As we’ve come to the end of the season now, it’s a good time to check in with another set of approval ratings. This is the third one we’ve done for Veljko Paunovic, coming after his first (hopefully of many) campaign, but comes at the end of the fourth season for Reading’s owners Dai Yongge and Xiu Li Dai (strictly speaking also Narin Niruttinanon, although he’s seemingly not overly involved).
2020/21 is hard to sum up. It’s undeniably better than the relegation scraps and mid-table ignominy of recent years, but still a failure in the context of the standard Reading had set themselves midway through the season by seemingly sealing a top-six spot.
Similarly, there are good reasons both to be optimistic about the future - players with potential, a talented manager - and to be fearful. At this stage it’s anyone’s guess what the squad will look like on the opening day of next season, not to mention how quickly a worrying contracts situation - with few players signed up for 2022/23 - will be resolved.
So how does all that reflect on Veljko Paunovic and the Dais?
To take Pauno first, the last time we asked you for an approval rating, you were very happy with him. Very happy indeed. In fact, his average score of 4.79/5 was the best we’ve ever had in a manager approval rating, even surpassing the 4.59 set by Jaap Stam just after he led Reading to a play-off final.
Reading’s form since then, however, has been akin to what we’d seen before this season. In fact, it would put Reading 17th - closer to the bottom three than the top six.
Results were particularly bad in the crunch period of eight matches after the last international break, when only one win (Derby County) was managed. Reading may have only lost twice, both times to sides later automatically promoted, but those five draws had to be converted into victories to fuel the playoff charge.
So how much of that is on Pauno?
Of course, the team’s performances and results are ultimately his responsibility, and it was up to him to inspire his players and come up with new tactical ideas to keep the side going. Further, a lack of rotation during a congested month from February 6 to March 6 (nine matches in that period due to constant midweek fixtures) should be looked on as a mistake. Physical and mental burnout contributed to the last-season drop-off, and that could have been improved with better use of fringe and academy players.
On the flipside, some factors weren’t in Pauno’s control. A lack of summer recruitment meant he had a small squad to work with, no January signings meant no mid-season boost, there have been injuries to key players such as John Swift and Michael Morrison, and individual mistakes have cost the side. Think not only of Lucas Joao’s misses (QPR, Nottingham Forest, Barnsley), but also some from George Puscas (Nottingham Forest, Watford) and Andy Yiadom giving away a penalty at Oakwell.
You were pretty happy with the Dais in February, giving them a score of 3.75/5 last time out. That was notable for just how much higher it was than the last one, 2.92, from the end of 2019/20.
All of the following is done under the normal annoying proviso with the Dais: we rarely hear from them directly, let alone get specifics on their attitude or ambitions, so it’s that bit more difficult to build up an accurate picture of what they’re like as people or owners.
That being said, the prior-mentioned problems with squad depth and recruitment are ultimately on them. Although they’re working under FFP restrictions, those restrictions are primarily a problem because of past overspending that dates back to the Dais’ arrival in 2017.
More info on that spending came out in Reading’s latest set of accounts, which were published just over a month ago and cover the 2019/20 season. You can see the key figures in the tweet below and more detail in the full thread. Olly also spoke to Kieran in a special episode of the podcast, which you can listen to here.
Reading 2019/20 accounts published. Headlines— PriceOfFootball (@KieranMaguire) April 14, 2021
Operating losses £43m
Wages 211% of revenue
Total accumulated losses £138m
Furlough income £820k
Player signings £16m
Ave weekly wage £17,460 #Royals
The owners have however done some good for the club. Continuing to back it financially throughout the pandemic has been vital to Reading’s future, and not something to be taken for granted when taken in contrast to what’s happened at other clubs. In addition, the decision to appoint and thus far stuck with Pauno has - on the basis of a much better campaign this time round - proved to be the right one.
The contracts situation is mixed, to say the least. Reading have definitely kept hold of three players - giving a new deal to Luke Southwood and triggering extensions for Michael Morrison and Ethan Bristow. Getting Sone Aluko and Sam Baldock (among others) will also be good news, given the impact it’ll have on reducing the wage bill.
Otherwise there’s been little progress. New deals have been offered to Tom McIntyre and Omar Richards but not yet signed, although the latter will probably be off to Bayern Munich anyway. The same is true of academy players including Kian Leavy, James Holden and Femi Azeez, with Ajani Giscombe the only youngster to have agreed a new contract.
Very disappointingly, young forward Thierry Nevers is definitely off. The club had offered him a new deal, but he announced on Twitter that he would be leaving the club. The circumstances of his departure aren’t clear (financial or football-related), but either way it’s a shame that we won’t see him in the first team.
Thank you for 9 years of learning and growing @ReadingFC. Shoutout to every staff member who has had my back through everything I’ve been through at the club. I leave with full appreciation of the platform you’ve given to me to express myself as a player and person. pic.twitter.com/Ca5VK4t1Y2— ThierryNevers (@ThierryNevers) May 14, 2021
You can read more on Reading’s retained list in this piece here.
Grade Pauno and the owners
With all of that info taken into account, what grade do Pauno and the owners deserve? As ever, please rate them from one to five in the poll below (one is lowest, five is highest). If the poll doesn’t display, you should be able to get to it via this link.