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The Current State Of Play At Reading Football Club

Adam examines the main reasons for optimism and concern to see where Reading may be heading.

Photo by Ben Hoskins - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

I hate moaning about my own football club - but it’s the only thing I seem to be doing at the moment. This isn’t purely down to our league position, but a culmination of factors that are making me feel a little uneasy right now.

Straight off the bat, the points deduction is one that needs to be addressed because that has to go down as a low point in our recent history. Perhaps I should be grateful that we only suffered a six-point sanction in the end, considering it could have been worse, showcased by Derby County’s plight as they were docked nine.

The difference between six and nine is huge, not just because we remain outside the drop zone at this stage, but also psychologically. I’m still confident Sheffield Wednesday would have stayed up last season had they started on -6 instead of -12.

So in that respect, the day we were handed our own punishment should have been one of relief. But it wasn’t for me - it was a real low point, a source of embarrassment because this isn’t what our club should be about.

I’m not one who constantly calls for the return of the ‘Reading way’, but at the very least, I expect us to be well run. That’s what we used to pride ourselves on. The sale of Shane Long and others during the Brian McDermott era may have been heartbreaking in the short term, but cashing in on some of our most valuable players at the right time was crucial in our success.

Soccer - npower Football League Championship - Play Off - Final - Reading v Swansea City - Wembley Stadium Photo by Mike Egerton - PA Images via Getty Images

We didn’t only cash in at the right time, but I also had full faith we would reinvest the revenue generated from these sales wisely.

Our recruitment has been better in recent windows, perhaps most notably in the summer of 2020 when we didn’t seem to be under tight transfer restrictions, but what happened previous to that has screwed us royally.

We may have thrown money down the drain during the Ron Gourlay era, but the 2019 period when we forked out a record transfer fee for George Puscas was probably our biggest faux pas - and it wasn’t even during the Gourlay era.

I’m not letting that man off the hook, because I’ll never forgive him for the mess he created both on and off the pitch. Nonetheless, it does leave me concerned about the plans the Dais have for the club in the future, if they have any.

What’s the vision? Where is our identity? Do we have the structure and resources off the pitch to create success on it? Are they going to recruit a director of football and, if not, what will our recruitment policy be as we try to contend with the restrictions set by the agreed business plan? How are we going to stay within those restrictions?

Ironically, this agreement pretty much means the EFL has given us more of a direction and plan than the club seem to, though I’m happy to be proven wrong. In no way am I cosying up to the EFL and in fairness to us, the club was fully involved in agreeing to those terms. But let’s face it, our hand was forced and we had no choice but to negotiate if we wanted to receive a sanction as light as we did.

I remain grateful for our owners’ backing, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. But please, Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li, bring in the right people between now and the summer if you want to make a success of this football club.

These future restrictions may bring us pain considering how tight they are, but it should also be viewed as an opportunity to be a more financially prudent club - and when we have lived within our means - that’s when we have been at our most successful.

Leicester City v Reading Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Even under the Thai ownership, we may have spent £2.5m on a loan for Matej Vydra, but that was a rare error and they left us in a reasonably decent position compared to the end of the Anton Zingarevich era. Reading made a profit in their final season, 2016/17, the last time the club has managed this.

Former DoF Brian Tevreden may not have been perfect during his time at the club - shown by the arrivals of Danzel Gravenberch and Sandro Wieser. But we seemed to have a real identity both on and off the pitch during the 2016/17 season when he and Jaap Stam were there and that gave us plenty of reason for optimism after that despite our play-off final defeat.

Fast forward to now, and we don’t seem to have that. The football board of Michael Gilkes, Veljko Paunovic, Dayong Pang and Bryan Stabler does perhaps help to provide a mix of football knowledge and financial sensibility, but an extra footballing pair of hands to help the likes of Gilkes and Paunovic focus on the academy and first-team squads feels right to me.

That’s where a new director of football could come in and oversee footballing matters at the SCL - potentially proving to be that bridge between the academy and the first team. The role of the academy will prove to be important in the club’s history once again with our financial restrictions from next season.

Some would suggest ex-manager McDermott would be the perfect man to take on that challenge - but I’ll leave others to decide potential candidates for such an important role. The turnover of managers almost makes a DoF essential in modern-day football.

Kia Joorabchian may have reportedly helped bring in some important players in recent years but, looking towards the future, he needs to be out of the picture. At the end of the day, he has his own business interests and who could blame him? But this summer’s likely rebuild must happen without his influence, even with the pulling power he has.

