As we all know too well, reality when it hits has quite the impact, such as that, for example, of hurtling full on at the crossbar. Unfortunately, as football fans, always thinking of what could be, we have to be aware of the pitfalls of this reality. The alternative universe where Stam stays as long as Arsene Wenger and we’ll all be re-reading this on the eve of our third Champions’ League final might not be the one we’re inhabiting. So, let’s prepare ourselves… Here’s why Stam might leave.
The Food Chain
There are a number of clubs looking for managers in the Premier League, as well as the top end of the Championship. Looking at the odds on SkyBet (other companies who don't sponsor the league are available (#gambleaware)), Stam is seen as in the running for the vacancies at Leeds, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Crystal Palace. Throw in the fact that West Ham may be looking for a new manager soon, as well as the possibility that Borussia Dortmund may soon leave another English club or even Ajax managerless, and plenty of people in boardrooms will be poring over reports on Stam at the moment. Now, of course, odds must be taken with a pinch of salt (Alex Neil is joint sixth favourite to get the Dortmund job), but it shows that his achievements have not gone unnoticed and with odds as short as 10/1 (Leeds), he is clearly being taken seriously.
One problem is our 'tinpot' nature. Nearly all of those clubs have bigger fanbases, bigger history, and probably a bigger budget, even with the new owners. The infrastructure in place at these clubs is probably much more top-level orientated based on recent experiences. Reading on the other hand have admirably overachieved, but has not prepared as a club to be promoted and taking the squad as it is, is unlikely to be one who you could nail on for automatic promotion.
Stam has made his intentions known as the sort of manager who likes to build a team and a philosophy. He has talked of a project. However, he's been clear in his ambitions, and certainly I share his confidence that he has the intelligence and attitude to succeed at a high level. All of those clubs listed above are probably in a position to allow him to advance his ideas more rapidly (yeah, probably even Leeds).
Now of course, he may really want to stay, but if a great offer comes in from the likes of a Crystal Palace, then I don't think anyone could complain about him taking that. There has been a tendency in recent seasons to look to Europe for new managerial appointments, and this has also come with an increase in the number of younger managers, such as Stam, Jokanovic, Bilic, Marcos Silva et al. The type of football he is trying to play, and his experience of working in the now popular European club infrastructure, mean that he's probably seen as a very exciting and marketable option. His public appearances show a classy guy, and that is likely to have turned heads, throw in some stardust after his playing career and he has become, despite his inexperience, a big name appointment that is likely to excite a club's fanbase. There are managers around, but he's likely to garner a lot of attention.
Little Old Reading
Bigger dogs out there may also be able to highlight possible problems with any stay at the Mad Stad. While the players are going to have had a season's experience playing Stam's system, there's no guarantee that we're going to do just as well. Sure, I am no expert, but I would say these players have overachieved this season compared to other squads in the Championship, and while they could well do so again, pending additions to the squad, there's no way you can guarantee it. It is arguable to say realistically we shouldn't even expect it. Sure, not making the play-offs would feel like a step backwards, but teams coming down will be competitive, 'bigger' clubs such as Aston Villa, Norwich and Leeds are sure to strengthen, and Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday are likely to be just as able to challenge. Throw in dark horses like Bolton (with Jem Karacan in tow) and Derby, as well as possibly Birmingham under Harry Redknapp, and you've got a really tough league.
Any perception by Stam at struggling to compete, especially with questions still hanging over the approach of the new ownership, transfer budget and debts, and he could start to have doubts at Reading as a viable force. Heart will have been taken from a great season, but he appears to be someone who will not shy away from making big decisions, especially if he feels he is not being given the support he requires. Brian Tevreden is going to have to have another great summer.
Finally, as we saw with Derby earlier in the season, it is not just Stam who has turned heads. Brian has also impressed many in the football industry, and were a bigger club to come in for him, and him leave, then that may well leave Stam in a position he does not wish to be in. There also little things that may swing his decision, such as the chance to live in London or abroad in Europe, things that would be very personal to him.
None of this above makes it likely that he will leave. However, it's worth nothing that they are all factors that he will be aware of. Anything can come up later in the summer, for example, Southampton deciding that they need someone else to take them to the next level and the ripple effect could be huge. We all know how quickly things can change in football. Just ask Liam Moore.