During the Mad Stad era, Reading have had a variety of managers from varied backgrounds. Some have been ‘rookies’ taking their first foray into management, others have effectively been ‘journeymen’ who have held many posts across the English leagues. The club have even dipped their toes into foreign waters over the last few years in order to secure a return to the Premier League. Indeed, it wasn’t until the appointment of Jaap Stam that the club had chosen a manager outside of the United Kingdom to lead them in their entire history.
With the current climate of the managerial pressure cooker finally grabbing Reading by the scruff of the neck, the turnover of managers in the last five years in Berkshire has been nothing short of incredible, even by modern football standards. Of those last few managers, none (if any) have been successful. Brian McDermott, Jaap Stam, Paul Clement, Scott Marshall (temporarily), Jose Gomes and now Mark Bowen have all been tasked with leading our club.
Of those (excluding Bowen), none of them got over the 50% win ratio. In the modern era, only Alan Pardew has come closest to that magical figure, gaining a princely 48% win rate. For a time, Stam’s ethos worked, sneaking Reading into the play offs in possibly the weakest Championship for years. However, this all unravelled the season after when he failed to adapt and teams quickly sussed out how to play against us. He was gone before the season was out and in came Clement. The less that’s said about him the better.
What is interesting about the managerial merry-go-round, especially lower down the leagues, is the expectation of a ‘Hollywood’ manager. More and more when managerial vacancies come up and the rumour mill begins to work overtime, you see teenagers and mid-60 year olds alike being interviewed outside their club shop (from which they’ve never actually bought anything) suggesting that their club is too good for this manager or that his ‘philosophy’ would be no good for them.
The expectation is that the manager now needs to match, if not exceed, the current profile of the club. This, I would argue, is misguided and frankly dangerous. What these clubs actually end up with is a manager who has sold them on powerpoints, brochures of themselves and dreams of the promised land. More Carlisle caretaker than Hollywood.
When Jose Gomes was (in my opinion rightly) sacked by the board, the first name linked with the job was Mark Hughes. Cue pandemonium on social media. “He’s a crook”, “He’s only won one manger of the month award”, “Hughes will take us backwards” were just some of my favourites. Now, I am neither for nor against Mark Hughes, but the opinions of the fans at this point baffled me.
How could a manager with vast experience, contacts and know-how possibly take us backwards at a time when we’d just had a manager who’d managed to win nine games in 38 attempts? How could Hughes be a bigger “crook” than Zingarevich, the man who nearly ran us into the ground financially and was about to make us the first Bury FC? Are we actually at a point now with our selection process where we total up all the awards our prospective manager has won in order to decide whether he’d be alright or not?
In the event, the board went with Bowen, an appointment that was met with such antipathy that we may as well have just announced a new drink sponsor (which we did a week later- Amor Beverages, in case you’d forgotten...). There was also criticism and accusations of back-stabbing from Bowen about his conduct in his role of sacking Gomes (which he had no part in) and his ‘self-appointment’ (which he couldn’t possibly have carried out single handedly) to role of manager. What baffled me the most about this reaction was that it was deemed to be ‘unexciting’, ‘boring’, ‘uninspiring’ and ‘negative’. This quickly turned into a wave of anger and in some quarters, genuine resentment towards the new man himself.
At the time, this struck me as strange. In hindsight, it was actually down right ironic. Some of the best managers in recent years - and to be honest in the history of the club - have been ‘unflashy’, ‘safe’ and ‘boring’ appointments. Two of those were actually promoted from within (Pardew and McDermott) and the other was the journeyman I mentioned earlier, Sir Steve Coppell. Of those three managers, the win ratio reads for decent viewing:
Alan Pardew = 48%
Steve Coppell = 45%
Brian McDermott = 46%
The only other manager in recent times who comes closest is Stam, with 41%.
These three men were responsible, in their own way, for three of the most successful squads, statistically and stylistically, in the Mad Stad era and in the case of Coppell, the greatest team to not just play for Reading, but according to the total points haul they gained, the entire second tier of English football. Even in the case of Rodgers and Adkins (who were the right men at the wrong time), these appointments were unglamorous and unexciting (to be blunt).
Reading have done well out of these type of managers over the years and Bowen fits that bill. Whilst it is too early to really judge him, he has galvanised a talented squad, got them playing to their strengths and, most encouragingly, is finding ways to pick up points. The team is now more direct, compact and aggressive, the cornerstones on which those previously successful teams were built on.
For me, you don’t support a manager or player, you support the club. This yearning that football fans have for a megastar manager is a popular feeling but one which ultimately makes no difference in the long run. If you have a philosophy as a manager and you know how to apply it to your group of players, you will be successful. The key for those who run the clubs is to have patience when all those around you are losing theirs. And as for Reading, we should be grateful that any names are linked with the manger’s position, especially after the trigger happy approach we appear to have adopted over the last few years.
Let’s get behind Bowen and the team and remember that employing from within hasn’t been so bad for us in the past. It can’t be any worse than hoping for the Hollywood manager who turns out to be anything but.