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What The Hell Is Going On At Reading?

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Ben tries to make sense of what’s already been a turbulent summer, and theorises about what could be behind the upheaval.

Reading v Swansea City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

What the hell is going on? A valid question as a Reading fan, given the week that we’ve had and we haven’t even got to the end of it yet.

The club have really outdone themselves with a) the decision making and b) the lack of actual information given by them. At the moment, we are at the mercy of TalkSport and Jonathan Low, along with a host of other local pundits and RFC experts.

In short, the club (and by club I mean the owners) have decided to waste most of the off season by thinking about making decisions and have then hit the button marked “mess things up” by pushing through these changes very late in the day in terms of the season starting.

Obviously, there are confirmed and unconfirmed reports flying around the Twittersphere, created by the Twitterati almost daily. Indeed, I’d just come to terms with Nigel Howe being moved into the stationary cupboard on Monday, to be met with an awful rumour about unconfirmed reports of Our Saviour Mark Bowen being shifted back into the director of football role to be replaced by a chap no one has ever heard of (apparently, according to 2020, I can’t call him Serbian as I’d be accused of casual racism).

So, here we are. Basically two weeks away from the season starting properly (one if you include our glamour tie against Colchester in the cup), and we as fans have literally no idea what the hell is happening. I’m going to do my best to try unpack it all...

Players leaving

Let’s start with the easy part: departures of playing personnel. I personally have no complaints about any of those players going, with the possible exception of Gabriel Osho. He had a delicious end to the season but turned down a new contract as the guarantees surrounding playing time weren’t good enough (which actually made me like him more) *side note: isn’t it refreshing when football players WANT to play football?*

As for the longer-serving players, there are pros and cons to both sides of the argument. We’ve lost experience, but gained some cash money in wages. We’ve sacrificed some decent chaps for potential incoming mercenaries using us a stepping stone. But the facts remain that a lot of the players leaving presided over easily the most mundane of periods for our club and the staleness needed to be... well, made un-stale.

Scott Marshall

Literally no idea what that apparent sacking was about. He seemed quite good from afar, but I know very little about his record and/or general demeanour. I would imagine that moving him on was the first “organisational re-mortgaging of the boardroom” or whatever guff the media department at the club spurned out recently. Either way, he’s been deemed surplus to requirements. Perhaps he didn’t like the fact that half the under-23 squad was jettisoned?

Nigel Howe

Right, here’s the first chunky attraction of this current circus. Nigel, like Sir John when he effectively rescued the club for a second time from the evil (and they were evil) clutches of Anton Zingarevich, was bought in to fight fires.

To be honest, the chap didn’t really need to do much other than tell the truth after Ron Gourlay had rampaged through the club, upsetting and sacking everyone and leaving the club backstage in a right old mess. Nigel came in, told some home truths, flashed his decent ties, clearly had some frank conversations with the owners and made some changes.

Moving him back to a role that requires very little public “face time” and relegating him to the back benches like a naughty Tory smacks of the owners trying to take control again. Whatever the financial mess is looking like now (and it is still a mess) I’d bet my Lego Jabba’s Palace on the fact that the situation is better than before he came back.

Bringing Pang in, another one of “their guys”, who both Google and Twitter tell me has had experience at one of our ‘sister’ clubs (or is it ‘brother’?) can only mean they’ve gone for a figurehead in that position, rather than someone who will actually speak up a bit and ruffle some feathers. I do have another theory on this, but I’ll leave it to the last section titled ‘Another theory’.

Mark Bowen

Regular readers of my column (thank you to all those who do actually read what I write, you’ve made me who I am) will know that I am very firmly in the pro-Bowen camp. However, I realise he’s not everyone’s cup of fish. Either way, if you have been watching Reading this season, you will have an opinion on him. For me, I want him to stay where he is. More than anything, I want him to stay because we need (desperately need) consistency in the manager’s chair.

He was clearly involved in the contracts not being renewed of Gunter et al. He has been vocal about the type of player he wants in. Hell, he even seems to have a preferred system now (how decent is that?!). All of this adds up to a season of security, one that before the news broke on Tuesday (which effectively shattered the atmosphere on the family trip to Legoland) was pretty much destined to happen and one that I predicted us to finish 11th in (I know, heady heights, right?). If Our Saviour Mark Bowen does get moved back to the DoF role, I’m not sure what the point is. It’s like saying:

“Yeah, thanks for keeping us up Mark. We are gonna go down the attractive route now, so can you just sit there and be in the background with your brooding Welsh presence and matter-of-fact statements, but leave out the bits where you suggest the club is an absolute shambles? Thanks. Oh and that money you deferred during the pandemic, thanks for that, but we’ve used it to pay for Laurent’s wages for six months. Thanks again”

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Reading - Carabao Cup - Third Round - Molineux Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

Another theory...

With my objective head on (and trust me, I’m annoyed about all of this, I really am), I’m going to unleash a theory that may well have been touted around other fans’ heads and social media pages, but nevertheless, unleash it I will.

I think the owners are pissed off. Pissed off because they’ve realised they’ve bought a dud of a club. A small, provincial club with literally no market value outside of Berkshire. A club that is so entrenched in the ‘Reading Way’ (still no closer to solving what that actually is) that has, for so long, relied on unflashy people to do unflashy jobs for unflashy wages and go about their business, knowing what their purpose is: to do the best they can, with a fan base that is largely split between the practical and the wishful thinking.

Having realised all this, and with the rumoured financial penalties hovering over us like a police helicopter looking for a ‘ne’er do well’ in a local park, they are planning one last roll of the dice this year. Premier League or bust. They can’t do that with Howe and Bowen because they realise that the club needs to weather the storm and they will actively block any attempts to go overboard on decisions that might risk the future of the club. But they can’t bin both of them off at the same time - after all, the decisions they have been making/are about to make are difficult enough to explain to fans, let alone actually sacking them both.

In order to do this, they need money (something Howe is desperately trying to save) to buy new players (who aren’t attracted to us) and a glamour manager (e.g. not Bowen). They need all of these things in the next month to make this season what they want it to be. They know that we won’t get punished for already breaching some of the financial rules (cheers Covid), so why not break some more? After all, plenty of clubs have chucked more money at the problem, got promoted to net £100 mill + and only get fined £6 mill. And the FA/Premier League won’t dock points in the top league - how would that look?!

The owners know all this. This must be what they are going for. Unless of course they are just really, really bad at making crucial decisions, which surely can’t be the case...