pull the plug and sell-up already. Where's the long-term vision now? If the takeover falls through we'll be left with owners who we now know don't really want to be here.

No wonder Stam admitted after the QPR defeat that he's worried and doesn't know what the future holds for him or the club.

The best case scenario is that the Chinese pair complete their takeover and then run the club on sound, compassionate lines, possibly providing an influx of finance for Stam to spend, but more importantly ensuring that Reading remain a strong, efficient Championship club who may one day return to the Premier League. That has to be the vision. But what, realistically, are the chances?

Foreign takeovers have to be viewed with suspicion. Some clubs have thrived on them, others been been ruined. Reading's experiences have been mixed, to say the least, but always there's that fear of disaster. And that's because of the question.....


Why are they doing it? It's the obvious question that's often never asked. Why did Anton Zingarevich buy into Reading and why did the Thais do the same? I still don't know the answer in either case and I haven't a clue why a brother and sister from the other side of the world, with no previous connection, would want to risk a fortune to run Reading FC - unless there's something else in the deal for them.

While I fret about the long-term outcome, recent events on the pitch are a reason to worry about their short term, too.

The Drop In Form

The performances against Man Utd and QPR were feeble. The only difference was the quality of the opposition and if Ian Holloway's team had shown more confidence they could almost have matched United's four goal haul.

The evening had an air of gloom about it. This was supposed to be the night that Reading stole a march on their promotion rivals to move within three points of the automatic promotion places - but no-one appeared to really believe it.

Certainly not the thousands of fans who stayed away, nor, once they started playing, did seem the team themselves.

OK, so it was a cold, Thursday night and the match was on TV. But didn't the lowest league crowd of the season indicate that the Reading public haven't bought in to the Stam revolution in large numbers? A potentially crucial , season-defining game was greeted with widespread indifference. And on the evidence of the match itself you can see why.

We've been told the Stam style is a work in progress (if he's allowed to finish it) and we have to be patient. Fine. But Thursday night's apology of a performance strains that patience to the max. And, pardon my scepticism, but you do wonder how its going to end.

Stam has been good for Reading, of that I've no doubt. What impresses me most is that he has a plan and he's sticking to it. But the QPR performance - and a few others - do raise serious concerns.

Too Much Too Soon?

My worry over the Dutchman's possession-based football has always been that Reading just do not have the quality of players to make it work on a sufficiently regular basis. When you look at other passing-obsessed teams such as Barcelona and Manchester City (with whom the Royals were laughably compared by 'Mad Dog' Martin Allen) they not only knock the ball around on the half-way line but can move it into the final third and keep it there through the likes of Messi, Suarez, and Neymar or Silva, Aguero and De Bruyne.

Reading have Kermorgant, Beerens and McCleary, with the supply coming from Williams, Kelly, Swift or Evans. Even at the lower level they rarely create more than a handful of chances over 90 minutes. Right now we rank just 16th in the league for shots on goal and 13th for shots on target. They can pass the ball around all day on the half-way line or in their own half where the opposition are happy to let them have the ball. But once they try to move forward they are invariably crowded out because they just don't have the quality up the field.

Stam argues that the more patient Reading are, the opposition will eventually get tired and the chances will arrive. This theory certainly worked at Blackburn and Bristol City . But against Leeds and QPR it failed miserably..

And while there's a theory that the more Reading play this style, the more it will improve, there's also the counter argument that Championship sides are working them out and making it more difficult for them. As QPR showed, it's not that tough to come up with a game plan and make it work. You just have to keep it tight at the back and then, when the time is right, pressure Reading into mistakes (which they will surely make), create a chance or two and then come away with the win. We've seen it plenty this season, though many teams like Huddersfield, Norwich and Sheffield Wednesday have lacked the discipline to pull it off.

Football has always been about two things that will never change, scoring goals and stopping goals. What you do in each penalty area is what counts. Whether you play pretty football or crash-bang-wallop Crazy Gang route one, it's creating or stopping chances and finding the onion bag. When I look at the current Reading team they look deficient at both ends of the pitch.

In games against Leeds and QPR where Reading amassed around 70 per cent possession and only one shot on target in each game they clearly got it wrong. But Stam wasn't having it , hitting out at the Leeds fans who chanted 'Boring, boring Reading' (was he sure it wasn't the travelling Reading fans?).

Our boss admits he's a novice and is learning on the job, something evident by some decisions which have been hard to fathom. His reluctance to change, slavishly sticking to the same players and game plan even when it's not working has been a frustration for many fans.

He appears to have his favourites too, regularly picking fellow-Dutchmen Joey Van den Berg and Roy Beerens , whatever their form. Youngsters ,such as Dominic Samuel, Callum Harriott, and George Evans (who are the future and will surely improve) do not have the same trust from the boss.

Will Things Get Better?

Stam's clearly trying to improve the squad but with the Tiago Illori transfer saga drifting into the same territory as the takeover and the boss now admitting he's unsure if he'll be able to bring anyone in, how can the manager make Reading more secure at the back and more potent in attack?

That's one of the many things that will be concentrating Stam's mind this coming week. My fourpennyworth doesn't really matter as I'm not a former international or Class 1 coach. But as a humble fan I'd like to see a switch to a back three in a Chelsea-style 3-4-3, with the wing backs running their socks off to give the team a tighter defence at one end and more support for Kermorgant at the other.

Unless we show a marked improvement on the past two performances I expect the Royals to get rumbled in the second-half of the season and the play-offs to become a distant memory.

Reading FC are at the cross-roads not only of their 2016/17 campaign but perhaps their very existence. The lights are about to change and we don't know whether they'll be green or red..

The next three weeks will decide an awful lot.

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