The summer transfer window has been slow and steady for Reading Football Club so far and, currently, the worry might be more about outgoing transfers than incoming, but one pertinent bit of business has been resolved this week: Jaap Stam's future.
It would be a massive understatement to say that contracts in football aren't worth the paper they are written on, but this two-year contract extension, coming just one season into his tenure at the club, halfway through his original deal and just two months after being a few mere spot kicks away from promotion to the Premier League, is possibly the most important deal that the club will do this summer.
A Dutch Revolution
There is something interesting happening in Berkshire. While Huddersfield Town continue to break their record transfer fee with every new incoming player, it is the other Championship Playoff finalists of 2016/2017 who are progressing in a more long-term sense. Go back to April 2016, and the departure of long-serving Director of Football Nick Hammond which surely marked an end of an era for some in the blue-and-white. His replacement, Brian Tevreden, took over the role last summer and immediately there was a sense of something new, somewhat magical, entering the club.
As it happened, Brian's arrival was just the beginning of a summer of change at the Madejski Stadium, with the former Ajax coach bringing Dutch manager Jaap Stam to the club along with a gaggle of new continental faces who would help Reading have their most successful season since coming back down to the second tier of English football.
Change begat change, with the new possession-philosophy that Stam brought working well with the new players that Tevreden had largely been responsible for bringing to the club. While there was a stable core of players at the club already who contributed greatly under Stam, there is no denying that the new-look team and tactics brought fresh life into a club who sorely needed it. Imports like Liam Moore and Joey van den Berg have already proven their worth in a short space of time, and it's clear that those coming into the side buy into the new philosophy which is being scripted in Berkshire.
But the revolution is still happening, and it requires consistency to carry on revolving. Removing Stam, even to bring in someone who could carry on his good work, could set the club back a year, and that's enough these days to send a second-tier team into footballing purgatory.
You Win Again
Southampton seem to have more lives than the cat the way they keep managing to reinvent themselves year after year despite the loss of key personnel. But, rest assured, this is not the norm. Most clubs struggle to replace one key player when they leave. Look at Leicester City after Kante. Look at Liverpool after Suarez. Imagine Chelsea without Hazard.
It's still a bit too early to know what squad Stam will have to work with this season, but we know that Danny Williams is gone, and Ali Al Habsi (who has been our Player of the Season across the past two years) is as good as gone as well. With a raft of promising youngsters and fringe players leaving either on loan or permanently, there is likely to be some bedding-in required during the first few games of the campaign for those who haven't yet featured under Stam, and also any potential new arrivals.
What is clear, however, is that Reading now have to challenge for honours this coming season, after Jaap helpfully raised the bar with an unexpected 3rd place finish. It would be difficult to ask another to come in and achieve instantly, but, after seeing what Stam was capable of last year, most fans should be anticipating a tasty 2017/2018 campaign, with things hopefully only getting better. The pressure will be on the manager more this season than it was last, but the best managers thrive under such pressure. This will be his proving ground, and it will test whether he has the mettle to really make it in the terrifying world of football management.
If Rotherham United and Wigan Athletic learn anything from last season, it's perhaps that chopping and changing your manager repeatedly throughout the season doesn't mean the results will chop and change as well. In fact, it very often does the opposite, damaging the club more with constant new faces in charge. Birmingham City are a prime example, having sat in 7th place in December under Gary Rowett, before the surprise appointment of Gianfranco Zola in the winter month saw the club suffer decline for the rest of the campaign, and narrowly avoid relegation.
Reading haven't had an easy ride with manager longevity either, with four managers in the past three years before Jaap Stam came along. Nigel Adkins, Steve Clarke and Brian McDermott have failed to enjoy particularly long spells in charge of The Royals, with Adkins dour disposition providing little encouragement, Clarke put the fire in their bellies and achieved some decent results while in charge but the circumstances surrounding his final few weeks in charge will have sullied any favour he found with the fans. And, while Brian McDermott returned to the club for a second managerial spell a hero after his previous exploits, his five-and-a-bit-months in charge was a dreary experience for anyone who had love for the club, and his subsequent departure from the club at the end of the 2015/2016 campaign couldn't come soon enough.
Nothing lasts forever in football, and Jaap Stam will, at some point, accept a higher appointment, be it at Old Trafford or perhaps on the continent. But he won't walk away from the project he has started at Reading quite yet. He will want to take the team into the Premier League, and perhaps solidify their position in the top tier, achieving even more than Steve Coppell managed. That would turn a manager into a legend.