I’ve debated with people over his presence at the club in the past and I can see their points - but my gut feeling is a negative one about him. There are no obvious stats to back up my argument, but sometimes you have to follow your instincts so that’s what I’m doing here. No stats or evidence, just vibes.

And it goes without saying we need an adequate number of staff around the club for us to be successful, not just in the coaching teams, but all employees. Everyone pulling in the same direction can only help our cause on the pitch.

We could talk about the academy and the need to find a suitable replacement for Mehmet Ali, but let’s turn our attention to Pauno. First of all, I have to say he seems like a really nice guy and someone who seems to have our best interests at heart and wants the very best for the club. That goes without saying and the way he’s conducted himself during a difficult period for the club has to be commended.

On the pitch though, I have mixed feelings. For every impressive away win and gritty performance, there have been questionable tactics and substitutions. The most recent games against Hull City and West Bromwich Albion are two examples for me.

The draw against Hull wasn’t the biggest disaster, but we did lack urgency and the penalty appeals did overshadow that. In fairness, it was a criminal refereeing performance, so I’m in the half-and-half camp of blaming the ref and thinking we could have done a bit better.

A game that split opinion even more though was the clash with West Bromwich Albion. I can appreciate the gulf in class between the two sides’ starting lineup, the fact is that we had severe injuries and needed to play the likes of Tyrell Ashcroft and Dejan Tetek in such a tough game. The injury situation all season and for the past few years has been a shambles so I sympathise with Pauno and his predecessors on that.

However, it felt as though we paid Valerien Ismael’s men far too much respect on the day considering how poor they were in the final third and it was disappointing that we were unable to cope with their pressing game, something we knew Albion would do even before we took to the field.

Swansea City v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images

So there are questions to be asked of Pauno and whether he’s the man to take us forward in the long term. My verdict? We can’t keep changing managers but I have no strong view either way on him either way - and that’s perhaps due to the fact I’m more worried about what’s happening off the pitch and our long-term future.

Perhaps I should be more focused on the short term, because we’re a long way off securing safety yet and there should be no complacency as we look to drag ourselves away from the relegation zone.

But our future does concern me - and it’s the reason why I haven’t enjoyed the football as much as I usually would. That’s probably a me problem because I hate uncertainty, but a lot of other fans are probably feeling the same way at the moment.

This uncertainty isn’t just off the pitch, but also on the pitch with our relegation worries and who may or may not be here next season. The fact many of our key players are out of contract at the end of the season could be seen as a worry or a major opportunity to reset and leave our recent disappointment behind.

The question is: do we have the right people at the wheel to make any potential rebuild a success? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

It’s worrying really, because there are quite a few players we should be looking to keep hold of beyond the summer. John Swift has already gone, let’s be realistic. But Andy Yiadom, Andy Rinomhota, Josh Laurent and Tom Holmes are all at risk of leaving in what would be a major blow.

The only two of those players mentioned I can see signing on the dotted line at this stage are Holmes and perhaps Rinomhota, leaving us with a huge amount of work to do in the summer. A rebuild would take time to get used regardless of what division we’re in next season, Ipswich Town have shown that after signing 19 players in the previous transfer window, but perhaps there should be reasons for hope.

Stoke City have managed to turn themselves from a side stuck in midtable to one competing for the top six, mediocrity that was caused by a reckless summer of spending in the summer window of 2018. Michael O’Neill’s men now have a clearly defined style of play, an identity and reasons for optimism for the future.

In fairness, they weren’t up as much of a (fill in the blank) creek as we are and don’t have them same restrictions to abide by that we have, but it’s still a blueprint we can follow as much as we can in our quest to be successful.

But let’s focus on where we’re at currently because it’s not the best picture.

To sum it all up, we have owners who I’m worried may not take us in the right direction unless they bring in good advisors, a super agent that may or may not still be playing a big part in recruitment, no director of football steering the ship, a manager I have no real opinion on either way, several players set to leave at the end of the campaign and a captain that’s been a symbol of our decline in recent seasons, even though it isn’t entirely his fault.

I’ve been one of Moore’s biggest critics in recent months, but I do feel a little sorry for him considering the widespread criticism he’s received in past weeks.

Going forward, we can only hope the right decisions are made because our future depends on it. The return of McDermott to switch on the Christmas lights reinforced to me how far we’ve fallen in recent years - but I guess that’s just my opinion and we can come back from this if the right people are in the right positions. I love this club - and let’s hope we can all start pulling together and towards a much brighter future against adversity.

It’s over to you, Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li.