Remember Ian Harte? You know, the Irish left back with a wand of a left foot? Set piece specialist? Penalty hero? Yeah, Ian Harte.
Well, he reckons Reading FC will beat Huddersfield Town in the Play-Off Final this Bank Holiday Monday. I knew I loved him.
Ian Harte, speaking exclusively to 888sport, sat down for a quick Q&A, some of which you can read below.
What are your impressions of Reading overall this season? Why do you think they have been written off (and continue to be) by pundits?
For me they have been absolutely fantastic since Jaap Stam has been in there this season and that’s also down to excellent recruitment. Some of the football they’ve played has been amazing and even though Fulham were probably the favourites to get into the final Reading have done a fantastic job to knock them out.
How impressed have you been with Jaap Stam? Do you think he has what it takes to go to the very top in management?
Definitely. What he’s done at Reading in such a short space of time shows he’s ready to move on to bigger and better things. Everyone has to start somewhere and that’s the one for him.
The style of football is amazing to see; the goalkeeper passing out from the back and everyone comfortable on the ball. If they’re probing down the left and nothing is available they switch it to the right and it’s very exciting. I’ve still got a number of great friends at Reading so I’m delighted to see them in the play-off final.
How do you see the play-off final going? Do you expect it to be quite cagey or a relatively open game?
I think it will be quite cagey because you’ve got another manager – Wagner at Huddersfield - who has done remarkably well with probably the smallest budget. It will be tight but I hope Reading have a bit too much for them on the day even if Huddersfield are good on the ball themselves and technical up front.
I’ve played in this game and we got beat 4-2 by Swansea and I can assure you it wasn’t an enjoyable day. I’ve been to Wembley and lost both times and though it’s an amazing place to play ideally you want to win.
If Reading do go up, what should their priorities be over the summer?
They have just recently got a new owner and the previous one when I was there didn’t invest enough money under Brian McDermott. They gave him five million. To have any chance of staying in the Premier League the manager needs to be given funds and hopefully that will happen.
Every year the gap is getting wider. You’re always trying to compete with the big boys but in all honesty you’re only going to be fighting with six to eight teams to avoid relegation. That needs investment.
If Reading don't go up, do you think there will be major changes over the summer? Do you expect them to be challenging at the top of the Championship next year?
I would like to think so and I should imagine they have a plan A and a plan B. Plan A will be a group of targets they want to bring in over the summertime whereas Plan B will be a group of players good enough to play in the Championship who are also capable to making that step up to the Premier League.
What do you make of the man who's ended up replacing you at left-back for Reading, Jordan Obita?
I like Jordon and I still speak to him quite a lot. He started out as a left winger and plenty of clubs were looking at him. For me he’s done really well this season. I always tried to give him advice when I was playing with him and he was left wing. There were plenty of times when he couldn’t get the ball out of his feet and it would be cleared at the near post.
Now as a full-back he’s got plenty of time to run into that space and get the ball into the box and he’s doing really well. They signed Tyler Blackett from Manchester United and it looked like he’d take Jordan’s place. But Jordan stayed patient and knew his quality would shine through and Blackett is now placing centre-half.
What qualities did Stam have on the pitch that he has taken into management at Reading?
He’s a leader. He’s won many things at Manchester United and you wouldn’t want to cross him so I don’t think he’d stand for much back-chat.
Will Stam’s experience as a player of playing in the World Cup, Champions League final etc, mean that he is able to keep his players cool under pressure against Huddersfield in the final?
He’s done amazingly well at Reading but it’s more about him passing on his experience. He’ll be an enormous help to these young lads and for them, whether it’s in front of five thousand or fifty thousand it doesn’t matter once you cross that white line.
Read the full 888sport interview with Ian Harte, including his thoughts on why Reading will be too strong for Huddersfield.