On Saturday evening, a few hours after Reading lost 2-1 at Middlesbrough, the club announced that Liam Moore was being stripped of the candidacy. The statement was as surprising as it was blunt - suddenly coming out of nowhere but taking no half measures in making clear what the club thinks of Moore.
Here’s the first bit of it - the only bit that’s actually about Liam Moore being stripped of the captaincy (more on this later):
“Over the course of the last few months, centre-back Liam Moore has spoken with manager Veljko Paunovic and directors of the club to state his clear desire to leave Reading Football Club and pursue his career elsewhere.
“Obviously we are disappointed that Liam, a player awarded one of the club’s most significant contracts, has now stated his intention to move on. Whilst we have patiently waited for his representatives to provide us with options for us to consider in helping him fulfil that request, no offer or opportunity has been presented to the club to date.
“Our club, together with its manager, is intent on selecting players in the first team squad who are dedicated to giving their absolute all to Reading Football Club. That starts with our captain. As a result, Moore will no longer be given the honour of our club captaincy.
Cue a wave of anger from fans on social media.
After all, going by the statement, Moore has shown complete disloyalty to Reading Football Club. He wasn’t a particularly popular player among supporters anyway, but outright dislike of him had previously been fairly limited. This statement though had a similar effect to the defeat to Kidderminster Harriers a week ago: it blew the lid on long-simmering frustrations. The sudden eruption of anger and disappointment was palpable.
My own immediate reaction to the statement put me pretty much in line with that majority view: Reading have been wronged by Liam Moore. He’s clearly not committed to the club anymore. Get rid of him.
My feelings as regards to Moore haven’t really changed as of the following day. Moving him on made sense anyway regardless of the claimed lack of commitment - it would be a big boost financially and we can do better for a first-team centre half. But the more I’ve considered the statement itself, especially having cleared my head after the Middlesbrough game, the more I realise I really don’t know what to think about it.
Statements on such topics are usually short, to the point and very matter of fact. Consider for example how the club announced the departure of Jose Gomes - this being the last time Reading did a professional job of announcing a departure, given the farce that was Mark Bowen’s exit.
Reading Football Club can announce that José Gomes has left his position as first team manager.
Gomes joined the club at the end of December 2018 and successfully steered the club away from the threat of relegation.
However, following just two wins in the first 11 league games in 2019-20, owner Mr Yongge Dai has made the difficult decision to part company with Gomes and make a change at first team level.
We would like to sincerely thank José for his hard work during his tenure as manager at Reading Football Club and we wish him the very best of luck in his future career.
The club will make no additional comment at this time but will provide further updates as soon as possible.
Simply a professional and respectful announcement of a major development. The tone and focus of the Liam Moore statement however are completely different. For one thing, this time the club shares information that you probably wouldn’t normally expect it to acknowledge publicly:
- Moore has a “clear desire” to leave,
- He has “one of the club’s most significant contracts”.
- Reading have waited for suggestions from Moore’s representatives that would help make an exit possible but not got any.
- And most damning of all, it indirectly but unsubtly states that the club thinks Moore is not “dedicated to giving [his] absolute all to Reading Football Club”.
I can’t speak to the reliability of the content itself. While I’ve no reason to believe any of it is factually incorrect, you certainly get the feeling that Moore would give a different view of events. At the moment we only know via a post on his Instagram story that he was “incredibly shocked by the statement released tonight!!!”. You know someone feels strongly when they include three exclamation marks and 18 face-palm emojis.
The general tone of Reading’s statement on Moore is surprisingly strong and feels pretty cynical. Garath McCleary, a long-term teammate of Moore, may well have been right when he tweeted that he “wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve done this to ostracise [Moore]”. Indeed, the effect of the statement is pretty clear: the club have drawn a line between themselves and Moore and are inviting fans to stand on their side.
Put it all together and, regardless of the facts of the case, the whole thing makes Reading look pretty unprofessional. Consider this: if you’re a player who may sign for the club at some point in the not-too-distant future, are you impressed by how the club has acted in its treatment of a senior player in this instance?
Furthermore, why are we getting this statement now? It claims that the problem (Moore wanting to leave) has been going on for months at this point, but there’s no indication as to what’s changed and therefore prompted the player to be relieved of the captaincy a few hours after losing to Middlesbrough. Consider also that the West Brom defeat (when he played poorly) was Moore’s only appearance since November 23.
It could be as innocent (relatively speaking) as the club only now concluding that the situation is irreparable. Stripping Moore of the captaincy at this point means the club can finally draw a line under all of this, move on and put more focus on the relegation battle.
Alternatively, is the end goal to force Moore out this month? Possibly, but if so they certainly could have done it earlier.
Or is this really all about deteriorating club-fan communications, which have been the focus of intense scrutiny and anger over the course of a nightmare week? The open and direct nature of communication in this statement - regardless of how well advised the content - could be intended as an answer to fan demands as much as the Moore situation.
The more specific timing of 9.03pm on a Friday night feels odd too - perhaps the release of the statement was done either in reaction to something or in anticipation of something. Maybe they wanted to pre-empt Moore getting his side of the story out? I can’t say either way but it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s more to this than meets the eye, especially when you consider how frustratingly uncommunicative the club has been in recent years.
More of the statement is about the owner anyway. To be exact, going by word count, just 38.6% of it is about Liam Moore while the majority is about Dai Yongge, who’s specifically name-checked more often than the player. Here’s that remaining 61.4%:
“Our owner, Mr Dai, has made significant financial commitment to Reading Football Club and continues to invest wholeheartedly in a project which remains very close to his heart. When football was forced behind closed doors during the pandemic, Mr Dai continued to support the club and his investment has been the catalyst in developing a state-of-the-art training facility, capable of attracting the best young talent to our club now and in the future.
“Although we have undeniably experienced a very difficult first half to our season, due in part to an unimaginable injury crisis which has most recently left us devoid of almost all our fit or available defensive options, we still demand loyalty, focus and committed performances from every individual who pulls on a Reading shirt in front of our fans. And we expect our players, particularly our new captain, to wear the crest with pride and dedicate their total focus to the club on behalf of its loyal fanbase.
“Mr Dai is fully supportive of the manager and his decisions and understanding of the hard few months we have endured both on and off the pitch. Together we are stronger and will prevail.
“Our owner and everyone involved with Reading Football Club would like to sincerely thank our fans for their incredible support and will endeavour to work even harder to help us achieve our collective goals.”
But none of it is has anything to do with the matter at hand.
The fact that this was deliberately tacked onto the end of a statement about Moore losing the captaincy is fascinating. Who at the club thought it would be relevant to this topic? Why? I’d be really interested to know who’s responsible for initiating, overseeing and signing off on this kind of communication.
Should we take this statement as coming from Dai himself, the elusive CEO Dayong Pang or the club as a whole? The distinction is important as it would give crucial context to the ultimate intent behind this statement - not only with regards to Moore but also why the second section was included. Is Dai defending his record? Is Pang attempting to keep fans on side? Or was it added by others at the club for the purpose of reassuring fans?
I really don’t know and that in itself is frustrating. The fact that I’m sat here the day after a statement came out, digging into its structure, content and tone in an attempt to work out what it’s all supposed to mean, isn’t good enough. Supporters shouldn’t be in this kind of position.
Club-fan communication is needed, but it can be done a lot better than this.