I’ve heard quite a few fans since Reading’s season ended two weeks ago claim the squad needs a big clear out and a major overhaul of players if we’re going to stand a chance of improving on a dismal campaign. Whilst most fans’ dreams involve a whole host of sparkling summer transfers I’m here to be the boring voice of reason and tell you this shouldn’t be the case.
In fact, it would be foolish to believe that signing a multitude of players to desperately plug the gaps will be an effective solution. Instead of stopping the leaks it’s more likely to rock the boat. Football squads aren’t just a bunch of players who will automatically improve if you just add a few faces who used to play in the Premier League or has been capped for the Netherlands, as if by magic.
Too many signings in a short space of time can create havoc with overall team morale and balance, and unfortunately I believe that’s where Jaap Stam ultimately failed. With the news coming in on Thursday that Andy Yiadom will be joining the club, signing number one has already happened. However, Paul Clement should be warned against indulging in too many more.
Stam’s love of a new man
Jaap loved a signing - just look at his first transfer window alone where eleven new faces came in. If you want me to name them all I will – Danzell Gravenberch, Joey van den Berg, Joseph Mendes, Anssi Jaakkola, John Swift, Roy Beerens, Yakou Meite, Callum Harriott, Sandro Wieser, Liam Moore and Tyler Blackett. Now if you look at the players who left in that window – Rowan Liburd, Oliver Norwood, Aaron Tshibola and Lisandro Semedo – only two of those were first team players.
That’s a net income of nine signings before January, where another five players – Tiago Ilori, Adrian Popa, Jordon Mutch, Reece Oxford and Lewis Grabban – came in. In total these signings averaged fewer than 15 league appearances per player. When you sign lots of players, quite simply you can’t play them all, and that leads to certain players not being as content as others and creating potential for dressing room atmosphere to drop.
You may call this a moot point considering Reading finished third and a penalty or two from promotion, but it was the knock-on effect that policy had on the team this season which really showed, especially with Jaap dipping his sticky hands back into the wrong part of the transfer market to see whatever might stick. Jaap made a further seven summer signings and two more loans in the winter, meaning we signed a whopping 23 players in fewer than two years. In recent history the only other two managers to sign seven plus players in one window apart from Stam have gone on to be sacked that season – Rodgers in 2009 and McDermott in 2012.
Reading need quality this window, not quantity. Believe it or not the squad of players is capable, but the more they see faces shifted around, the less committed the ones who stay will feel towards the club. It also affects the confidence and play of certain squad members, this season the notable example was John Swift who after coming back from injury found it really hard to gel in an attacking line-up that had completely changed from the season before, thus his frequent wayward passes and seeming inability to really get into games.
Of the eleven permanent first team transfers Stam made in the summer of 2016, only five went on to make more than twenty appearances for the club – van den Berg, Swift, Moore, Beerens and Blackett, whilst Gravenberch and Wieser made five appearances between them. In total, five of those eleven have been either loaned out, sold or released since then,
I want to make clear that I’m not advocating for no new transfers, just for Ron Gourlay and Brian Tevreden et al to spend our resources wisely and less erratically. Now Andy Yiadom is in we need one striker, maybe one or two centre midfielders and perhaps another winger. The squad has quality, but to promote an old cliché they really do need to stay settled and regroup over the summer, get to know each other’s game and the manager’s, and perhaps we’ll see the difference that makes in a few months’ time.
Now you’ve read this, check out Will’s piece on Reading’s poor recruitment record post-Madejski: