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Reading v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship - Play Off - Second Leg - Madejski Stadium

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Playing The Long Game At Reading Football Club

Is it now time to switch up the strategy and play the long game?

Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images

This is a club that has great potential.

A good academy, an owner that has the finances to transform us on and off the pitch, some bright young coaches and numerous first-team players who have the potential to go on and be a huge success.

With the club having the choice of taking the short-term route in a risky attempt to gain promotion this season or to build a longer-term vision, it’s time to put forward the case for opting for the latter in a plan to get the club on the right tracks for many years to come.

Let’s take a look at four key departments at the club and what could happen if we devise a long-term strategy.


Players

The goalkeeping department looks great right now with Rafael in-between the sticks and has proved to be a great free signing. Even though he has made a few mistakes, as all goalkeepers do, the Brazilian has established himself as one of the best shot stoppers in the division. Those saves against Fulham on New Year’s Day were outstanding and I hope he can stay for at least one more season, as we ease Luke Southwood in to the Championship.

Even though Southwood has impressed out on loan, having him as our first-choice keeper now would probably be the equivalent of throwing someone in the deep end and seeing if they can swim. It would either turn out very well, or be an absolute disaster. I have a feeling it would be the former with the 22-year-old – but it would be wise to ease him in slowly whilst we have the chance – as understudy to a top-quality keeper in Rafael.

Jokull Andresson has also been given a squad number this season, something that will delight his family (especially former Royals player and brother Axel), with Coniah Boyce-Clarke proving to be an exciting prospect for the future.

This is without mentioning Sam Walker, who may help (even in the short-term) to balance youth with experience, although it might be time to cash in on him if an offer is received.

Looking at this department from the outside, we face the prospect of not having to sign a goalkeeper for the for years if Southwood can step up or Boyce-Clarke continues to develop at a fast pace. If Andresson can perform up to expectations too, there’s no reason he couldn’t compete.

Progression will be key – and I hope we can balance the necessity of having a selection of reliable goalkeepers with the need to not block the path of these young guys coming through.

Left back is another key area where we have numerous academy graduates coming through. Omar Richards has established himself as first choice in that position after the departures of Tyler Blackett and Jordan Obita – but there is still room for improvement in terms of consistency and his overall game. If I remember correctly, he was very highly-rated in the academy and at 22, the England youth international can only get better. What a performance on Saturday from him as well.

Tottenham Hotspur v Reading - Pre-season Friendly - Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Can Omar Richards improve further over the next season?
Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images

One surprising inclusion against Colchester United in the Carabao Cup was Ethan Bristow, a player (if you had even heard of him before seeing the team sheet!) who was supposedly behind Imari Samuels earlier on in pre-season. However, Veljko Paunovic seems to be keen on him and even mentioned him in the press conference before Derby - and later on appearing in the matchday squad at Pride Park. If we decide against bringing in a left back in this window, it will be an amazing opportunity for Bristow and Samuels to battle it out against Richards – but you have to feel we need an experienced head in there.

A 30-32 year old left back (with a bit of pace please) who has experience of playing in the top two tiers of English football, is happy to play irregularly, has been a role model throughout his career and can teach the academy players more about their position would be perfect. If you match this description, please email thetilehurstend@gmail.com (no ‘George Weah’, we don’t want your cousin) or get in contact directly with the club, you’ll do us just nicely.

At right back, I think we have one of the best right backs in the division (certainly on paper anyway) with Andy Yiadom. He will be one of the first names on the team sheet against this season and we can only pray he stays fit and healthy throughout 2020/21, especially if Tennai Watson leaves the club in this window.

It was notable that Watson was not given a squad number and it can only be damaging for his future prospects in Berkshire. Bristow was not given a number either but there’s a growing inevitability that Watson’s future is not at the Madejski Stadium.

Will the new management give him a second chance with no other proper right backs at the club? Felipe Araruna’s decent performance against Colchester may have damaged his chances – but it would be good to get a replacement in for Watson so Araruna can play in the middle if needed (supposedly his natural position). Personally, I would keep Watson this season but there is a reason why Veljko Paunovic is managing the team and I’m currently sitting in front of a computer screen writing this.

Moving on to central defence, two Toms at centre back may give Paunovic a selection headache. As I said in my Derby preview, Holmes performed very well in pre-season and could be a solid partner alongside McIntyre in the future. With Gabriel Osho, Andre Burley and Akinwale Odimayo all leaving the club in the summer, this has left the duo mentioned and Jeriel Dorsett as the players providing depth in this position as it stands.

For me, Tom McIntyre is ready to make the step up – although it may take him a while to displace Moore and Morrison if we consistently use a formation with four at the back.

Both McIntyre and Dorsett have represented their country at youth level and all three have graduated from the magnificent academy setup we have here. Despite this, Jeriel Dorsett has not been given a squad number. One player who has been given a number is Nelson Abbey, a centre back who has been called up to the England U17 squad.

Born in August 2003, he has plenty of time on his side and will no doubt be trying to do everything he can with the U23s to force his way in to the first team. None of us can pretend to know everything about the likes of Dorsett and Abbey – but their youth international credentials are impressive nonetheless.

Do we need a centre back this summer to add more experience though? If Liam Moore does make a surprising exit this summer, we will. However, it’s debatable if no one does leave. Ensuring McIntyre and Holmes can get a fair chance is crucial for me – and if we do make a signing in this area – it would perhaps be wiser to use the loan market as we build towards the future with our existing players.

The midfield is not looking too shabby either. Andy Rinomhota (academy gradudate, had to get that in there), Josh Laurent, John Swift, Ovie Ejaria and Michael Olise are all likely to be great assets this season. Felipe Araruna and Dejan Tetek may also play a role at the heart of midfield, although the latter is inexperienced.

Guess what though? Tetek has also played for England at youth level – which can only be a promising sign.

We do need someone with more experience to be the ‘babysitter’ in front of the defence though, even if he appears as a substitute. From what we have seen from Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent, they seem to be quite similar. I do have to admit they have looked decent as a pairing – but it wouldn’t hurt to get a defensive midfielder in. The rumoured arrival of Alfa Semedo is an encouraging sign if he can have a similar impact to Pele.

Meanwhile, Conor Lawless and Ryan East are two players who may not make their breakthrough this season. In all honesty, that is probably more of a frustration for East who is now 22. After playing against Leeds United in the 2018/19 season, we haven’t really seen him since. Is it the time for him to make his mark elsewhere and follow Jordan Holsgrove out the door? Probably so – his contract runs out next summer.

One position where we are lacking depth and quality is out wide. Yakou Meite and Sone Aluko are the two senior options we have – although this will surely change if we want to operator with wingers throughout this season.

Reading FC v Cardiff City - FA Cup Fourth Round
Sone Aluko could be set to get another chance this season.
Photo by Luke Walker/Getty Images

If we look in to the academy players who could step up in an emergency, Lynford Sackey is training with the first team squad, with Thierry Nevers continuing to impress for the U23s.

Unlike Sackey and Nevers, our academy strikers are almost certain to be frozen out of the first team squad with the depth we currently have in that position. Lucas Joao, George Puscas, Sam Baldock, Marc McNulty and Meite can all play there, although Meite’s previous position on the wing and McNulty’s poor performance against Colchester United may just open the door for the likes of Nahum Melvin-Lambert and Augustus McGiff.

However, only an injury/suspension crisis would probably put them in contention for a spot in the starting lineup, although you never know what could happen if one of them performs especially well.

Sam Smith was seemingly on his way out before the new manager’s arrival – and I don’t think the change in manager will affect that. It will probably only be a matter of time before we see him leave Berkshire. You could argue that Marc McNulty’s time at the Madejski Stadium is coming to an end.

From the Pedro Mendes news, it looks like we are indeed in the market for another striker. Even though Melvin-Lambert wouldn’t have been expecting first team football, he will be desperate to play more after making his debut in the Carabao Cup first round.

This opportunity for the likes of Melvin Lambert, Tetek and Sackey to train with the first team has been made possible by the mass clearout of U23 players at the start of July. Only the club and the released players know how much money they were on – but our wage bill must have gone down a reasonably amount after this exodus, especially after releasing several first team players at the end of last season and the expiration of loan deals as well.

Despite this clearout, we do still have a selection of decent players. Those academy players who are ready, even just to play a limited amount of first team football, should be in Paunovic’s plans so we can build for the future, help their development and keep that vital wage bill down.

Our wage bill is one of the main reasons why we are in such a precarious position with the EFL’s profit and sustainability rules. Bringing in the players we absolutely need – and not necessarily the ones us fans clamour for – is probably going to be the best policy going forward.

I’m not saying we should throw in a whole host of youngsters in straight away but giving those who are good enough the sufficient opportunity to shine, whilst ensuring we have the right mix of youth and experience, will be an important factor in terms of our future success. We literally cannot afford to bloat out our squad with senior players from elsewhere.

Coaching staff

Blackburn Rovers v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

If Veljko Paunovic’s spell with the Serbian U20 team is anything to go by, it shows he can work with younger players. Should we forget the fact people have said he relied on more experienced players at Chicago Fire? Perhaps not – but I really do hope he believes in our academy and makes full use of it in the future. His World Cup win must not be understated – that is a major achievement and one thing that will give us a lot of hope for the remainder of the season.

I know a lot of people will disagree but my personal view is that we have underused the academy in recent years. It’s fantastic we have the likes of McIntyre, Richards, Rinomhota and Olise fully involved in the first team squad – but we can definitely do more and perhaps must do more with the currently financial situation we are in.

Former Manchester United duo John O’Shea and Quinton Fortune are also part of the coaching staff, with Fortune joining shortly after Paunovic’s arrival. We can only hope his time with Manchester United’s U23 squad will hope to instil the importance of bringing through young players – and with the likes of Michael Gilkes and Mehmet Ali – he could be an important link between the academy and the senior squad. I look forward to seeing what influence O’Shea and Fortune can have. They certainly will not be short of enthusiasm as they look to climb up the coaching ladder.

On a side note, the departure of Scott Marshall seemed a bit strange but I’m sure we will find out more in the future.

In terms of the other new coaches, hardly any of us know exactly what Marko Mitrovic and Nuno Gomes will bring to the team – but Gomes used to play as a defender. Can he be our Mark Bowen? Well, only time will tell. We need to keep that defensive solidity (which went missing in the final two games of last season in all fairness) that helped us climb to an improved 14th place finish.

Director of Football

In the present day, a Director of Football can be just as important as a manager. If you can hire the right person, they have the ability to implement a long-term strategy that will benefit the club for years to come. Right now, we do not seem to have that – but this can change.

What we do have is a fantastic new training ground (massive shout out to Mr Dai) we can make full use of in the future and a great academy. There is a fine line between putting your stamp on the club and interfering with the manager’s role – and any new Director of Football will need to make sure they avoid crossing that line. However, they should stand up for our academy graduates when necessary and bare that in mind when devising a transfer plan.

This transfer plan will need to be clear – with every signing properly scouted and assessed before coming in. If the last few years have taught us anything, we need to get value for money from these potential new signings. For every Michael Morrison signing on a free, there will be a £7.5m deal for Sone Aluko.

It’s typical that our big signings don’t often perform and succeed – but the price tag certainly is not Aluko’s fault. He was an immense player for Fulham and I wish him all the best success whether it’s here or away from Berkshire.

Going back to the original point, these signings should be made with a view to them fitting in with the club’s vision, values and identity. In the new manager podcast, I referred to Kia Joorabchian as confectionary. A little bit of him every now and then could benefit us – but too much of him would probably not.

Will it benefit us in the long run if we have a pick’n’mix transfer strategy? A bit of Veljko Paunovic, a slice of Nigel Howe (who is still quite involved at the moment according to rumours), a scooping of Joorabchian? We already have some fantastic ingredients at the club – and the so-called super agent can provide us with a selection of great players – but it’s all about how we mix those ingredients together.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Portsmouth v Manchester United - Fratton Park Photo by Chris Ison - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

At a risk of sounding like I’m stuck in the past, our last two promotion campaigns were built on a long-term plan, not by short-termism.

