For many of us, we can’t really remember a time when Nigel Howe wasn’t the senior man in the Reading boardroom. Howe was a mainstay of the Sir John Madejski era, whose power and presence only grew with subsequent ownership changes. Now he’s moved on to the EFL Board, replaced by former Chelsea Chief Exec Ron Gourlay. So, what can we expect from the new man in the big chair?
We spoke to David from our Chelsea sister site We Ain’t Got No History to get more info on Mr Gourlay.
What can Reading expect from Ron?
Gourlay spent ten years at Chelsea, the last five as CEO, but despite his lofty title, most of his activities were conducted far from the public eye and without much fanfare. At Chelsea, that was a bit of necessary change after the bombast and controversies of Peter Kenyon's tenure, but it also makes it hard to properly evaluate Gourlay's time as chief executive. One would expect him to conduct business in a similar fashion at Reading however, working efficiently and steadily towards whatever goals the club has set out to achieve. Gourlay never came across as the most friendly or most accessible person and that didn't always sit well with fans, but at the end of the day, he was there to help engineer success for Chelsea and by all indications, he did that very well.
What was his biggest success at Chelsea?
At Chelsea, ultimate power resides with the owner, who thus holds ultimate responsibility as well. That said, Gourlay is credited with improving the global image and marketing power of Chelsea, including the establishment of several Chelsea-funded/-branded grassroots football operations around the world (especially in East and Southeast Asia as well as the USA), and helping to set up the club for sustained success without the constant injections of cash by the owner. That process is still ongoing, but Chelsea have navigated the murky financial waters of FFP restrictions with aplomb and a good portion of that is thanks to Gourlay.
During his time as CEO, even if not directly a result of any specific action of his, Chelsea made some of the biggest signings in club history, including Fernando Torres and Eden Hazard, while also winning a Premier League, Champions League, and Europa League title.
Anything you weren't so happy with as fans?
No football club's board is ever universally adored by fans and they make an easy target for criticism whenever something goes wrong. Gourlay, for example, was one of the public faces of Abramovich's failed attempt at strong-arming Chelsea Pitch Owners into giving up the land on which Stamford Bridge sits (when the club were looking to move rather than re-build the stadium, which is now the plan). And beyond the usual complaints whenever the club failed to secure someone's fantasy signing, Gourlay also endured plenty of criticism over the appointment of Rafael Benítez as interim manager in 2012.
Why did he move on?
No specific reason was ever given for his departure, sudden as it was soon after the start of the 2014-15 season, just some vagaries about fresh challenges and new business opportunities and such. It could've simply been time for a change after a decade at the club; it could've had something to do with the growing influence of Abramovich senior advisor Marina Granovskaia, who was already an influential figure for some time but was truly growing into a force to be reckoned with; it could've been something entirely non-football related. We don't know and unless someone writes a tell-all biography, we probably won't.
Do you think he'll handle being at a club with smaller resources?
That's a very interesting question considering that Gourlay's two employers in football have been Manchester United and Chelsea. It should be noted that it's unlikely that he had too much say in transfers at Chelsea, but he certainly had a keen eye on the bottom line and ensured that the club met financial regulations while also growing the club's international profile, and those skills should translate well to any such situation, regardless of the specific amounts involved.
Thanks again to David and you can check out all things Chelsea at We Ain’t Got No History.