NB: This article contains mild spoilers for Game of Thrones from season four onwards.
Before it descended into a cesspit of implausible narratives and rushed conclusions, Game of Thrones was one of the best-written shows on television. Years of political conniving and verbal jousts gave us some of the best dialogue ever heard on the small screen. During season four, at the height of the court’s conflicting cabals, slimy schemer Petyr Baelish signed off a victory with his “chaos is a ladder” speech.
“Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail, never get to try again. The fall breaks them, and some are given a chance to climb but they refuse. They cling to the realm, or the gods, or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.”
Before it descended into a cesspit of implausible narratives and rushed conclusions, Reading were one of the best-run clubs in modern football. Nowadays, Reading Football Club are in chaos. Every year the club attempts to ascend the ladder to the dizzying heights of the Premier League, led by a billionaire with a twitchy trigger finger and the football nous of… a man who made his money in shopping centres.
On Saturday, Veljko Paunović became the ninth managerial appointment since 2013. Each season brings new signings made by new managers, appointed by new sporting directors appointed by new CEOs appointed by new owners. It is like trying to climb Mount Everest, but every 10 metres you have to strip naked, put on new clothes and have a Russian tour guide change your route, all while Bear Grylls screams at you to drink your own piss. You aren’t having fun, you aren’t getting to the top and your heart probably gives out on day three.
Many who try to climb it fail, never get to try again. The fall breaks them
In a landscape where chaos reigns, there can be no room for sentiment. Mark Bowen may be fuming at his untimely demise, but when you profit from the fickle whims of an autocrat, you cannot be surprised when that opportunity once gifted is snatched away. His acrimonious departure was foreshadowed by the astounding nature of his arrival - at no other club could the Welshman walk into a managerial position with neither qualifications nor prestige.
Some are given the chance to climb but refuse
Inevitably, an atmosphere of uncertainty attracts those with a desire to prove themselves. In the world of football, reputations are quite literally worth millions. Those with an established CV, a Chris Hughton or a Slavisa Jokanovic, face little incentive to risk it all for the climb once again. Hence, Reading are left with pretenders: a Serbian despised in Chicago, a lifetime number two living off the success of his superiors or a Portuguese journeyman more suited to the vineyards of Alentejo than the pitches of Bearwood Park.
They cling to the realm, or the gods, or love. Illusions
With the finale of a season comes the spate of summer optimism. New signings arrive. Some understated, some overstated. Some mysterious, some monotone. They offer the illusion of order, of a strategy to escape the anarchy but all will eventually succumb to the same cycle of mediocrity.
The climb is all there is
Until a billionaire changes his mind, or a corrupt institution changes its tune, this is it. We will watch as Dai Yongge offers opportunities to coaches far and wide, knowing as we watch that their journey is doomed to fail.
For a manager to ascend the ladder, he must possess more than ideals and qualifications. Reading are no well-oiled machine where the coaches can be plugged into the system without a hitch. The manager must embody the system in spite of his surroundings and have the personality to carry out his convictions. Jaap Stam saw the summit in 2017 but slipped on the final rung.
Could another ex-pro, and frankly Hard B*stard, see the Royals go one further?