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Nigel Howe On Investment And Identity In Club Statement

What we learned from the CEO about Reading’s current state and future plans.

Reading Women v West Ham United Women - WSL Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

Direct, honest communication is deeply appreciated in any aspect of life, but particularly so between a football club and its supporters. Reading were criticised by many for a lack of it during the ill-fated Ron Gourlay era but, with Nigel Howe back at the helm once more, those days seem to be behind us.

Howe made a surprise public statement on Thursday, writing directly to the fans in a piece published on the club’s official website, simply titled ‘From the CEO’. In it, he addressed a pretty wide range of issues, but focused on two main things: investment and identity.

Below, we’ve had a closer look both at what Howe said.

Investment

Having acknowledged the importance of staying in the Championship, Howe gives some context for the club’s current financial situation by describing the state the club was in when he took the role of CEO late last year. He says:

“When I resumed the CEO role in December, I inherited a number of significant club issues which urgently needed to be addressed. As a priority, we had to immediately get to grips with the costs and complications of an over-sized first team squad, whilst conducting some shrewd business in the loan market during an extremely busy January transfer window. These were imperative measures to take.”

The language (shown in those words I’ve put in bold) is particularly strong, blunt and honest. No beating about the bush, Howe makes it very clear in those 65 words how poor a state the club was in December, and how drastic the action required was.

Naturally, there are some things he doesn’t specifically mention but does allude to, such as Ron Gourlay’s time at Reading. Without explicitly saying his predecessor’s name, Howe makes it clear what he thinks of the job Gourlay did - “I inherited a number of significant club issues which urgently needed to be addressed”.

Similarly, there’s perhaps a subtle reference to the club’s reportedly harsh treatment of some of the squad when David Meyler, Marc McNulty, Vito Mannone and Dave Edwards were apparently prevented from training with the first team in a bid to push them out the door. “We had to immediately get to grips with the costs and complications of an over-sized first team squad” sounds to me like an explanation of why that action was taken.

Howe’s attention then turns to the future:

“Our owners are ambitious. And they would very much like to invest further in our first team… but, at present, it’s just not that simple under the EFL’s Profit and Sustainability regulations.

“I expect this summer’s transfer window will be even busier than the last. Our challenge right now must be to reduce the size and cost of the first team squad to meet Profit and Sustainability targets - so we will see even more player movement in the coming weeks and months than we achieved back in January. Only then can we continue to move this club forward.

“José will naturally be at the heart of this process and we will all be working extremely hard in the coming months to balance our figures and secure the stability we need to establish a talented, hungry squad of players ready to tackle 2019-20 head on and challenge in the top half of the table rather than scrapping for survival. We have a big summer ahead of us.”

The CEO makes it very clear that the summer transfer window will be a tricky one for Reading, with the club needing to operate within the same financial limits that we went through in January. He does however make sure to end this section on investment with a more optimistic tone, emphasising the club’s desire to have a “talented, hungry squad of players”. Fairly standard stuff, but important nonetheless in what’d been a fairly downbeat statement until that point.

Side note - I’ve got a lot of time for the affectionate reference to ‘Jose’. Not ‘Jose Gomes’, but simply ‘Jose’. Lovely stuff.

Identity

Perhaps the biggest criticism of Ron Gourlay’s time in Berkshire was the weakening link between the club and the community. It’s something that Reading have addressed head-on in the last few months - there’s a lot more focus on community matters on the club’s social media channels and website, including the #OneReading theme. Excellent work from all involved.

Howe talks about it very affectionately in his statement:

“I can commit to some things. Perhaps, recently, as a club we lost our way a little. It will now be our collective aim - myself, my staff and with the help of our supporters - to reinject our identity into all we do.

“We must continue to connect with our community, actively engage with local business, embrace and celebrate our history whilst aspiring to great things in our future. And it has to be our objective to shout about this great club, its thriving Community Trust, its Category One Academy, its burgeoning Women’s team and our shared values - to tell our story to a wider community, engaging with new supporters and making a positive impact on the town of Reading, its community and beyond.”

That bit towards the beginning - “Perhaps... as a club we lost our way a little” - is another unsubtle dig at Gourlay, and makes it clear to the fans that Howe knows Reading have more to do if they’re to get back on track.

The following paragraph is fairly standard stuff, but including it is still important. Reading need a CEO who will, as Howe says, “shout about this great club”, and at the very least it plays well with the fanbase.

In summary

Reading need statements like this, even if just semi-regularly. There’d been little such direct communication between the club and fans for far too long, but we’ve now had two in around five months - the other being Dai Xiu Li’s message at the end of November 2018. It’s a great way of connecting with the fans, and hopefully will continue for the long-term. Long may that last.