Managers. I feel like we’ve spent more time over the last few years talking about who’s in the dugout than concentrating more on the players on the pitch. I suppose that’s largely because most of those players have outlasted the managers that bought them in in the first place (Sone Aluko, anyone?).
We are all pretty aware of the reasons why and how these managers came to arrive and then quickly leave again, but how good were they? Here, I provide a comprehensive (unlikely) and factual (even more unlikely) analysis of the various coaches we’ve had over the last seven years. To do this, I shall use a scientific and algorithm-based ranking system, which... actually, I’ll just rank them out of 10: 1 being the lowest, 10 being the highest.
Join me, as I delve into the history books (from the last seven years) to focus on our managerial alumni (and one who should be erased from said history books altogether).
Arriving in late March 2013 a fortnight after Brian McDermott lost his job, Adkins was effectively given the task of not allowing us to be embarrassed further. His first game was away to Arsenal, a game I went to and watched on in horror as we continued to collapse, losing 4-1: a score line that flattered us terribly. I’m pretty sure that no one connected with Reading expected him to keep us up and so it proved that a goalless draw with QPhahahahahahahaha sent us both crashing down to the Championship like a wet egg cracking on a patio.
His first proper season in charge wasn’t too horrific considering the club was in a state of flux both on and off the pitch - Madejski finally realising that a certain Russian gazillionaire had literally no money while desperately trying to cancel the contracts of players we’d bought in on mega wages for the Premier League season. We should have ended up in the playoffs that year, but iffy results meant that we needed to equal Brighton and Blackburn’s results.
We couldn’t do it and, from there, Adkins’ grip on the team began to loosen. He was binned after a dreadful (and I mean dreadful) result away to Brum. Nigel was a great guy and always spoke well, but his penchant for seeking positives when there were none began to grind my gears incredibly. He was probably the right manager at the wrong time. He was consistent in his dress code and did some good things, like giving Obita his big break.
Oh Steve, you dour Scottish scallywag. Can a scallywag be dour? Yes, it/they can be. What Steve lacked in general enthusiasm and laughter, he made up for in greed and ambition. When he arrived in mid-December 2014, I thought “yeah this might work actually. After all, we’ve had a Steve before and he was bloody tremendous”.
Look, whatever you say about Clarke, no Reading fan will ever forget that day in April when we pushed Arsenal all the way. It was one of the better days as a Royals fan, despite the loss. He also managed to get in Nat Chalobah on loan who was a handy player. But his legacy will always be tarnished for his actions away from the pitch.
There is some conjecture (bloody love that word) around whether the board actually gave him permission to speak to Fulham or not. They maintain he wasn’t allowed, he says different. Either way, the Thais were not keen on disrespect. Fortunately for them, results began to tail off (ever so sightly and not enough for a sacking in my opinion) but they were clearly itching to jettison (another lovely word) him and he was banished from the Royal County inside a year of taking the job. Had a terrible beard and wore coats that were the wrong size.
Score: 5 (bonus point for the semi-final)
Brian McDermott Mark 2
BRIAN’S BACK went my Facebook status on the day of his re-appointment. At the time, I was delighted. Looking back, clearly no one else was available. The team was made up of loan players (Piazon, John etc), journeymen (Ferdinand, McShane) and just a random group of younger players. There was basically no plan moving forward and if there was, literally no one knew about it.
I actually visited the training ground at this time to watch what was happening and had a very long chat with Brian about cars, labradors and guitars. We also talked about Yann Kermorgant. He explained, quite honestly, that there was no money at the club, very little assets in terms of playing staff to be sold and that they just needed to clean house, get to the end of the season and calm down. He was great, he really was and was very happy to chat to me.
You can’t help but love Brian and had he had someone else around him during that second Premier League stint to go “nah, don’t do this, change it up”, I honestly think we would have stayed up. As it was, he may as well have been called ‘caretaker manager’ on his return as he was just babysitting that squad.
Was he treated badly when they sacked him again? Don’t know. Should he have stayed? No. But then again, most of the squad should have gone in the summer of 2016. Lovely, lovely guy, with a sensible, practical approach to clothing and a love of nature and the simple life.
