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Tiago Ilori Signs: Statement of Intent or Cause for Concern?

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As Reading FC clinch a potential record signing, Wosty tries to understand why the deal is evoking as much unease as it is optimism amongst some fans...

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When news broke well over a week ago that Reading had not only agreed a fee, but what is rumoured to be a club record fee of £3.75m for Liverpool defender Tiago Ilori, it would be more than an understatement to say that it came as quite a shock to a number of Reading fans.

Remember, this is the same club who by the board's own admittance were on the brink of administration until its takeover by the current Thai owners. The same club who had been under a self-imposed transfer embargo to try and balance the books in the wake of the destructive Zingarevich era. The same club who only this previous transfer window had started make significant waves in the transfer market - such as the £1m purchase of Liam Moore - but who at the same time were still largely reliant on the acquisitions of free agents.

In a week where the club has just announced a loss of £15m for the 2015/16 season, where exactly have these funds come from?

Now of course, I do not wish to come across as overly pessimistic about this move. All Royals fans should be on a real high given the club's current position and form. What Jaap Stam has achieved in his seven months in charge - taking a side that has finished in 17th and 19th in previous seasons and turning them into genuine playoff contenders - is nothing short of miraculous. The fact that he has done this with resources that are easily dwarfed when compared to high spending rivals such as Newcastle, Aston Villa and Derby, makes our current standing even more remarkable.

Jaap Stam has certainly brought back the good times on the pitch, despite the continued drama off it (Harry Ward/Getty Images)

Jaap Stam has certainly brought back the good times on the pitch, despite the continued drama off it

And so it may appear strange to many of you as to why I would be questioning what appears to be, at least at face value, a step in the right direction. A club record fee spent on a young and exciting, albeit unproven defender, who under the guidance of one of the game's defensive greats could prove to be quite the coup for the club, and undoubtedly implies a deal of ambition from the ownership. It is the sort of move that even six months ago, when we were applauding the club's shrewd financial dealings in the free transfer market with signings such as the promising John Swift, we could have seemingly never dreamed of.

Indeed, it is this very unexpected nature of the Tiago Ilori signing, as well as the ongoing takeover turbulence occurring behind the scenes of the club, that has provoked confusion from some quarters of the Reading fanbase.

A prospective new owner looking to win over his new fans? A marquee signing serving ostensibly as a statement of intent from an incoming chairman that he meant business at the club? A fanbase rejuvenated by unexpected spending on quality players seemingly out of our financial structuring and means? It may be just me, but have we not seen something like this before?

As soon as news of the rumoured signing broke, it was this exact difficult conflict of emotions that reverberated around my mind. It had all the echoes of January 2012, when also in the midst of a potential takeover, Reading fans were treated to another high-profile signing out of the blue. When Jason Roberts joined the club, few of us thought that we would be in the market for a player of his stature - or indeed rumoured wage bill. But with Anton Zingarevich about to take control of the club, the fans were given hope that this would indeed herald a new age at the club, with a committed owner willing to spend when necessary to allow Reading to be as competitive as they possibly could be. This is a narrative that even our Board of Directors themselves bought into. Unfortunately, we all know how that narrative ended.

The signing of Roberts very much ushered in the Zingarevich era in January 2012. Celebrations such as these were to be short lived. Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

The signing of Roberts very much ushered in the Zingarevich era in January 2012. Celebrations such as these were to be short lived.

Of course as I say, this could be read as a very cynical way of viewing the Ilori signing. The young Portugese arrival at the club could indeed be the result of years of diligent tightening of the purse strings behind the scenes in the wake of the Zingarevich crisis. In the last couple of seasons, we have seen all of the notable and most expensive additions of the Russian's era at the club, such as Danny Guthrie, Royston Drenthe and of course Pavel Pogrebnyak, slashed from the club's unsustainable wage bill. As has already been mentioned, the club forewent adding to their squad for a considerable period of time in an attempt to reduce their deficit, relying on loan deals and all too infrequent free additions to bolster a threadbare squad that found itself sliding towards the bottom end of the Championship. Such a morale-sapping period for the club served as a reality check for the fans. We had been a club on the brink and it would take some time for us to get back to the financial and footballing stability to which we had become accustomed to in the past decade.

Indeed, even with the twelve summer signings that arrived at the Mad Stad this summer, including exciting additions such as the highly touted Yakou Meite and the aforementioned Swift, the majority of Royals fans expected us to remain nearer to the bottom than the top of the table under the guidance of our fledging Dutch manager.

Signings such as John Swift have given Royals fans cause for optimism both on the field and in the transfer market.

Signings such as John Swift have given Royals fans cause for optimism both on the field and in the transfer market.

But how wrong we were. Stam's investments have proven to be largely successful, and have resulted in an unlikely play-off charge. This unforeseen success could equally be viewed as Reading in fact reaping the rewards of their financial shrewdness. After seasons of self-imposed austerity, is this in fact just recompense for a club who having rectified their previous financial errors are now capable of imposing their presence in both the league and transfer market? Or could this be a new cash injection coming from the Chinese brother and sister, Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Lu, who have been courting the club about a possible takeover?

It is indeed this latter option that is, for me at least, cause for possible concern. The old saying goes "Once bitten, twice shy." To hear that the potentially incoming Chinese consortium were unable to buy Hull last year, with rumours that this was due to their bid's inability to meet the requirements specified by the FA Fit and Proper Persons Test, is just a bit too familiar for me.

In 2004, Anton Zingarevich had previously been blocked from buying Everton, yet 8 years later he was in charge at the Madejski. Yes, both then and now, Reading FC was and indeed remains an outfit in need of investment. But as a club and fanbase we have seen the destruction that can be caused by handing over the keys to a seemingly enthusiastic owner who promises the Earth, but in fact brings nothing but turmoil. To hear that current talks with the Football League and Premier League have also allegedly started to hit similar issues that prevented their takeover of Hull, can we afford to risk the club again?

Again, perhaps I am being unfair. Perhaps this transfer is a long overdue step in the right direction after years of recent financial prudence. If it is a transfer being backed by the new owners, maybe it simply an attempt to genuinely push the club on in their promotion push and allow Reading to reap the future benefits of Premier League football, where the club could gain access to the sorts of funds that make £3.75m look like a drop in the ocean.

But herein lies the issue: as a fanbase, we simply do not know.  The staggering lack of transparency surrounding the club since the debacle of the Zingarevich episode means that while signings such as Tiago Ilori inspire a certain degree of optimism, the opaqueness of the club's management and financial structures mean that many fans, including myself, will continue to view moves such as this with a certain degree of unease.