With another transfer window open, we’d like to know what you think of Reading’s owners: Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li.
The last time we asked you to grade their performance, in March of this year, you gave them a decent score of 3.93/5. That was off the back of a strong start for Mark Bowen as manager (the Dais’ third permanent appointment), a quiet January transfer window and a protracted effort to appoint Alexandre Mattos as director of football that ultimately ended in failure.
Plenty has gone on since then, some of which reflects well on the Dais, other bits less so.
To start with the positives, it’s a fairly basic point, but the Dais have remained committed to the club during a difficult time. The Covid-19 pandemic has made an already-expensive business into one that’s even more of a drain on resources, and after a few bad seasons for Reading, you wouldn’t have blamed them if the Dais had opted to sell up and move on.
As the sad state of affairs at Wigan Athletic has shown, some owners scarper without a care for how they’re leaving their club. Although we’ve heard little from our guys in the way of direct communication, it still seems a solid bet that they’ve got Reading’s interests at heart and will continue to support the club going forwards.
They’ve shown that support by investing a hefty wad of cash into the club in early July. This was at a time when Reading had lost a fair amount of matchday income due to the country going into lockdown and games being called off.
The club also managed to save itself some expenses, albeit temporarily, by agreeing some wage deferrals during lockdown. First to do that were Mark Bowen, Nigel Howe and other behind-the-scenes staff, and they were eventually followed by first-team players.
However, there’s plenty of things the Dais have got wrong or at least could have done better, whether they’re short-term or long-term issues.
A few months ago we got a look at Reading’s 2018/19 accounts, and although they’re not that current (2019/20’s accounts will come out next Spring), they do paint a worrying picture of the club’s financial approach under the Dais. In fact, the Royals set a Championship record with their wage-to-turnover ratio, paying £225 in wages for every £100 of income.
Football finance expert Kieran Maguire explained more on the podcast here.
The Dais also celebrated their third anniversary a few months ago, and the team’s record since their arrival doesn’t make for pretty reading: third in the table when they came in, but then Championship finishes of 20th, 20th and 14th in their three full campaigns. Early on that probably wasn’t their fault, but the team’s overall under-performance is now very much their responsibility.
More specifically to this season, the Dais’ decision to give Bowen a new contract in January would seem to have been mistimed. The Welshman was originally on a deal until the end of the season, and form has been poor since the club opted to extend his stay for another 12 months.
Additionally, although some of 2019/20’s signings have done well, the overall return on investment in the form of results has been poor. Reading spent a lot of money last summer, which should have yielded a higher finish, and although the Dais aren’t picking signings themselves, they’re ultimately responsible for transfer strategy.
The club also decided to extend the deals of all loanees and out-of-contract players through July so they could feature until the end of the season, which made sense in some cases but looks like a waste of money in others - Ayub Timbe barely and Lucas Boye barely featured for example. In addition, Reading released a number of first-team players including Chris Gunter and Garath McCleary, a dozen under-23s were let go, Danny Loader opted to leave (without the Royals getting a transfer fee) and Gabriel Osho is still in talks but - at the time of writing - is yet to sign on.
Although contracts (like transfers) aren’t necessarily managed directly by the Dais, this area falls under the topic of the club’s overall management, which is ultimately their responsibility. There are some better and worse points in that list above, no major successes or disasters, and for me they pretty much balance out.
Elsewhere, furloughing has been a big issue. Reading did that to the women’s side, under-23s and staff behind the scenes. Although that saved the club some money while revenue was tight, it’s not a great look given how much the men’s first-team players earn in relation to their colleagues.
Finally, future transfer strategy: do Reading have one, and if so, who’s driving it?
Reading’s record under the Dais would suggest there’s no overarching approach to transfers, shown by a general lack of consistency, aswell as the lack of a director of football. That role’s now been vacant since last October, when Bowen succeeded Jose Gomes.
More worryingly, there have been suggestions that the Royals’ transfer are instead driven by Kia Joorabchian. His possible involvement at the club has never been acknowledged or addressed by Reading, but Sam Baldock’s recent comments about “intermediaries” could well have been about him.
As ever, grade the owners from one to five, depending on how well or badly you think they’re doing. You should be able to see the poll below, but if it doesn’t show up on your device, please go to this link.