Jaap Stam couldn’t have asked for much of a better debut managerial season. Coming to the notoriously difficult second-tier of English football last summer, he led Reading into the recently-finished campaign with ten new signings and also having to deal with losing pivotal midfielder Oliver Norwood just days before the league began.
While there were some inconsistent results coming through in the early parts of the season, he did manage a comfortable win against promotion-favourites Brighton & Hove Albion in the English Football League Cup to reach the fourth round, the furthest the club have gone in the cup competition in four seasons. And, since the end of October, he maintained a top-six position for the club, a majority of that time at third place.
However, with the club falling at the last hurdle in their aim for promotion, Stam is in the awkward position of having a club which loves him as well as many potential suitors who want him just as badly. It’s an envious position to be in, both in football and in life, and it’s almost certainly not the response Stam expected following his very first managerial campaign. But he will stay at Reading, and here is why.
Let’s suppose I was in the same position. Would I leave my wife and the life I’ve built with her (albeit my ‘career’ in this case has been much longer than Stam’s in Berkshire) if I was offered another deal by someone else? If Jaap Stam were to move to another team, he would have new players, staff, tactics and, perhaps most importantly, fans. He would have to spend at least another season making it work somewhere completely different.
And that is on the remote chance that he strikes gold against in his first campaign. What is much more likely is that he will struggle to replicate the success he found with Reading, and he will be left pining for what was and not what is. I can guarantee that would be the result if I swapped my wife for someone else!
He’s had his critics this season, mostly from three of the four sides of the Madejski Stadium. But, unlike Arsene Wenger’s “never forget” stance on ‘boo-boys’, Jaap Stam has simply persevered with his patient possession play and shown that it almost provided Reading with a perfect season. The criticism hasn’t affected him whatsoever, with ignorance equalling bliss in this case. He’s determined enough not to let such issues affect him and, providing he can show continued improvement the longer he remains at the club, it’s likely those fans that are currently disgruntled with his tactics will soon fade into insignificance.
His biggest frustration this season was in the weeks preceding the January transfer window, with ongoing takeover talks overshadowing his preparations to add to the squad mid-season. But, with the sale of the club finally happening just after Reading beat Fulham in the second leg of the play-off semi-final, the club now moves into the summer transfer window with no unresolved business. And, with Director of Football Brian Tevreden suggesting a “war chest” would be made available for Stam to spend this summer (as well as the hope that star player Danny Williams will sign new terms with the club during this period as well), there is little standing in the way of building on the success that he achieved in his first campaign.
The last four managers for Reading have been sacked from the club following poor results. The only one of these who has proven successful afterward is Brendan Rodgers. He went on to achieve great things with Swansea City, Liverpool and, currently, Celtic. But he hardly left the club under his own accord, boasting the worst win percentage of a Reading manager since Eddie Niedzwiecki’s temporary charge in 1991, and it is far from comparable with Jaap Stam’s current tenure.
There is one exception, although it seems incredibly unlikely in the short term. Manchester United are likely still very close to Jaap Stam’s heart, and an offer to join them (even as a number two) could be hard, nigh impossible, to turn down. But, with another club legend Ryan Giggs unable to get his foot in the door at the Red Devils, it is unlikely that Stam would be any more successful, especially at this stage in his career.
There is just one reason for Jaap Stam to stay with Reading: he has no pressure on him. He has done the hard part of a manager’s job, namely winning the hearts of the fans and the trust of the players.
He can go ahead with nothing left to prove, and the weight of expectation lifted off the relatively new manager. His past won’t save him if things go wrong, but it will give him extra time when things get tough to make it right again.