It’s been a while since we knew that much about the people who own Reading Football Club. Gone are the days when Sir John Madejski, a Royal at heart, was in charge at RG2. Now, after spells of Russian and Thai investment, a majority stake belongs to Chinese siblings Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li. May 16 marked one year since the duo bought a majority stake in the club, but it still feels like we’re low on solid information about them.
We asked TTE writer Maffff, who’s got a keen eye for how things shape up at the club behind the scenes, to put together an in-depth look at the two owners. In this piece, he’s outlined how their time in Berkshire has unfolded so far - in the sequel, he’ll analyse where Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li could be taking the club in the future.
January 2012 - January 2017
It feels like owners come and owners go for Reading these days, after 22 years of Sir John Madejski’s stewardship at the club. First up was Anton Zingarevich; a quick and unexpected success in reaching the Premier League was followed by an equally sharp decline when daddy refused to put his hands in his pockets anymore. In hindsight, a clear vanity project for Zingarevich jr. which nearly put us into administration.
A brief return to the comfort of Madejski rule followed and within the year the Thai consortium of Lady Sasima Srivikorn, Narin Niruttinanon and Sumrith “Tiger” Thanakarnjanasuth took us away from the brink of administration. Whilst stabilising the club financially, the sale of land surrounding the Madejski Stadium to the Thais to develop Royal Elm Park appears to be where the true intentions emerge
Within two and a half years the Thais stated they were seeking further investment in the club, citing the “high costs of running a football team” and “having taken us as far as they could”. Whilst Narin officially still owns a minority of shares, the enigmatic Tiger severed all his ties with Reading to allow him to take over at Oxford United. Lady Sasima disappeared off the face of the earth and is presumed to be back in Thailand, trying to decipher why “They Call Us The Royals” never reached chart success.
…and that potted history brings us to our current leadership.
January 2017 - now
We’re yet to have any direct insight from the owners to help understand their vision for the future of the club and, from recent remarks by Ron Gourlay, it’s unlikely to change in the near future. So from that, to understand the future we’re best looking at their record so far.
Speculation initially emerged towards the end of 2016 that prospective Hull City owners Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li (AKA Xiu Li Hawken) had switched their interest into buying us, adding Reading FC to a portfolio already containing Beijing Renhe and KSV Roeselare in Belgium. Around six months later, the takeover formally completed when EFL approval was granted on the 16th of May 2017, oddly announced midway through the victory against Fulham which took us to Wembley.
Ahead of officially joining the club, speculation was rife that the Chinese owners had already started to influence operations at the club several months earlier, when our chances of reaching the Premier league were looking up. A £10 million loan came in from ‘Great Shine International’ - money that was speculated to have come from the Dais to fund new players.
On the pitch
If the Chinese were involved as of January 2017 then we immediately saw the impact of their involvement. Tiago Ilori joined in mid-January from Liverpool for a speculated club record fee followed by Adrian Popa from Steaua Bucharest shortly before deadline day. Business concluded on deadline day with (solid on paper) loans of Lewis Grabban, Reece Oxford and Jordon Mutch to help Reading’s push for promotion.
Once their stewardship was confirmed, a fairly significant outlay (by historical Reading standards) followed in the summer of 2017. With only two first team departures - Danny Williams on a free and Ali Al-Habsi for a pittance - the club shelled out on six players, all expected to strengthen the first team.
These came in the forms of Vito Mannone, Leandro Bacuna, Dave Edwards, Modou Barrow, Sone Aluko and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, Pelle Clement also joining for an undisclosed fee from Ajax. Late January deadline day rumours suggested an ambitious attempt by the owners to sign Alfredo Morelos of Rangers, a player Stam had openly admitted admiring. Reportedly, Beijing Renhe would buy him at a cost of £7m with a view to loaning him to Reading. Eventually, two further additions followed on loan in the form of Tommy Elphick and Chris Martin.
Although success has evaded us on the pitch in 2017/18, these additions show a willingness from the owners to provide financial support for the manager. We’re yet to see what the summer of 2018 brings beyond the early capture of Andy Yiadom on a free transfer, however, Ron Gourlay in his latest interview indicated that there could be a major spending spree this summer, with money available for the right players.
Behind the scenes
We’ve also seen the owners stamping their mark on the club staffing. Ron Gourlay, Chief Executive at Chelsea from 2009 to 2014, joined Reading within two months of the owners completing the club purchase prompting a boardroom reshuffle in July 2017 which saw Nigel Howe moved to a vice-chairman role, focusing on the Royal Elm Park development. The role and visibility of Brian Tevreden became less clear following Ron’s appointment.
The club also acted swiftly following January’s news that Lee Herron will depart from the academy for Arsenal at the end of the season. Ged Roddy MBE joined in early February shortly after leaving his last post as the Premier League’s Director of Football Development where he developed EPPP.
We also saw the owners exercise patience with Jaap Stam when results weren’t going his way, finally relieving him of his managerial duties with eight games to go. With a sparsity of managers on the market it appears the owners utilised Ron’s contacts from his Chelsea days to land Paul Clement as the next man to take the club forward.
Lastly, the delays to Bearwood were attributed to the owners being hands-on and putting their stamp on the training ground. Recent progress updates have been minimal, although the latest insights from Ron suggest we are still on track for the transition to commence from the end of this calendar year.
Looking back on Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li’s first year in charge, what have we learned? We know that Reading have owners who are keen to stamp their authority on the club through changing senior personnel, with Ron Gourlay and Ged Roddy coming in. They are owners who have invested in club infrastructure and are willing to provide financial support for the manager, and owners who are willing to exercise patience and are not condoning the hiring and firing culture.
That all sounds pretty good really.