Trying to pinpoint Kia Joorabchian’s exact level of influence at Reading leaves you with a lot of conjecture and little detail.
We know for sure though that he is at least a ‘personal acquaintance’ of Dai Yongge. That was accepted by CEO Dayong Pang in an October 2021 meeting with STAR, when finance director Bryan Stabler added that no money had been paid to Joorabchian as an agent. And last month Veljko Paunovic told the media:
”[Joorabchian is] friends with the owner. He’s known as an advisor not only with our owner. He’s been involved in football for a long time so that’s all I can say. I do have conversations with him.
“I’m open to everyone and picking up the phone to everyone. He’s an advisor to the owner so the owner has to answer that [if he is a positive influence]. He definitely wants the best for the people he advises. That’s all I know.”
For the record, Joorabchian’s position (via The Guardian) is as follows:
“Joorabchian said it was false to suggest he has influence at the club.”
However, fans have been concerned for a long time now about Joorabchian’s possible involvement at Reading, which has been reported - but never officially confirmed - as being substantial. There’s a real lack of clarity which hasn’t been helped by the club’s failure to publicly engage with the topic - you’ll find no mention of Kia Joorabchian on official channels such as Reading FC’s website or Twitter account.
STAR tried to get clarity in their most recent structured dialogue meeting (SDM) with the club, which was held on Friday January 21. The discussion on this topic went as follows:
STAR: Well, one name comes out regularly in press coverage and with our fans and that’s Kia Joorabchian. What is the extent of his influence here? Two major articles in the Athletic and the Guardian have suggested his involvement.
Reading FC: His company is Sports Invest and that company was involved with Lucas Joao coming here. He was also partly involved in the Matt Miazga deal when he came on loan from Chelsea as he was with Sports Invest US.
STAR: So, why then, does he get mentioned so much? Do you have any idea why this is?
Reading FC: Well, he is a friend of the owner, as we’ve said before many times. He has attended games with the owner. Some of us have met him briefly, when he has been at the same event as the owner – usually along with a number of other agents too. But that’s it.
STAR: So, from your view, Kia has only been involved in Lucas Joao then and not involved in any other transfers?
Reading FC: Yes, off the top of our head. And the Miazga loan as mentioned. But this is all available online so you can research it if you want.
To summarise, the club’s official line is that Joorabchian is a friend of Dai Yongge, has attended games and has been involved or partly involved with just two players joining the club - “but that’s it”. For context, this answer was given at a time of mounting frustration in the fanbase - hence the SDM being brought forward to January 21 - so it can’t be said that this question was sprung on the club or they didn’t have the opportunity to fully consider their response.
So is Reading’s answer sufficient?
For a start it doesn’t quite match up with what would be said by Pauno a week or so later in those comments to the media mentioned above. He twice referred to Joorabchian as an “advisor” to Dai Yongge - not merely a “friend”. Furthermore, the articles mentioned by STAR (in The Athletic and The Guardian) make claims that go far beyond Joorabchian’s personal relationship with the owner, attendance of games and the arrival of two players.
The Guardian said:
- “All of the club’s recruitment seems to go through one person” - according to an unnamed agent
- Another agent’s client was approached to be manager, “only for Reading to lose interest when it became clear that Joorabchian would be sidelined”
While The Athletic added:
- Joorabchian is a “central cog in the Reading machine” - as per multiple sources
- “Kia is really, really close with the owner at Reading. He’s the adviser, let’s say, of the owner. It’s Kia calling the shots all the time, and it won’t change” - according to a former employee
- 9/10 deals have gone through Joorabchian - an estimate from an unnamed source
- Reading is a “closed shop to a certain extent” because of Joorabchian’s involvement - according to an unnamed agent
The Athletic also cite the presence of Seb Ewen, who they say is now “instrumental in negotiating deals” at Reading. The below screenshot of Ewen’s LinkedIn account shows he was an employee of Joorabchian’s agency Sports Invest UK until November 2018 before joining the Royals the following month. Reading’s ‘Who’s Who’ information page lists Ewen as ‘Scouting & Recruitment Coordinator’.
