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In (Limited) Defence Of Paul Clement

The manager’s eight-month spell came to an abrupt end on Thursday morning.

Reading v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

To be honest, I feel sorry for Paul Clement. I’ve never been a huge fan of his, and have thought sacking him was the right decision for a little while now, but I take little pleasure in seeing him go. On the whole, it feels as though his managerial reign is one of the wrong man being brought in to solve problems that were beyond him.

Yes, the eight months or so in which he was at the club were pretty dire. It didn’t start off that great; Reading securing safety under his guidance only by the skin of their teeth last season. He may have only had eight games to salvage a catastrophic 2017/18, but there was no short-term boost on his arrival. Arguably, the worst game in that sorry season came on his watch - the 4-0 drubbing by Ipswich Town.

Any hopes of a summer revival were quickly dashed. No spending spree, no mass clear-out. The club may have rich owners, but funds for summer investment were apparently not there. Instead, in came free transfers (x4), loanees (x2) and just two permanent additions (x2). We needed more, and didn’t get it.

So far, 2018/19 itself has been pretty horrific, with the Royals currently sat in a miserable 21st, only outside the relegation zone on goal difference. To be clear, a lot of that is Clement’s fault - there’s been no obvious tactical system, man-management has been poor, game management not much better and, arguably, more youngsters should have been incorporated into the first-team set-up by now.

Reading v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship
One of two league debutants under Clement - Danny Loader
Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

But is all his fault? Not really, no.

Since he came in through the door in late March, Clement has been battling against messes of others’ making. Reading Football Club has been on a long, steady decline for years now - it didn’t start any time recently and probably won’t be solved any time soon. Squad morale was on the floor months before Clement started his job, fans have been abandoning the team in their droves in the post-Premier League years, and the less said about recruitment the better.

Turning all that around in the short-term, let along the long-term, was always going to be a tall order even for the best candidate. I’d argue though that Clement wasn’t a good candidate in the first place. Hindsight is wonderful, isn’t it?

What we as a club have always needed, at any stage in our recent history, is a manager not just for today, but also for tomorrow. Of course short-term results are important, but having an eye for what’s round the corner, of what direction the club is going in, is equally vital.

In Paul Clement, Reading appointed a manager who couldn’t offer us anything in the long run. The circumstances of his job have been tough, yes, but he did little in his brief spell in the way of building an obvious playing style, restoring team-fan relations, or bringing academy talents through into the first-team (the last few weeks excepted).

It’s vital we learn those lessons. Any new manager that can’t offer us a brighter future - in the years to come, not just the months - shouldn’t be seriously considered. Otherwise, we’re back to square one.