Jaap Stam and us Reading fans are rapidly turning into that couple who fall head over heels in love and then allow one toxic argument too many to creep in. Going on what's occurred over the Summer and Stam's post match comments yesterday, I'm beginning to wonder if this really is the "match made in heaven" we all thought it was, or if we've actually jumped into bed with someone we've matched with on Tinder.
So where is it all falling down?
Regardless of whether we won the play off final or not, we always knew we would need to be adding firepower up front, so you can't blame our inaction on the fact our season finished nearly a month after everyone else.
With all our hopes pinned on someone who's nearly 36 and retiring at the end of the season, we have effectively come into this season like a boxer in the ring with one hand tied behind his back. We are constantly told about how fantastic our academy is and how we are developing these great youngsters - apart from a cameo in the Cup (in which he notched), why hasn't Sam Smith been given a go?
The system we play is utterly reliant on having a focal point up top, someone to pin the opposition's defence back and to play off of and bring other people into play. What we have instead, is too many of the same type of player, who lack clear direction and urgency.
One of the things I really noticed yesterday, before Hull had even scored, was how slow we are at even getting the ball back in play. Anyone who's read the excellent, "Sum of the Parts" by Jon Keen will know that in 05/06 part of our strategy as a team was to get in the opposition's faces, that even started with the ballboys being instructed to get the balls back in to play as quickly as possible. Liam Kelly - you are a talented young player, no doubt about it, but why do you walk over to take corners with all the urgency of a snail?!
Yesterday there was rightfully a lot of frustration from the stands. The performance was a shambles, Blackett rightfully hauled off 5 mins into the 2nd half and in all honesty, you could’ve argued for a lot more to be subbed off at that moment too.
We got out of jail with Bod’s goal late on, he was a breath of fresh air when he came on and gave us a focal point of attack. If he’s not fully fit and Stam is protecting him by not starting him, then I applaud him. However, it comes across as almost arrogance from Stam that we don’t need to play an out and out striker.
So for Stam to come on the radio after the game and tell fans “don’t come if you’re going to be negative”, absolutely cements his arrogance. I appreciate he’s had a long, illustrious career at the highest level whilst playing, but the bloke needs a slice of humble pie – this is only his second full season in management…and it’s starting to show.
Teams are doing their homework on us, they know to sit deep and make it difficult to break them down, but still he has no Plan B or C to goto. The irony of his comments after the game, is that he’s also said in an interview that we should’ve been better & quicker, which is what the fans were calling for! So he agrees with us…? Remember Jaap, this is Reading FC, not Jaap Stam FC.
Literally hours prior to this, our new CEO has issued a plea for fans to attend our home games and participate. So, whilst there’ll rightly be a backlash from the fans, I also reckon Jaap will have someone above having a quiet word with him.
All in all, right now, we’re not in any kind of “crisis” – the Championship is a marathon, not a sprint (which makes Stam’s ‘we won’t win the league’ comments even weirder, in my opinion) & there is of course plenty of time to turn things around.
However, the first signs of cracks are starting to show and something will have to give at some point. If we can turn possession into points, the problem goes away. Until then, there is going to be a divide between fans and Stam – let’s hope it doesn’t turn into a premature divorce.