A managerial merry-go-round is effectively what this club has become: a stopping ground for managers who don’t last very long. Indeed, with the news that Veljko Paunovic is about to be announced as the new man in the hot seat, Mark Bowen becomes the third permanent manager in a row to not last a whole year. Paul Clement, after 258 days, was replaced with Jose Gomes after 291 days, and he was replaced with Bowen who, at the time of a deal with Paunovic reportedly being agreed on Friday night, had got 319 days. Still, at least we are increasing the tenure of each man, right? That’s a positive in itself...
The problem is multi-layered, like a Costco birthday cake. Except this isn’t any kind of birthday cake - more like a hideous and disgusting slice of unpleasant reality which has left the club bouncing from one idea to the next, one formation to the other. It has (or rather had) resulted in a bloated, expensive squad that had only recently been cleared out. Let’s analyse these problems in a tad more detail.
I suppose the obvious place to start is who actually employed these managers in the first place. Again, the man making these decisions has changed just as frequently as the manager himself, although the ultimate responsibility lies with Mr Dai. From afar, it doesn’t seem like there is an actual plan to employ managers who will keep going long term.
When Clement came in, whether you agree with that recruitment decision or not, the club went down the ‘young English coach with continental experience’ route. “Well, he’s worked with Mourinho, how bad can he be?” is exactly what I thought the decision making process went like. Even our old DoF, Brian Tevreden, recently alluded to the process of finding Stam’s replacement and that he himself wasn’t hugely keen on that decision.
And then of course, after Clement spectacularly failed, the board then went for the European touch, Mr Jose Gomes, a chap so enthusiastic to be at the club that, at times, it was like he was on work experience and had got lucky by landing a full-time job.
Once that experiment failed, they asked the steadfast, unflashy, experienced-as-an-understudy Mark Bowen to step in and guide the team, quickly realising that he was better than they thought he would be and gifted him a brand new, lengthy contract (an issue so big I could do another article on it).
The only thing these managers have in common are that they all managed Reading, they all lasted less than a year and were all, in some way, victims of a lack of a plan, a lack of a real understanding of what the team needed at each point and a lack of real long-term thinking by anyone pushing the buttons.
The changes themselves
Regardless of the appointments made, the changes at each point regarding Clement, Gomes and Bowen needed to be made. At the point Clement came in, the team were in free fall. Stam had completely lost his way tactically and patience wise, and even if he’d kept on going, I don’t think he would have won another game, so bad was the malaise that had set in and his stubbornness to change things.
There was a slight bounce with Clement upon his appointment, but that didn’t last and when the owners felt the need to bring Nigel Howe back in, he was gone too. From my perspective, watching the team play under Clement was the worst period I’d witnessed in 28 years. People might disagree with that and that’s fine, it’s a free country, but his whole demeanour during the period was one of indifference, at times contempt and just a general feeling he couldn’t really be bothered.
Then came Jose Gomes. Sweet, enthusiastic, handsome Jose Gomes. The club was beyond fractured at this point, with the off-field problems reaching a nadir by non-playing staff either walking or being fired by the tyrant Gourlay. Gomes and Howe’s job was to just get some pride (and some fans) back. You can’t help but admire Jose for his commitment, his love of the club and town and his desire to change things. Again though, the change needed to be made and replacing Clement at the time was the right thing to do.
However, recruitment wise, Gomes was never going to last and results did start to dip. Moreover, he was under-using the hefty squad he had assembled and pushing out some of the senior players who held a high standing in the changing room was never, ever going to end well. He was gone before summer turned into autumn and, again, the decision needed to be made as Reading were beginning to make a slow march towards League One.
The club then decided to move Bowen from upstairs to downstairs by giving him the manager’s job. Whatever you think about Mark Hughes, he does know the game well. Bowen had spent most of his post-playing career under Hughes as a number two. This gave him valuable experience and know-how of the leagues and put him a good position to get some results on the board, push the team away from the relegation zone and start to rebuild the squad. All of which, whether you like him or not, he did.
The new man
I have no real understanding of Paunovic, other than what Twitter tells me. He’s probably a great guy. He might be alright. Tactically, he could be very astute. But I do know he doesn’t know the Championship. He doesn’t know the English game. But I have deeper, more entrenched concerns about this.
As I referred to in my previous article, the owners are giving it one last go. There’s no place for the words “long term” in this decision. They want the Premier League or they are out at the end of the year. And I don’t like it one bit.
I don’t like it because this appointment didn’t need to be made. Bowen did not need to be replaced at all. Even when McD was bought in a second time and then fired a second time, there was an understanding there that because new ownership was coming in, they wanted their own man. Fair enough, I get that.
The other times managers have been sacked, there’s been a reasoning behind it: results, changes in ownership, holding informal interviews with other clubs (thanks a lot, Steve Clarke). But this, this is just nonsense. And to do it after a) giving Bowen a longer contract, b) letting him start to reshape the squad by moving players on, c) by letting him defer wages to help the club at their most desperate hour and d) giving him over half the pre-season period to get his ideas across is just absurd and is a terrible, terrible way to treat someone genuinely doing their best under increasingly difficult circumstances.
There are so many other issues around this, like the fact that the club is effectively facing financial ruin (see the furloughing of staff, both younger players and off-field members) but there now seems to be money around and that they have decided, yet again, to choose a manager that is unknown to pretty much all of us and who has no knowledge of the English game. Or the fact that actually, this is a decision based on the very short term, with no thought to what happens in 2021/2022.
From a moralistic point of view, this decision disgusts me. I cannot get on board with it all. The club is turning into everything I never wanted it to be. I have nothing against Paunovic, I really don’t. How can I? I don’t even know him.
But I do know Bowen, and he deserved better than this. More importantly, the fans deserve better than a club who are now making major decisions in secret, with no real explanation as to how and why they are being made. This is not what we are used to.
I can only hope that the new man lasts for at least a year and that he is given the chance to work over a longer time frame to build stability within the team. Not much to ask as a fan, is it?