Last season was a turbulent one on and off the pitch for Reading, with plenty of changes being made to the playing squad, staff behind-the-scenes and of course the management. But one role that remains unfilled to this point is that of Director of Football (DoF), a previously important position at the club.
Reading are reportedly close to filling the role with Mark Bowen, who worked alongside Jose Gomes in the final stage of the season as a ‘technical assistant’ providing tactical advice and analysis.
Choosing him for a position that’s less about on-pitch matters and more about backroom planning is a curious route to take, although of course we don’t know what specifically he’d be bringing to the job and how the club sees his involvement panning out.
Reading’s recent lack of a DoF has bucked a trend
Whatever the case, Bowen coming in would be a return to a more familiar way of doing things. Nicky Hammond had been in the post for 13 years until 2016 when he joined then-Premier League side West Bromwich Albion. Brian Tevreden succeeded him, continuing until last September when he was replaced by the easily forgettable Gianluca Nani, who himself quit the club only days after Nigel Howe’s return as CEO in December.
That left January as the first transfer window since 2003 for which Reading had no DoF. Whoever the manager was, be it Steve Coppell, Brian McDermott, Jaap Stam or anyone else, they’d all been able to rely on that extra pair of hands to help with recruitment and moving players on for as high a fee as possible - something at which Hammond in particular excelled.
And yet, Reading had their most successful transfer window in quite some time. More than a dozen outgoing players - sold, let go on free transfers or loaned out - were replaced by five temporary additions: Ovie Ejaria, Lewis Baker, Nelson Oliveira, Emiliano Martinez and Matt Miazga. Those five played a vital role in making sure the Royals avoided the drop.
Pulling off those signings - not to mention the trimming of the squad which went a long way to helping squad cohesion and morale - was a good job well done by the two men responsible for January’s business: Nigel Howe and Kia Joorabchian. The former pushed through a much-needed overhaul of the playing staff that started in January and will undoubtedly continue in the summer.
On the other hand, Joorabchian was reportedly influential in the Royals’ loan signings - in a similar way to the transfer window of summer 2015 when Reading brought in the likes of Matej Vydra, Ola John, Lucas Piazon and others (obviously to a very different outcome). In early December, reporter Charles Watts (then of Football.London) said:
“Joorabchian is not a stranger to Madejski Stadium, having been a key figure behind the scenes during the previous Thai owners spell in charge due to his close relationship with Pairoj Piempongsant, the man who first brought Samrit Bunditkisada and Lady Sasima Srivikorn to Berkshire.
“The Iranian-born businessman was behind several of the transfer deals that fist took place during the Thai’s reign, such as the moves for Orlando Sa, Paolo Hurtado, Lucas Piazon and Ola John.
“Joorabchian’s influence had diminished in the past two years, however, but he has now returned to the scene and Football.London understands he has been present at the last two Reading matches at Madejski Stadium. His influence has grown so much that sporting director Gianluca Nani agreed to leave as he felt his position had become untenable.”
Whatever your views on how good that kind of influence is for Reading, it certainly paid off in January. Would we really have been able to entice Premier League loanees like Ejaria, Baker, Miazga and Martinez to a Championship relegation fight if we didn’t have someone with the connections of Kia Joorabchian in our corner? Surely not.
Taken in isolation, that Howe/Joorabchian reported partnership in January would appear to make a good case against bringing in a new DoF whether it’s Mark Bowen or anyone else. But Reading would be missing a trick by not doing so.
Why do we need a Director of Football?
We’re essentially into a new era at Reading now. Over the next few years, the relatively new CEO and manager (hoping he stays) will have to reset the club’s way of doing things due to severe FFP restraints and the failures of the last half-decade. We can’t afford for it to be business as usual.
Doing that when Reading’s status and spending power are at their lowest in quite some time won’t be easy, and will certainly involve tough choices over - for example - cashing in on talent like Danny Loader. Going through that while trying to stay competitive on the pitch - or at least not being relegated - won’t be easy.
The only way to achieve that is to ensure Reading is a properly run club that makes the most of its resources and has a clear plan for the future over the course of at least two to three years - something absent since 2012.
That requires a Director of Football to oversee and orchestrate recruitment, youth development, footballing philosophy and more - areas which are at the moment split up among Nigel Howe, Kia Joorabchian (reportedly), Jose Gomes, Ged Roddy, Mikele Leigertwood and others.
The alternative to appointing a new DoF and having the resulting long-term stability is that any progress we make is short-term and can’t be built on. January’s recruitment, which I mentioned above, is a great case in point. Reading did extremely well to ship out more than a dozen players while adding five quality loanees, but that’s not a formula we can repeat in upcoming transfer windows. The squad needs the kind of deep, long-term reform that a DoF can properly implement.
Another example is Jose Gomes himself. He only signed an 18-month contract when joining from Rio Ave, and reported interest from other clubs this summer shows just how quickly we could lose him if he continues to impress. Reading should be proactive in making sure we can deal with problems like this if they come up. Having a DoF behind the scenes that can oversee a consistent playing philosophy - and recruit managers accordingly - is again the sensible choice.
Despite our current difficulties, Reading are still in a great position to rebuild over the next few years and put a tough period behind us - but a new DoF has to be at the heart of that progress.