Big news behind the scenes this evening as Reading have announced the departure of Nigel Howe as CEO. He hasn’t left Reading completely though. In leaving his CEO role, Howe has gone back to his previous position of ‘vice chairman’, which he previously held during Ron Gourlay’s tenure as CEO.
This development is a big surprise, although reporter Courtney Friday tweeted earlier today that Howe’s position was “under scrutiny”. He added that the move “came about very quickly” with a meeting this morning, and there are talks of Mark Bowen returning to a director of football position.
Replacing Howe is Dayong Pang, who has “worked closely with Mr Dai for a number of years” according to the club’s statement. Although other information about him is hard to find, he is listed on the governance section of the site of Reading sister club KSV Roeselare alongside chairman Yves Olivier and vice-chair Brecht Vermeulen.
So why the sudden change behind the scenes? The club said Howe’s departure as CEO was “part of an ongoing strategic review”, although no more details on that are given in the statement.
There have also been rumours for a few weeks now that Howe and owner Dai Yongge have disagreed on whether or not to sell star man John Swift (with Howe being more keen on a sale). It could well be that Yongge would prefer a CEO that more closely shares his opinion on such matters, and in appointing long-time associate Pang, he’s presumably got that.
Whatever the reason for Howe’s departure, this doesn’t sit well with me at all.
Strategic changes behind the scenes at Reading are understandable, especially given the club’s poor finances and general underperformance in recent years. Dai is well within his rights to change personnel in order to improve the running of the club.
But the fact that moves like this are treated so opaquely by the club is deeply unsettling. There’s clearly a lot going on behind the scenes at the moment, but as fans we’re left in the dark rather than being addressed openly. Vague references to an “ongoing strategic review” don’t cut it; we can and should be told more about the aims Reading’s owners have for the club and how they intend to achieve those.
I’ve got no reason to believe Pang will be a bad replacement for Howe, but with little information given about him except his relationship with the owner, it’s understandable if fans conclude he’s only been brought in because of that relationship.
If that’s true, is that really the right way to run a club? The Dais have after all now moved on a long-term servant who knows Reading inside out in favour of an external appointment. It didn’t work out well last time.
I really want to have faith that this move is going to work out well for Reading, and that the frustration I’m feeling at the moment about Howe’s departure - yet more upheaval behind the scenes - will prove to be ill-founded. But when the club feels as disconnected and distant as it does now, I’m struggling to have that faith.