Tuesday 16th May 2017 was an iconic night for Reading Football Club. The Royals had just won against Fulham to reach the playoff final at Wembley, but another important milestone was reached that night as well.
It was finally announced that brother and sister Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li had officially become the majority shareholders of the club. The Thais had done well to steady the ship and provide some excitement in the 2015/16 with the additions of the likes of Matej Vydra and Ola John. However, it was clear that they could only take the Royals so far and if we were to push on and not only reach the Premier League, but be competitive in the top flight, a change was needed.
Everything was set. We were just one game away from the promised land, had new owners that were set to splash the cash and a promising young manager in Jaap Stam. Then, things changed. From 3-1 up in the penalty shootout, we were beaten in the playoff final and all the work we had put in during the season was pretty much wasted.
However, we were in a very strong position going into the next season. Ron Gourlay, a former CEO at Chelsea, joined, while another key player at the club in Brian Tevreden had helped the club make several good signings the previous summer. As promised, a sizeable investment was made by the Dais. Sone Aluko joined for a then club-record fee, along with the likes of Vito Mannone, Modou Barrow and Leandro Bacuna.
Three years on, things do not look so bright for the Royals: two seasons of relegation worries and one (currently) of mid-table mediocrity. Although most football owners do not necessarily purchase a football club solely to make a profit, the owners have had very little to get excited about since their arrival. They have sacked three managers, seen Ron Gourlay leave after a very unsuccessful spell and probably lost a lot of money in the process.
I don’t think anyone can question their commitment to the club. They invested heavily last summer - even after two seasons of disappointment and the free coach travel to away games was also a very good gesture. There’s one thing that I do have to question though and that’s their managerial appointments.
In my opinion, what we have been severely lacking over the past few seasons is a manager with vast experience in the English leagues. Paul Clement didn’t have that at a managerial level, Jose Gomes didn’t either. This is also Mark Bowen’s first job as a manager.
Whether that appointment was due to Financial Fair Play rules remains to be seen, but this is a crucial time for the football club. If we continue to flirt with relegation, we could pay the price next season. Quite frankly, next season needs to be better. Even lower midtable will not be good enough in the next campaign - so Mark Bowen has a huge task on his hands.
Our progress next season may also be crucial to the future of Reading. I have nothing against the Dais and I’ve been very impressed with them since they’ve been here. However, you have to wonder if they will start to lose interest if we remain in the position we are currently in. The Premier League is the ultimate dream land for owners. Not just for the lucrative TV and sponsorship deals, but also status.
Nothing has really set pulses racing at the Madejski Stadium during the Chinese era, except for risky passing at the back. It’s crystal clear that we need to do better, and we have started to show gradual improvement recently. We need to see more of Mark Bowen before we can fully judge him though.
Attendances still aren’t the best, we are still in recovery from the Gourlay era and it feels like we are still in the process of getting back to what we used to be. Maybe the ‘Reading way’ is finished, but we could be heading back to that philosophy if Nigel Howe wants to fully get back to the way we were in the noughties.
There’s one thing we have to ask ourselves: where would we be without the Dais and the financial support they have provided? We had a huge wage bill off the back of some of our transfers and have lost millions of pounds over the past couple of seasons. It’s a major worry, especially with our soft transfer embargo last summer. I think that really hit home how much our spending was out of control.
I dread to think what could happen, but the Dais have been the ones who have splashed the cash, and they should continue to take responsibility for those decisions and foot the wage bill.
That still doesn’t take away from the fact that they remain very important to us. I dread to think what could happen if they suddenly lose interest and pulled an Anton Zingarevich on us. In saying this, the Dais deserve more than what they’re getting right now.
There’s no one I would like to see more lifting the Championship trophy than the owners. Their persistence will have finally been rewarded, and Reading could finally establish themselves as competitors in the Premier League.
However, this is a million miles away from where we are at right now. There’s a lot of work to do, starting from now...