I’m angry, and fed up. I’m writing this on the evening of Saturday 28 August 2021, on the back of the latest defensive capitulation by a Reading team, this time at Huddersfield. I’m writing this impulsively, but certainly not shaded by the fuzzy screen of alcohol – I’m on a dry weekend (yes, Bank Holiday, I know!)
I’m angry at the result today, and angry at the general performance by the eleven men Pauno put out there. While it was a difficult day at the office, I’m also sympathetic to his situation, just as I was with Mark Bowen and Jose Gomes before him over the last two seasons.
And therein lies the problem – three seasons, three managers. No continuity, no strategy, just three successive managers (or four if you include Paul Clement) plucked from the ether with no clearly defined attributes. It doesn’t just begin two seasons ago of course, this has been a problem at Reading FC since the ignominious sale of the club by Sir John Madejski to TSI – successive owners, successive CEOs, successive managers ingloriously replaced when no demonstrable progress is displayed after about a year.
We are repeatedly told that the owner’s aim is to get to the Premier League as soon as possible. OK, fine, all very laudable, but how? It’s a sad fact but, last season aside, we have been much closer to League One than we have the Premier League since the Dais took the club over.
Granted, they didn’t inherit an entirely healthy financial ship with Jaap Stam often alluding to not being supported the way he wanted to be under the Thais, but the Dais have been at the helm of the club for four years now and also didn’t get him what we so desperately needed in the summer of 2017 – a striker. Now, can anybody say the club is in a healthier state than it was when they took over, after five managers and three CEOs? No, they can’t.
So what is needed? A clearly defined strategy, carefully planned to ensure the club is sustainable and competitive whatever division it is in. It will come as no surprise that three of the healthiest clubs in the top two divisions of English football all reside in the Premier League, having rigidly stuck to a plan that suits the size of club they are and has brought them promotion to the Premier League since the time the Dais have taken charge of Reading.
I of course speak of Brentford, Brighton and Hove Albion and Norwich City. Over the last 5-10 years their managerial appointments have all been carefully chosen and their player recruitment strategy has largely been successful. Not all successful of course, this is football after all and nothing is guaranteed, but the clear plan each of those clubs follows ensures that they are sustainable, built on solid foundations and they are able to carry on fairly seamlessly when a significant change at a club occurs.
Then take Reading: a club that, under the Dais, seems to blindly stumble through each successive season with no real direction; endures continual financial problems hindering every manager’s ability to build a decent, competitive squad; employing a scatter-gun approach to what can only be described as expensive mercenary signings in yet another gamble to get promoted at the first attempt; all the while with no plan to even attempt to repair the damage caused by perennial financial mismanagement.
We have continually made signings for high fees, on high-value contracts or both, failed to sell assets when realising maximum value and replacing them from either within the academy or the “young and hungry” route we were so good at before. Instead we simply refuse to sell them when at their maximum value, and fail to place our most talented youngsters on adequate contracts to ensure financial return if/when they depart the club for better things.
It is infuriating to support this club at the moment, has been pretty much since the club was sold by Sir John Madejski, and is getting harder and harder with every passing season when strategic leadership and consistent positive performances and results continue to be largely absent.
So I ask this of our owners – what is the strategy? If our owners don’t want to put their face to camera to explain to fans what their blueprint for success is, I absolutely respect that and I think all reasonable-minded fans would too. But there are other ways to communicate with fans – you can do it through the CEO, or with an article on the website with words direct from the owners for example.
At the moment the owner’s credibility is low, is getting lower, and if they continue to completely ignore and disrespect the fanbase and don’t oversee financial change then the time will eventually come when they will be made unwelcome at the club by those fans. I don’t want that to happen, but there are many fans who will grow fed up and either desert the club or vent their anger. The club cannot continue the way it is otherwise it will only continue to haemorrhage money, fans and eventually bleed itself out of the Championship into League One.
I also ask what their strategy is if the club continues to fail to gain promotion. A laughable question in some ways because we’re so far away from it, but if there’s no plan to ensure financial sustainability in the event promotion is not won and the Dais decide to sell, the club will surely be as unstable as it ever has been. Given the circumstances as they are, with the club spending £2.11 on salaries for every £1 it makes (and that doesn’t even begin to take into account running costs), the repercussions would potentially be unthinkable.
And lastly, what happens if we actually drop a division? It would be utterly pathetic to ignore that possibility given the finishes over recent seasons. Carry on the way we’re going, the Championship gatekeeper will be only too happy to say “time to go Reading, your number’s up”.
My point is, we all want promotion. We all want to see a competitive team at the top end of the Championship. But a club like ours cannot spend its way to promotion the way it has, trying to compete with Fulham, West Brom and other clubs every year that come down with parachute payments. We desperately need leadership off the pitch with faith put in a strategic process, doing things differently to the way we are currently to maximise effect on the pitch.
It took him a while to recognise, but one of Sir John Madejski’s best decisions was to appoint Nicky Hammond as director of football as he understood he wasn’t a football man and needed that buffer to advise on football matters. It worked a treat, surrounding himself with sensible football knowledge, and the sooner our owners see they need that kind of help with their decision making, appointing a suitably qualified person with no vested interests and completely independent of owners or agents, the better.
So come on Reading FC, get your sh*t in order, otherwise the only way is down in my humble opinion.