I’m so very torn over what to think about Jaap Stam’s future - let me explain why.
Two emotions are conflicting in my head at the moment: disappointment and frustration. I’m disappointed because of how poor Reading’s form is at the moment - I’m sure we all are, four defeats in five does that - but I’m frustrated because it feels like none of this should be happening.
In transforming a Reading squad that in the summer of 2016 was low on morale and short on top talent, and taking it to a Play-Off Final ten months later, Stam quite simply performed a miracle. Take out any questions of recruitment, playing style or anything like that - such a big reversal shouldn’t have happened.
Conversely, the big reversal we’ve seen in recent weeks also shouldn’t have happened. Despite being edged out by Huddersfield at Wembley, Reading had proved what they were capable of, and the opportunity was there over the subsequent moves to build on the progress we’d seen.
For a number of reasons, that didn’t happen.
There are a lot of factors being Reading’s poor start to the season. Off the top of my head, I’d list amongst others: uneven recruitment, the loss of key players Danny Williams and Ali Al-Habsi, ineffective tactics, injuries and low morale. Although, to be fair, that last one has been generated by results themselves as much as anything.
So, in reality, there are plenty of issues at the club that need to be addressed - issues which have directly led to where we are now. We’re far from a crisis, but it’s only right to admit that the last few months have posed questions that Dai Yongge needs to find answers to.
Sacking Stam doesn’t address many of those issues
I said up at the top that I’m conflicted over the Stam In/Out debate - I’ve tried weighing up the arguments in my mind, but haven’t been able to come to a clear conclusion over whether sacking the manager is the right way forward for the club.
And, looking back at those factors I mentioned a minute ago, is a change in the dugout the right answer? It wouldn’t change the recruitment, bring back key players, or solve the injury problems.
The tactics are of course a different matter - I won’t deny that, of late, the team selection has been inconsistent, and the system hasn’t worked - results prove that. However, on the note of the starting XI, I’d challenge anyone to name a perfect lineup - in fact, the uneven recruitment has left Stam with a plethora of midfielders and wingers, but not enough defenders or strikers. Naturally, he’s going to find choosing his best team and sticking with it nigh on impossible.
Is the rigid adherence to the possession game defensible? No - Stam should have focussed heavily on making his team more direct going forwards, and solid at the back, a lot earlier. Having almost 70% of the ball against Middlesbrough, and converting that into three shots on target, was criminal because we’ve seen it so many times before.
Will Stam learn his lessons? Yes, eventually. He’s got a bitter pill to swallow, and he may well have to depend on players returning from injury and others coming in during the January window, but it’ll happen.
Ultimately, this is what we need to consider:
If you’re the owner and you’re thinking of sacking the manager, there’s a simple question you need to ask:
Will someone else get more out of this side than the current guy?
Jaap himself has raised that issue, telling GetReading after the loss to Middlesbrough:
"We work very hard as a team and as a staff and as the players to try and get everything out of it, but if there is somebody out there who can do a lot better then [the owners] need to make that decision."
For me, it’s a firm no. Firstly, because there aren’t any candidates out there who are both available and affordable - if there were, they wouldn’t be coming to Reading. Secondly, anyone who could come in would have a tall order winning over the dressing room. Why? Because they all still love Jaap.
Look at it logically - anyone in the squad either a) played in the team last season and is already impressed by Stam or b) was signed by him - because they were impressed by the job he did last season.
In fact, Liam Moore addressed this directly at the start of October, saying:
“I don’t like the sound of pressure towards the manager. I have full faith in him and I know for a fact everyone in the dressing room does too.”
In other words, the players really won’t like it if Jaap Stam goes.
Look to the future
I’d also suggest that who Reading have as their manager at the moment is more about the long-term than it is about the short-term. There’s no desperate need for promotion at the moment, and the poor start to the season has made it less likely, so why parachute another boss in vain hope?
If form doesn’t pick up relegation is a real possibility but, as I argued above, improvement will come. What Reading really need to be thinking about is who the best candidate is for leading the team forward over the long-term. In Jaap Stam, we have an inexperienced, stubborn but determined manager who will improve if we stick with him. He’s also loved by the players, respected by Brian Tevreden and his philosophy is deeply embedded in the club.
I can’t fault anyone who doesn’t think Stam is the right man for the job - many of you will have grudgingly lost faith in him after this season’s poor form, and that is of course perfectly reasonable.
That said, I’d humbly suggest that you give him more time and, even if it’s through gritted teeth, keep the faith.