The saying goes “you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone” but, for some time now, I have been struggling desperately to determine what we may be recalling about Jaap Stam’s reign with great fondness in the years to come.
What had fast become most likely is that we’d simply reminisce about the fact we played in the Championship, a reality that the club is increasingly losing its grip on.
Going Nowhere Slowly
There have been a number of occasions that have defined Stam’s tenure in a microcosm, but I’m going to hone in on a select few days over February. A 3-3 draw against Derby saw the atmosphere around the Madejski Stadium grow somewhat positive. It was an enthusiastic performance from the players who made mistakes but ultimately looked the better side against a well-endowed opponent.
That was followed, as is typical these days, by a return to the drab, lifeless affair that was produced mere hours later against Sheffield United. Reading were all over the place tactically, devoid of motivation or confidence, continually error-prone and panic-stricken at the back, aimless in attack, and, in sum, useless.
Snow Way I’m Going To That One
That Tuesday night loss to the Blades portrayed another reason the Stam era was doomed. Only 6,000 Reading fans turned out to watch the game — the lowest home attendance of the century — albeit on the coldest night of the decade.
Quite frankly, I couldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to go and watch the team.
Anyone turning up at the Mad Stad this year has witnessed a number of dire affairs, produced first and foremost by an attacking style that labours and bores. When it works, the fans rise out their seats and get behind the team. We were constantly desperate to do that.
But, the fact Stam turned on us many times of late is evidence that the home faithful have grown justifiably irritated — with the Dutchman’s comments just another one for the list of reasons his time is up.
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
There is one last buzzword that is worth discussing when it comes to Stam: Progress. Whenever a new manager comes in or a team goes through a tricky spell, the concept of progress is vital in keeping morale up. While we all accept the Royals overachieved last campaign in reaching the play-off final, and Stam deserves huge credit for getting us there, the simple fact is that there has been absolutely no progress since the final whistle at Wembley.
In terms of style, Reading are forever the same and never worse. In terms of team selection, players such as Joey van den Berg, Pelle Clement, and the recently exiled Roy Beerens have enjoyed a genereous free lunch while game time given to academy prospects has been average at best. In terms of formation, one promising showing in a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 is instantly reversed by a needless switch to a contrasting setup.
Thus the reality was that this to-ing and fro-ing between being crap and being merely mediocre had lasted for months, killed our home form, drained the fans, and, ultimately, leading to the departure of Jaap Stam from Reading Football Club.