Score: 8 (most of that is made up of fond memories of us destroying the league in his previous reign)
Did anyone even know he was a coach at this point? I certainly didn’t. I thought it was a joke or something. You couldn’t fault his record as a player (and WHAT a player), but coach? Don’t know about that sunshine! I just remember seeing him on the touchline in the first game of the season against Preston and thinking he was incredibly intimidating physically.
I had absolutely no expectations heading into that season. We’d been pretty bad and non-descript for a while and I just didn’t really understand how and why Jaap was there. The start to the season was tough and we played some very good teams, but the club seemed to be growing. We had some good players: Beerens, Swift, Moore, Wieser (one of those might have been crap, actually) and the results started to click.
We kind of just blagged our way through that season, ended up in the playoffs against Fulham (lovely first leg in the sun on The Thames, followed by a proper professional job in the second leg) and then played Huddersfield at Wembley. If ever there was a game that emphasised the fear of losing over the desire to win, it was that. A turgid, horrible mess that was obviously decided by 12-yard death kicks dictated by defenders (WTF?!) which saw us resigned to another year in the Championship.
And then the wheels really came off. Jaap turned on the players, then the fans, then the players again. He was dispatched in late March 2018 and there could be no question that he should have gone because the results were dire. We’d gone from the top of the mountain (sort of) to the bottom of the lake in less than a year. I always admired him for wearing trainers with smart-ish attire.
I mean, this was where the club reached a nadir. It was like watching a really bad thing happen but you just couldn’t not look at it. There’s probably a decent metaphor for that, but clearly no one has thought of it yet. With a fat Scottish dictator up in the board room and an egotistical mess of a human in the dugout, the team really was sleepwalking into the abyss, or swimming into a nightmare. It was just an awful time and one I look back on very, very, very seldom (unless I’m writing an article that requires me to focus on that very period).
Indeed, I was asked to write a piece on a memorable game from the last few years at the back end of last year and I chose the last game of the season against Cardiff, with ‘him’ in the dugout. Honestly, I have never been more ashamed to be a Reading fan than I was during this period. How Clement survived as long as he did was incredible. Very average dress sense, wore smart clothes when we played the big teams and tracksuits when we played the rubbish teams.
The club’ second foreign coach was easily the club’s most handsome one. He was an absolute dish of a man with a year-round tan and an incredible array of finely pressed shirts. He had no idea what he was getting into Championship-wise, but he was an incredible judge of mood and instantly bought the fans back with his up-tempo sound bites, broken English and love of our town.
Was he a good coach? Not really. But when you behave like he did (basically Mourinho, but without the venom, potatoes on his shoulders and hatred of the NHS), who cares/cared? A really lovely guy who tried his best with both his hands well and truly tied behind his midriff. We managed to survive with a few games to spare and the scenes were akin to winning promotion (loads of fist punching the air).
Had we gone down, I’m not sure where we’d be right now. He bought a continental flavour to the club, worked hard and was the perfect anti-Clement antidote. Very smart clothing, looked like a CEO of a massive confectionary company.
Look, I was a massive Bowen fan. If you weren’t, I don’t care. It was under the Welshman that we really found out the extent of the mess the club was in. He bought back the exiled players, tried to get a game plan going with a bloated squad and was honest to admit that the club was in a right old pickle which, at the time, I probably needed to hear as I’d been in denial for a while.
The last few games of the season were effectively pointless and the post-lockdown return saw some pathetic results and performances, not least the last game of the season against a Swansea team that were 1000-1 to make the playoffs but still got there because they played us. Bowen was fully aware of what needed to be done and was happy to be the bad guy in order to get success for the club on and off the field. When he was sacked, I was livid. I wrote some articles to emphasise that fact. Loved a v-neck and Clark’s shoes.
I mean, he’s basically the second-best manager we’ve ever had and I love him and I can’t wait to see his statue next to Sir Steve’s outside the Eamonn Dolan stand. Couldn’t care less what he wears as we are going to win the league.
A varied selection, as you can see. The club have had no real employment profile, largely because a different person has made each appointment. We’ve changed our managers as much as we have our shirts. There have been laughs and tears; there has been agony and ecstasy, joy and despair. But now, we’ve got Pauno. And he’s a solid 11 out of 10.