It’s a horribly familiar feeling for Reading fans: another season where we find ourselves approaching Christmas at the wrong end of the table, another season with a fresh face taking the reigns at the club.
Currently, the table and performances are far less grim than last season, but a different, terrifying beast is rearing its head: Mark Bowen is the man taking the hot seat and his path to the role is under huge scrutiny. His appointment, seemingly the summit of his swift and surprising climb from technical consultant to manager, is undoubtedly not free from controversy.
In the aftermath of the sacking of the media-friendly, charming and all-round good guy Jose Gomes, temperatures are rising among a large quantity of Reading fans. On social media, it seems like the pitchforks are being sharpened. In my 20-odd years supporting the club, I can’t think of a less popular appointment.
But I also can’t fully understand it. Don’t get me wrong, I was in no way, shape or form in the #JoseOut camp. I still struggle to believe that many people were. But I also wonder how much we were blinded by Jose’s dazzling smile and his engagement with the club and fans.
Mark Bowen is hardly Jose’s antithesis - he’s someone who’s done years of hard graft as an assistant to get this position and his first interview shows that he’s keen to maintain the positive atmosphere at the club.
What Bowen does appear to be, however, is a worryingly good fit to the pattern of the managerial merry-go-round at the club: Rodgers-McDermott-Adkins-Clarke-McDermott-Stam-Clement-Gomes-Bowen.
The swing from bullish, swashbuckling statements promising promotion challenges and 100 goals a season to supposedly more pragmatic approaches has been a relatively consistent pattern for our club, irrespective of ownership.
What our current owners hadn’t done before was appoint from within. Maybe there weren’t suitable internal candidates before, but to me this new vote of confidence says a lot. We know the owners are happy to cast a wide net, but this time they’ve opted for a man who was embedded in a key role at the club.
As sporting director, Bowen saw his task as assisting in coordinating the smooth overhaul of the footballing infrastructure at the club. He knows the importance of the academy here and the owner’s long-term goals for the club, which have included a massive outlay on the new training facilities.
With that huge investment by Dai Yongge, alongside the careful manipulation of finances to spend big in the summer after the embargo was lifted, few were doubting his intentions for the club. Do people really believe he’d risk it all by allowing some Machiavellian manipulation by Bowen to convince him into appointing someone he didn’t believe in to guide this ship?
While some fans are busy arguing that Gomes shouldn’t have gone, others are watching with baited breath, hoping that Bowen is going to steady the club.
He hasn’t been shy about emphasising what we’ve consistently heard is the club’s target with our current squad: the play-offs or promotion. He hasn’t been shy about advocating attacking football. He hasn’t even shied away from the controversy, admitting his disappointment about how the speculation that he selfishly ousted Jose has undone decades of reputation-building and hard work in the game.
Those decades of hard work give him vital experience of building up unfashionable clubs to reach new heights. He knows - as much if not more than anyone in a position of authority at the club - that a stable foundation is the key going forwards. He seems ready to combine his passion for coaching with the previous responsibilities he held as sporting director, the closest to an old-school manager’s role that we’ve seen at the club for a while.
It might not be a glamorous appointment and he may not be giving the most glamorous interviews, but I think that’s what we need right now. I’ve taken two words away from his early interviews: pragmatism and potential.
The worst-case scenario is that we don’t reach our potential as a club this season, but with a healthy sprinkling of pragmatism and the club all pulling together in the right direction, from Mr Yongge to Reading fans everywhere, the only way for Reading this season will be up.