Reading FC made a big backroom change this summer when they appointed former Chelsea CEO Ron Gourlay as their new Chief Executive. Having worked at Stamford Bridge for 10 years, and at Manchester United before that, Gourlay came into a club that had gone through a takeover and been taken over by Chinese billionaires only a few weeks before.
Recently, he spoke to Sir John Madejski as part of the former owner’s radio show Round At Sir John’s, which goes out every Sunday at 10.30am on Breeze Reading 107FM.
Amongst other things, Sir John and Ron Gourlay chatted about what new owner Dai Yongge is like - does he care about business first or football - and Sir John talks about how he sees the club as really being owned by the fans.
We were very kindly given an exclusive sneak preview which you can read below, alongside a few of our comments on what Gourlay had to say.
Make sure to listen to the entire interview in Round At Sir John’s on Breeze 107FM this Sunday at 10.30am.
On his expectations for the future
“Personally, I’d like to see us at least in the Play Offs. But we are gearing ourselves for the longer term we’re trying to develop a squad with a good balance. Because the balance is the key of the experience and the youth.
“Everyone talked about the seven new signings and why did we not sign a striker, but at the same time behind the scenes we extended the contracts of nine young players which was very, very important to us because that is the future and we’re getting the balance with some of the experience we brought into the team, but obviously the goal there is to first and foremost get the club into the Premiership.”
I’m probably reading too much into this, but Gourlay seems to play down hopes of promotion this season, or at least emphasise that quick promotion isn’t vital for the club’s future plans.
He rightly praises the club’s successes in tying down a number of young players to long-term contracts. The likes of Liam Kelly, John Swift and Liam Moore all agreed extensions in the summer, meaning that Jaap Stam can build his side around a set core in the long run.
On Reading’s failed attempts to bring in a striker in the summer transfer window
Gourlay admitted that the club did put a lot of effort into signing a forward, but also claimed that they weren’t able to find the right option for the right price.
“Are we there? (Strengthening) No I don’t think we are. Will we go into the window again in January? There’s a high possibility of that.”
“There was a lot of questions and a lot of expectation on the last day of the transfer window, and everybody was waiting on a striker coming in. It was a position we did look at very very closely.
“My role as the CEO is to be realistic with the spending of the football club. If we’re buying a striker we have to be sure we’re getting the right quality striker for the way that we play, and he’s coming in at the right price and unfortunately we couldn’t achieve that.”
Is that last bit a reference to a certain Mr Oliveira? Reading were strongly linked with a move for the Portuguese forward, but Norwich City reportedly held firm in the face of the Royals’ fierce interest.
Evidently, the money was there for a big bid on a striker, but it wasn’t quite enough to lure in someone like Oliveira or Tomer Hemed from Brighton. Understandably, fans are upset about the lack of goalscorers at the club, but breaking the bank could have been too big a gamble.
On new owner Dai Yongge
“Yes, Mr Dai doesn’t speak any English but we do communicate regularly through his interpreter who is always by his side so it’s not too much of an issue at all to be honest.
(SJM jokes that it was hard enough running one club let alone three).
“Yes it is (a big commitment owning) but it does give him experience of the game, he does understand the challenges, he does understand it is a long season especially in the Championship, so we’ve all got to stay calm.”
Unlike Reading’s previous Thai owners, Dai Yongge is very much a football man. Before investing in the Royals, he already owned Beijing Renhe, who play in the Chinese second tier. Ultimately, that’s what the club needs: an owner who’s not only got cash to invest, but also has the right temperament for the role.
On our poor start
“We’re still in the very early stages. In football you’ll always have some critics even from day one, you know we’re building, we have a lot of new players that have got to settle into the team. Into the philosophy, the playing philosophy that Jaap plays.
“The other difference is a lot of teams they’ve watched Reading play last season, so it’s a different style on how they play against us this season so we’ve had to adapt when teams push higher up on us.”
Reading brought in seven senior additions to the squad: Vito Mannone, Pelle Clement, Dave Edwards, Leandro Bacuna, Modou Barrow, Sone Aluko and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson. With that contingent having to adapt to Stam’s brand of football, it’s understandable that they’re not quite at their best.
With the club struggling in the opening weeks of the campaign, it’s up to Jaap Stam to get the new boys embedded into the squad and up to scratch as soon as possible.
On his relationship with Jaap Stam
“I have a lot of interaction with everyone at the training ground. I like to meet weekly and be kept up to date with the medical staff as well. I like to understand.
“These players are our assets so I like to understand how they’re being looked after and managed. I’m two days a week now Sir John at the training ground, I have an office there.”
Sir John: “Excellent well that puts you right in the thick of it.”
It’s encouraging to know that Ron Gourlay is very much getting stuck in at the club and is eager to absorb as much information as possible. Plus, having a knowledgeable figure like him makes establishing a long-term plan much easier.
Thanks again to Breeze for giving us this sneak peak of Sunday’s show. We’re sure it’ll be a very interesting chat between Ron and Sir John, so make sure to listen in to Round At Sir John’s on Sunday morning at 10.30am.