For clarity, The Athletic does not outright say Ewen still has a link with Joorabchian, whether direct or indirect.
A significant number of serious claims about Joorabchian’s possible involvement at Reading were made in those two articles. The impression given by that reporting is that Joorabchian is not merely a minor figure behind the scenes, he’s a “central cog” with significant influence over how Reading Football Club operates.
Those are just two recent articles though. Reporting on Joorabchian’s possible involvement at Reading goes back years and raises numerous specific points, including the following:
Football.London, December 2018
- Joorabchian’s involvement at Reading began during the Thai ownership
- He “was behind” moves for Orlando Sa, Paolo Hurtado, Lucas Piazon and Ola John
- Gianluca Nani, briefly sporting director, left as “he felt his position had become untenable” due to Joorabchian’s influence
- Joorabchian pushed for Luis Castro, said to be his client, to succeed Paul Clement as manager
- Joorabchian was considered the right-hand man of then-CEO Nigel Howe
- He was behind the attempt to appoint Alexandre Mattos as director of football
- Joorabchian was also involved in the appointment of Jose Gomes as manager
So to summarise what was claimed in those last two pieces, Joorabchian has reportedly not only been involved in some way in numerous signings, but he’s also had some kind of influence (direct or indirect) at managerial and director-of-football level. Those reports don’t however give precise details on the nature of Joorabchian’s involvement - unlike, for example, a Goal article which claimed Joorabchian was in line to receive €300,000 in commission for Rafael’s recent transfer to Cruzeiro.
It’s worth stressing at this point that some of the above may be true, some of it may not and other parts could be an unfair depiction of events. I’m not in a position to independently verify anything from other publications - only to summarise and highlight noteworthy reporting.
The point of doing so isn’t to just attack Joorabchian. External business people (whether best described as an agent, advisor or otherwise) having influence at a football club certainly wouldn’t be unique to Reading and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For example, Joao is one of Reading’s best strikers in recent years while Miazga added quality to the backline when it was desperately needed in 2019.
The problem that needs addressing is the lack of clarity, so my aim here is threefold:
- To highlight the lack of clarity on Joorabchian’s position at Reading
- To draw attention to the volume of reporting on his possible influence at Reading which, collectively, heavily suggests he’s been majorly involved in the running of the club for years
- To argue that, in light of the volume of reporting, in my opinion the club’s SDM answer isn’t good enough because important questions are left either unaddressed or insufficiently answered
Those questions being:
- Veljko Paunovic refers to Kia Joorabchian as an “advisor” to the owner - in practice, how much influence does this give him at Reading?
- How many signings has Joorabchian been involved in at Reading, whether directly or indirectly?
- Has Joorabchian been involved in any of Reading’s managerial appointments, whether directly or indirectly?
- Was Joorabchian involved in the reported attempt to appoint Alexandre Mattos as director of football, whether directly or indirectly?
- Did Seb Ewen’s previous work relationship with Kia Joorabchian have any bearing on Reading’s decision to hire him?
- Does Joorabchian retain any link with Ewen in Ewen’s professional capacity at Reading, whether formal or informal?
- Whose responsibility at Reading is it to oversee and scrutinise Joorabchian’s influence at the club if such influence exists?
These are all reasonable questions for supporters to want answered, given the level of concern over Joorabchian’s reported involvement at Reading. That concern has become so strong as to contribute to a fan protest before the 150th anniversary game against Coventry City.
It’s frustrating that the club had the opportunity to address this issue convincingly in the SDM and failed to do so, but this can now be rectified with a public statement covering all points raised. Getting substantial, on-the-record answers is key to providing clarity on this topic and in the process restoring fans’ trust. That, ultimately, is what we all want to happen.
I appreciate that this is a sensitive area for the club and we can’t necessarily expect extensive details on behind-the-scenes matters. Reading will want to keep a lot of information under wraps as part of basic in-house confidentiality; that’s to be expected and entirely reasonable.
However, between the two extremes of full opacity and full transparency on Joorabchian’s possible involvement, there’s plenty of room for the club to do more to openly communicate with the fans.