We all want to get to the Premier League as quickly as possible. But we are nowhere near challenging for promotion in our current situation and if we want to be a sustainable club, we need to appoint the right man as Director of Football to take care of transfers, player contracts, the club’s vision, scouting, building community spirit and providing a bridge between the manager and owner. Rome was not built in a day – and this will not be an overnight task.

This club does have great potential though and I still believe that even after spending the last few years in the bottom half of the Championship table. Back in July, I suggested the appointment of Mark Bowen to take on this role, a real footballing person who knows what it’s like to manage, whilst also having the capability to put his own stamp on the club behind the scenes.

Even if the new Director of Football needs someone like Nigel Howe to help with negotiating contracts and the financial side of things, it will be worth getting that footballing man or woman in to oversee a change in strategy, in order to try and guarantee a brighter future for this club.

His decisions should be scrutinised by others high up and the football club and he should not have the power to destroy the club like when Ron Gourlay wielded his axe. However, the new DoF should be given the resources to make a positive difference.

How much Mr Dai and the new CEO Mr Dayong Pang know about football has not been determined, so having someone coming in that has proven experience would help to put a lot of minds at ease. Both have been involved in running football clubs before though, so it will be interesting to see how they can work as a duo.

CEO

https://twitter.com/TalkReading/status/823662751033737217

Mr Dayong has a big job to do and will be responsible for ensuring we adhere to Financial Fair Play regulations. The wage bill, as mentioned previously in this piece, is key. After summer’s exodus, we have already made progress but the job is not done just yet. A few players still need to go and the club will be getting to work on securing moves for those who are surplus to requirements.

It has also been rumoured we are after six to eight new signings, putting us at risk of going back to where we originally were if the deals constructed are not financially responsible.

In the same Tweet, Eddie did say ‘in a bid to get back to the Premier League’ so maybe we should be expecting that if Mr Dai wants a big short-term push for promotion. The temptation is huge – especially with the financial incentives and the status being a top tier club comes with.

Let’s put it this way though: we have appointed a manager just a couple of weeks before the season started and he is someone who still needs to get used to the Championship, it seems as though we still need to make several signings and they will also take a while to settle in, we have finished in the bottom half of the Championship for the past three seasons and behind the scenes, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

Despite the impressive win at Pride Park, keeping our feet on the ground is the best way we can move forward and take the right path.

Keeping an eye on outgoings will just be half of the new CEO’s job, he will also need to help bring in as much money as possible. After already selling the stadium, what other assets can we cash in before the money starts to dry up? Mr Dayong, like Mr Dai, is no doubt an astute businessman and his expertise will be needed if we are to improve our financial situation.

The new sponsorship deal with Rapidz will not be a bad thing for the club, it’s a promising sign.

The last thing we need is a 12-point deduction at the start of next season. I’m not saying that will happen – but it would be a huge psychological blow for the Royals. I have to credit Mr Dai - because the deals we are rumoured to be doing so far in this window seem to make financial sense on the surface, certainly in terms of players coming in anyway.

And even though many people may think Mr Dayong has been brought in to be a ‘yes man’, I hope he can challenge Mr Dai in the boardroom.

When all is said and done, a mixture of opinions can help to formulate the best decisions – and the club need all the decisions made to be good ones more than ever before.

I have no doubt Mr Dai has the club’s best interests at heart and one day, I hope he gets to experience the feeling of Championship promotion after all the money and dedication he has devoted to the club. The Dai siblings have made mistakes - but hopefully both have learnt from them as we look to build a brighter future.

The right decisions need to be made for that to happen - and I have faith.

Poll

Do Reading go for it this season or focus on a longer-term plan?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    All out spending spree, Pauno promotion party at the end of the season or bust.
    (14 votes)
  • 70%
    The boring option - a long-term plan to build towards in the future.
    (34 votes)
48 votes total Vote Now