When Jaap Stam looks up from his copy of De Telegraaf on Thursday morning and notices the transfer ticker running down the side of his television, he could be forgiven for sighing with contempt at the sight of ‘Lewis Baker - Loan - Reading FC’ cropping up in front of him.
The Dutchman, now lodging at PEC Zwolle after an ill-fated public statement that he was ready for the English Premier League, has bemoaned the recruitment failings of his former club a number of times since his wholly timely exit in March of last year.
More specifically, he blamed a lack of investment. This feels simply untrue as Reading splashed out on Sone Aluko, a player in theory perfect for his system, while forking out transfer fees on six other first-teamers and big wages on a further loan duo in January. The problem is that, barring Aluko, none of them were designed to fit into his style.
Mo Barrow is a pacey winger stifled by slow build-up play, Leandro Bacuna a technically decent but ultimately flakey central midfielder, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson a workhorse striker with League One-esque technical ability, and Dave Edwards is... well, we know what Dave Edwards is.
Stam was hardly helped the summer before, when only John Swift, Liam Moore and January arrival Tiago Ilori can be considered ‘passing players’ amid Brian Tevreden’s haphazard pluckings of Danzel Gravenberch, Sandro Wieser, and Joseph Mendes.
Far from this being an apology note to our once Champions League winning ex-coach, the club ensured that he wasn’t the first possession protege to be stifled by their recruitment plans. Brendan Rodgers was deigned with Brian Howard, Grzegorz Rasiak and Darren O’Dea while trying to instil a huge culture change across the club post-Coppell.
Rodgers’ greatest gift came from the academy in the form of Gylfi Sigurdsson, as did Stam’s (arguably) in Liam Kelly. Skipping over Paul Clement, who never knew what type of football he wanted, and Jose Gomes’ inheritance is a growing pool of hungry, technically proficient academy products; led by Andy Rinomhota, a player with genuine passing ability to match his physique and discipline.
Pulling Reading out of the relegation zone while going back to a tried-and-failed system is a risky method but, with Lewis Baker and Ovie Ejaria two examples of possession-capable reinforcements in a tight January market, at least the club appear ready to die by the sword rather than pussyfoot into disenchanting another coach and fanbase alike.