Reading fan Brad Wills has his say on the managerial debate, the state of the academy and why the recruitment strategy needs to change. For him, there’s no “magic pill” to solve the club’s problems.
Hunty beautifully encapsulated all of the things that supporting Reading has always been about for me - my home town against the world and winning. It’s clear that Reading have issues on and off the pitch at the moment, not least what seems to be a concerted campaign to relieve Jaap Stam of his duties.
But much of this noise seems to come from those who have been attracted to Reading in the last 12 or so years (this is a broadly sweeping statement which has considerable exceptions - but is based on the evidence I’ve seen). I call these people “the ruined ones”. We all know “ruined ones” - those who used to support Manchester United or Chelsea, but switched to their home team when we started to do well, and to their credit, stuck with us.
Unfortunately, by attracting that kind of fan, you attract the ugly side of football. The side which calls for the sacking of a manager who has been successful after a short period of downturn. Fans who think that the answer is to sell the family silver and buy a single player – because they’re not as emotionally attached to what has been built in the Royal county.
These were the people who essentially called for Brian McDermott to be fired, for what one can only assume to have been the heinous crime of achieving the three year plan within a year. But this not the way that Reading should or could operate. It’s beyond our financial capabilities to be chopping, changing and throwing money at a problem - so we have to look to simple things, and I’m here to tell you that there’s no magic pill for the damage done to our club’s infrastructure.
So what’s the answer? Well, to my mind, it centres around two key areas.
We have one of the best academies in the country. Think of the biggest names in world football and our academy has, for the past 15-20 years, been their equal. A MASSIVE reason for that was that there was a record of successful movement to the first team. Some of the biggest names in our history came from that route, and it’s fair to say that it was perpetual in its growth.
Success led to more talented kids being attracted to the academy – the best of the best. And the quality of product coming out of the academy, as we all know, has been incredible to us over the last decade and a half. But the lack of progress from the academy under the last couple of managers has been seriously concerning.
Maybe some of that is the loss of Eamonn Dolan, and the failure of those now in charge to integrate into operations with the ever changing management teams in order to push the academy agenda. But what is clear is that our best chance of long term success is home grown talent.
For this to happen, academy lads need a chance to shine - something they’re not getting at the moment. Failure to promote at the top end leads to a loss of pipeline at the bottom end. Given the choice between going to Reading with no chance of moving up, and Oxford United with a high probability of first team breakthrough, I know where I’d choose for my sons (despite the fact that it would tear my soul to pieces).
Buy cheap, sell at a premium
The people who were calling for Nicky Hammond’s head - hang yours in shame. He always was, and always will be, an absolute market place genius. Reading were promoted to the Premier League – arguably the biggest stage in world football, without having paid any more than £2.5million for a player - such was the scale of Hammond’s genius.
Nobody had a bigger role to play in Reading’s rise up the leagues - but there were still people calling for him to be replaced. In order to be successful moving forward, we have to re-establish the scouting capabilities and commercial know-how which brought us Shane Long, Kevin Doyle, Stephen Hunt, Noel Hunt, and countless others for whom we paid very little, got amazing returns from, and then sold at a huge premium.
We can’t afford to be paying £7.5million for players (except Gylfi) – it’s just not sustainable – so we have got to be better, quicker, more attractive, and quicker off the mark if we want to compete.
The answer to our woes is not an immediate one. There is no magic pill. Sacking the manager will simply put us back to square one (and cost a fortune to terminate his contract). The answer is to make long term, consistent investments in small amounts, increase stability, and grow our own end product.
It always has been – unfortunately, trying to explain this to those who think the norm is to see players coming and going for £142million is always going to be hard. It’s very different to those of us who thought Martin Butler was raking it in because he had a posh Mercedes and a personalised number plate – regularly seen on the motorway whilst we were travelling to places like Grimsby, Northampton, and Cambridge United.
Back then, we stood shoulder to shoulder – us against the world, and truly understood what it meant to care about what is underneath a football club – not just requiring instant success.