66 days after it first emerged that Brazilian Alexandre Mattos was set to become Reading’s new sporting director, the man himself has confirmed the move is officially off.
In a statement released yesterday, the 43-year-old stated that problems with attaining a visa, made worse by the UK leaving the European Union and the Coronavirus outbreak, meant that he would no longer be getting his feet under the table at the Madejski Stadium.
Is this bad news for Reading?
The club never officially commented on what Mattos’ role at the club would have been, nor did he ever give any interviews to British media, so we can really only base our opinion of him on what’s out there online. He is clearly hugely respected in Brazil, where he was named best executive director on four occasions, whilst it seems Atletico Mineiro have acted quickly to snap him up now he’s not moving to England. His CV also speaks for itself, as he won two league titles whilst at Cruzeiro and two league titles and the cup whilst at Palmeiras.
However, Reading have been burnt by big-name directors before. Ron Gourlay may have made his name at Chelsea and won multiple trophies there, but Reading are still paying the price (no pun intended) for the inflated transfer fees and bloated contracts in his reign as CEO. It sounds like Mattos’ tenure at Palmeiras ended in similar to fashion to Gourlay’s at Reading, as supporter protests led to his sacking back in December.
Does this end interest in any Brazilian transfer targets?
Unlikely. Whilst Mattos will have had a large contact book to help with getting players from Brazil (such as January signing Felipe Araruna), Reading’s link to the South American country shouldn’t end because he isn’t coming to club. That’s thanks to one man: Kia Joorabchian. The Iranian business was seemingly the one behind Mattos’ proposed move to Berkshire, and he still has plenty of connections in Brazil.
Former Seleção international Rafael, although not signed from the Brazilian Série A, still arrived before Mattos’ involvement - thanks to Joorabchian’s partnership with the goalkeeper’s agent, Giuliano Bertolucci. However, a quick scan through Bertolucci’s other clients on Transfermarkt suggests he may not be getting another phone call anytime soon - they’re either way above Reading’s level (e.g Marquinhos, David Neres and Felipe Anderson) or ageing Brazilian strikers (e.g Jô and Diego Tardelli).
A more interesting associate of Joorabchian’s is Renato Velasco, who was reportedly in attendance at the Madejski Stadium for the Boxing Day game with QPR. Velasco’s agency’s star asset is Everton’s Richarlison, but there are a host of lesser-known Brazilian players alongside him. This includes 20-year-old Werick Caetano, who Reading signed last October on a contract until the end of the season. Don’t be surprised to see the club pursue this avenue in the summer.
Whether a continual link to Brazil is a good thing is ultimately down to personal opinion. It is valid to think that Reading may be better off building their squad around players who are proven at Championship level and know what it takes to get out of the division. But equally, there’s plenty of talent in South America that the Royals will be able to get for much cheaper. Targeted recruitment from identified under-valued markets can form the basis of a successful football club, although it can take a couple of years to fully implement.
Will the club still appoint a sporting director?
It would certainly appear so. Mattos said in his statement that:
“I need to leave the club and its owner entirely free so that the decision can be made to seek another professional on the market immediately.”
Meanwhile, Mark Bowen, who of course vacated the position when he became manager in October, said before Mattos’ arrival:
“I think it’s something most clubs would benefit from, if not all. It’s important to have someone with a football background to see how things are done.”
The new sporting director will form the basis of the club’s long-term strategy, which has been lacking in RG2 in the last few seasons. There’s been no clear plan for a number of years now, and that can perhaps be attributed in part to how often the role has changed hands. Following Nick Hammond’s departure in 2016, Brian Tevreden came in and spearheaded the Dutch revolution, but his position always seemed uncertain after Ron Gourlay’s appointment as CEO and then Jaap Stam’s sacking. Gianluca Nani spent barely four months in the role in 2018, Bowen made the jump to first team manager last year and now Mattos hasn’t even made it to England.
The owners clearly have money they want to spend, but with concerns over Financial Fair Play still looming large, the right sporting director needs to come in to help spend it correctly. It seems the Dais are also keen to appoint someone who has the ability to oversee transfers between their three football clubs, as Mattos did when Ayub Masika was signed on loan from Beijing Renhe in January.
It feels like the next couple of years could really define the next decade for Reading, so getting this appointment right is crucial. Whether the new man (or woman) will come from Kia Joorabchian’s contact book again or closer to home remains to be seen.