Last week we asked you to rate the performances of Reading’s manager and owners, and it turns out that you’re not overly impressed with either of them. Both had previously taken pretty high scores in early 2020, and both saw their ratings fall substantially this time round.
In fact, their numbers were almost identical. Mark Bowen’s grade fell from 3.89/5 in February to 2.91 in July, while the owners have gone from 3.93 in March to 2.92.
These numbers certainly aren’t terrible. I’d say that, on the whole, they reflect a mix of both dissatisfaction that the club hasn’t properly kicked on under these owners or the manager, and also appreciation that we’re in a more solid position than we have been in the past. For the Dais and Bowen, there’s plenty of room for improvement but also reasons to be positive.
However, the drop-off in their grades from earlier in the year can’t be ignored. So what’s changed?
In early 2020 (February in Bowen’s case, March for the owners), Reading looked like a club on the up. Not one that was destined for promotion this season, sure, but still one that had put early-season form behind it and apparently had a bright near-term future ahead.
Fast-forward to July, soon after the end of both a frustrating, largely wasted 2019/20 season, not to mention a dire run of games after the restart, and the mood among the fans has changed a lot. It’s felt a lot like the club is back to square one, with a bucket load of cash forked out in the summer of 2019 but little to show for it.
From Bowen’s point of view, the team’s form in 2020 has been poor, with only five wins in the 20 league games since his new contract in January. Even more worryingly, only one of those has come at the Madejski Stadium; Reading have had three times as many fixtures against Cardiff City in 2020 as they’ve had home wins.
Performances have generally also been uninspiring, while the lack of a clear tactical approach became more apparent after the restart. Bowen would probably put those down to him having to work with a group that was due to be largely broken up at the end of the season, but it’s still fair to say his own performance could have been a lot better.
Somewhat strikingly, his grade is now exactly the same that Jose Gomes was given when he was sacked in October 2019. The difference here though of course is that Bowen has fallen to 2.91 after a mid-table finish, while Gomes dropped to that average after overseeing a poor start to the season which had Reading in the bottom three. In each case we’re talking about a manager that’s had around 40 games in charge.
I wonder how significant their respective personalities are in their grades. Gomes built up a strong connection with fans that wasn’t undone by poor form, but Bowen didn’t seem to build up a similar affection even when results were very good - and perhaps that’s becoming apparent now. I would in fact say that, if Gomes had stayed in his position and overseen the exact same results and performances as Bowen, he’d probably have ended up with a higher score than 2.91 at this point.
As for the owners, there’s plenty going on behind the scenes at Reading in recent months that doesn’t make for particularly happy reading, such as the worryingly bad 2018/19 accounts and a large number of under-23s, women’s team players and behind-the-scenes staff being furloughed.
More visibly to us as fans, investment in the first team hasn’t paid off. The Dais injected a lot of cash into the team last summer, but without proper planning to accompany that spending, it’s only led to a 14th-placed finish. It’s better than the two 20th-placed finished in the current owners’ first two seasons, but it’s still not good enough, and the lack of effective long-term planning is becoming ever more apparent.
Interestingly though, there rarely seems to be any major signs of discontent in the fanbase with the Dais specifically. Going by comments on social media, it tends not to be the Dais themselves who are singled out for blame when things go wrong, and they’re generally not a major topic of discussion, at least from what I’ve seen.
Why is that? There’s probably a large recognition of how much money they’ve invested; after all, the Dais have put an awful lot of their own cash into the club. Comparing Reading to other clubs at this level, or indeed those that have fallen into lower divisions, our owners’ record doesn’t show them to be negligent or uncaring.
There is however a lot of room for improvement when it comes to communication. Ben Thomas summed it up well in his post-Swansea City piece when he asked for transparency at the club, of which there’s not been much under the Dais. They’ve made a few written statements to the fans, but are yet to talk to us in audio or video form.
That’s understandable to an extent - they don’t have to be that talkative if they don’t want to be, and having Nigel Howe run the club and represent them to the supporters isn’t a bad alternative. But it doesn’t inspire that much confidence either. How are we to judge their performance properly if we don’t hear, even in very basic terms, what they want to achieve and how they want to do it?