Reading’s left-field appointment of Mark Bowen as manager on Monday afternoon has gone down like a lead balloon. The Royals have effectively replaced Jose Gomes, a popular gaffer albeit struggling for results, with a sporting director that had previously not held a single managerial post of his own.
Besides the bemusement from a footballing point of view, there are real concerns from many fans - myself included - over the process that led to Bowen’s appointment. At first glance, it looks like a conflict of interest - Bowen will have had some say over his predecessor’s future due to his role as sporting director, and has now realised his managerial ambitions by replacing Gomes.
A press conference has been scheduled for Tuesday afternoon - 12.45pm at Hogwood - and there are plenty of questions that need to be answered. I’ve had a closer look at the key ones below.
Who made the decision to sack Gomes and hire Bowen?
First up, the big one. How much involvement did Bowen have in the removal of his predecessor, and who settled on installing him as Gomes’ successor? The worry for many Reading fans at the moment is quite reasonably over a potential conflict of interest for Bowen who, on the face of it, was essentially in a position to play kingmaker behind the scenes.
It’s an issue that needs to be cleared up, and quickly. It’s vital for the fans’ confidence and faith in the club that the appointment is seen to be transparent, fair and above-board, and the club must do all they can to reassure supporters of the integrity of the decision-making process.
This is tricky to clear up easily given that the choice will ultimately have been with owner Dai Yongge, but it won’t be him at Hogwood answering journalists’ questions. It’ll therefore be up to those present, presumably including Nigel Howe, to provide the answers.
Was Bowen the only real candidate?
We know from Jonathan Low at Berkshire Live that other men formerly involved at Reading were interested in the position but weren’t strong contenders. According to Low, Nigel Adkins or Graeme Murty could have succeeded Gomes, but the Royals weren’t keen on either. Ian Holloway also admitted on TalkSport this morning that he applied for the job.
But was there a search for anyone else? Or was Bowen always the club’s preferred man to come in? Naturally, this would be an awkward one to answer if he was the backup option, which is perfectly possible given that the Royals waited for five days before unveiling him as manager.
However, addressing this in whatever manner would help to clear up whether Bowen’s appointment had been long-planned or had been settled on during the recruitment process itself. The former is possible given that Bowen has been involved at the club in two different capacities since March - initially technical advisor and then sporting director.
How will Bowen get the fans back onside?
A tough question to answer specifically, beyond ‘winning games’ and playing well, but it’s a topic that needs to be covered. Many Reading fans are deeply frustrated by both the decision to sack the popular Gomes and replace him with Bowen, and they need to be won back by the new manager.
Otherwise, we risk falling straight back into the Jaap Stam/Paul Clement days when apathy was high, the atmosphere at home was flat and there were fewer bums on seats. If Reading want to turn this season around and push up the table, they can’t do it without the supporters.
The trouble for Bowen is that we’ve not really seen the human side of him yet. Gomes came across as a warm, personable man that was easy to like and connect with emotionally, but fans have learned little about Bowen.
So far he’s largely been pigeon-holed as ‘Mark Hughes’ assistant’, thereby carrying over any of the former Stoke City boss’ negative traits and the worse bits of his reputation. Clement had a similar problem in his time at Reading - having mostly been an assistant manager earlier in his career, he struck me more as a ‘right-hand man’ and never really came into his own and asserted his own style (either personally or on the pitch). In this press conference, Bowen has to do just that.
Bowen also needs to empathise with the supporters in this press conference and win their respect. Most managers come into a new job with a fair amount of goodwill, but he doesn’t have that to rely on at the moment. He has to earn it himself.
What does Bowen have to offer from a footballing point of view?
Linked to the last point, Bowen needs to set out what we can expect from him as manager. Previous managers with clear philosophies haven’t really had to do that so much, particularly Nigel Adkins, Stam and Gomes, but at the moment we don’t know what Bowen’s own principles are.
Again, he risks falling into the Clement trap. The former manager had no obvious overarching playing philosophy during his time in Berkshire, with Reading jumping between styles and formations regularly.
Of course, we won’t get tactical specifics in the press conference, but broad principles would be good to hear. Does he think Reading should keep playing out from the back, press aggressively, hit teams on the counter, be pragmatic or a mixture? We’d all love to hear more.
Are Reading getting a new sporting director?
Of course, Bowen becoming first-team manager means there’s now a vacancy in his old job - unless he’s planning on doing every single job at the Madejski Stadium at the same time.
There’s no obvious answer here as to what Reading will want to do. The club went through two technical directors after Nicky Hammond’s departure in Brian Tevreden and Gianluca Nani, but the post went unfilled after the Italian’s departure around a year ago - until Bowen was appointed in late August.
Whether or not Bowen is replaced, who comes in for him, and what their exact remit is are all things we need to know as they’ll give us an indication about what Reading’s long-term plan is (if we have one). They’re questions that can - and should - be addressed in the press conference.