It feels as though us Reading fans are in an involuntary state of paralysis at this time, a horrible place to be in as we nervously await what’s to come next.
Surely 2022 can’t become much more a shambles though. No wins in six, several late collapses, a record home defeat and a loss against a side currently plying their trade in the sixth tier of English football is enough turmoil to last us for a year or two, but that isn’t even considering what’s happening off the pitch.
For me that’s just as important. Despite the best attempts of my father to get me to support Arsenal, six-year-old me was drawn in by the feel of Reading Football Club as much as the quality of players on the pitch.
I may not have been using words like ‘strategic vision’ or ‘culture’ in the early stages of my time at primary school, but supporting the club just felt right and anyone of any age could tell we were run well and had the stability to kick on and thrive.
Relegation at Derby in 2007/08 was a real sucker punch and not a nice feeling - but I backed us to be a success both on and off the pitch in the coming years regardless of the division we were in - making a return to the Championship less painful than it may have been otherwise.
And I felt similar when walking down the Wembley steps following our 4-2 loss against Swansea in the 2011 play-off final. Part of me wondered whether we had blown our biggest chance to get back to the Premier League considering Shane Long wasn’t certain to be at our disposal the following campaign - but still - at least us fans knew we had a financially prudent owner and a manager who looked set to take the club forward for the long term.
And that’s just mentioning two of many key figures who made the reality of pushing for a place in the Premier League a possibility. They may not have been to some peoples’ taste - but Nicky Hammond and Nigel Howe were also key figures as Director of Football and Chief Executive and those two symbolised the solid structure the Royals had working behind the scenes.
In the present, things couldn’t be any more different and there are whispers that Kia Joorabchian is involved in the club, with The Guardian and The Athletic reporting his so-called influence. Even if he doesn’t exercise a huge amount of power, I’d much rather overreact as opposed to remaining quiet.
Call me old-fashioned, but external businessmen who deal with recruitment should not be having any direct influence on football clubs - and I don’t want my club’s transfer strategy to be influenced, even in the slightest, by Joorabchian’s contact book if reports of his involvement are to be believed.
This especially applies to the 2022 summer window, when a squad rebuild looks likely. As part of the business plan the club agreed with the EFL back in November, we won’t be able to spend a huge amount of money anyway.
But that doesn’t mean Kia won’t see this a potential opportunity to get involved in transfers - and if he’s involved at the Select Car Leasing Stadium during the next transfer window, that wouldn’t be in the club’s best interests, in my view.
Some would argue we would be able to recruit players we wouldn’t otherwise would without him there - but that doesn’t really bother me considering the bewildering ‘pick’n’mix’ transfer strategy the club are likely to adopt in the summer if he is involved.
Although the new manager and/or a potential director of football would probably make some signings without the reported influence of Joorabchian, others might be directly from his contact book, providing a weird mix of players that may not gel together.
No ‘pick’n’mix’ please - and no, it wouldn’t make sense to include Kia in discussions with a new manager and DoF in order to devise a better transfer plan, in my opinion. It would be better for Dai Yongge to sever any ties with him completely.
Building a cohesive squad has to be the priority for what looks to be a rebuild next pre-season, and this makes devising a clear and targeted recruitment strategy paramount in the coming weeks as we prepare to lose several first-teamers at the end of the campaign.
This is the reality we’re facing, with John Swift leaving, Josh Laurent and Andy Yiadom likely to follow, Felipe Araruna inevitably going and Michael Morrison not likely to be one of those at the top of the Royals’ priority list in terms of handing out new deals, with none of those currently on loan likely to sign permanently either.
This is even without focusing on some of those whose contracts expire in 2023, with Liam Moore looking as though he may be set for an exit before the start of next term, George Puscas constantly being linked with a move away and Ovie Ejaria not guaranteed to remain at the club either as a possible high earner.
So it would be a surprise to see next season’s squad look anything like the one we currently have - though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as a reset feels much needed. And it’s a reset we can make a success even with the restrictions we’re under from next season.
However, the transfer strategy devised will determine how successful this rebuild is. With Veljko Paunovic likely to leave at the end of the season though, it could be down to Michael Gilkes as the sole footballing brain on the football board to draw up a sensible plan, not exactly ideal considering he already has his hands full with the academy.
Help for Gilkes is needed, making a director of football a must if the club can afford it. This new DoF must have a track record of recruiting players that provide value for money, something that hasn’t happened anywhere near enough at the SCL in recent years and is a big part of the reason why there have been huge losses.
Some will berate the club for selling Michael Olise for only £8m - but it’s my firm belief that the Frenchman wouldn’t have signed that new deal back in 2019 if a release clause hadn’t been inserted into his contract. As an academy boy, we haven’t really spent anything on him excluding his wages, so an £8m profit is a tidy one despite the fact he’s likely to be worth more than that in the coming years.
The real scandal, as STAR’s Roger Titford correctly pointed out in The Guardian piece from last week, is spending around £10m on the likes of Sone Aluko and Sam Baldock and losing them for a combined total of nothing last year. That’s an absolute catastrophe and at this stage, it doesn’t look as though we will be getting much for record signing Puscas either.
Quite frankly, the summer needs to be better for our long-term future and this is why I strongly believe action is needed in the coming weeks instead of the end of 2021/22 as the club prepares for a huge transfer window.
Whether appointments like a DoF can happen remains to be seen considering potential financial restrictions, but one thing that can be devised in the coming weeks is a vision for the coming years if we can make those appointments or already have people at the club (potentially sidelined by Joorabchian’s influence) who are capable of creating one.
That vision needs to be finalised in weeks if we are to be adequately prepared for the summer - and this includes contingency planning for those who may or may not leave the SCL at the end of the season. That then needs to be communicated to the fans to improve club-supporter relations which seem to be at an all-time low.
This may be a huge challenge to undertake in the comings weeks, but these plans should have been created months ago considering we’ve known about this importance of the upcoming summer for some time. If they have already been put in place, it would be a good opportunity for the likes of Dayong Pang and other officials to present them to the fans to give us a bit of hope and an idea of where we’re heading.
Not all clubs are that transparent with their fans on detailed aims and objectives, but this is an extraordinary situation considering failures in recent years.
And if we don’t have the capacity to create a clear vision due to a lack of staff or an inability to make more appointments behind the scenes, then we really are in bother here. Big time.
Things will start to get nasty at the stadium if the supporters who remain there aren’t given hope in the coming days and weeks. Banners have already gone up in Club 1871 and the situation won’t improve until results start to improve on the pitch or promising signs emerge off it. But even results on the pitch can’t paper over the cracks anymore.
I don’t like to rant about my football club - I’d usually be an advocate for keeping calm - but the feeling of sickness I experience when thinking about our future is one I can no longer ignore. I feel extremely worried about our future - and the feeling of disappointment after losses no longer goes away due to the current off-field situation.
This is not the club I used to know - and it’s awful because I consider the Royals as part of my DNA. That’s the first thing that pops into people’s minds when they think about me because I’m either talking, moaning or writing about us - and I know it will be similar for many of you too.
Perhaps this piece should have been kept in a secret diary - but maybe others feel the same way about the current state of the Royals so it’s good to get it out there in the public domain.
Will it change anything? Probably not because I’m just an ordinary fan like the rest of us - but we can only hope that our collective voices can help to transform things and at the end of the day, what else can we do other than that?
We can handle players being poor, we can accept bad performances at times - it’s football.
But the way the club is run is paramount to all of us as a once-sustainable entity - now is the time to step up to the plate and create meaningful change, Mr Dai. You cannot shirk your responsibilities considering some of the decisions that have been made in recent years.
The shambles has to end.