Whilst Championship safety is secured, the work for Dai Yongge and co has only just started. Furthermore, it’s important us fans make sure it gets done, otherwise we’re letting Dai off the hook… AGAIN.
Paul Ince did it! I won’t lie, a month or so back I was expecting by now Derby County to have leapfrogged us to rubber-stamp a third-tier return. But it’s not the time for anyone (inside or outside the SCL) to rest up and wait to see what the summer brings.
Now should prompt questions and importantly the demand for answers.
What’s next Mr Dai?
The weeks leading up to the start of next season on July 30 (earlier because of the World Cup) truly could be the most significant in Reading FC’s history. There’s lots to do and anyone who was privy to or followed the protests around our 150th celebration match should agree with this.
Relegation survival is only a short-term goal and next season must be planned better as it will be harder. On social media leading up to the protests, fans listed short-, medium- and long-term changes wanted from the RFC hierarchy.
The work by any active or passive members to that group isn’t finished. Realistically 2022/23 will be another fight to stay up and any foreseen “slow start” will have happened on our watch. We need to see proactivity here. Fans demanding action from the club and RFC duly delivering. It’s that old motto: “failure to prepare is preparation for failure.”
As mentioned in my last article there are plenty of problems to be sorted through this summer and they need urgent attention. Given the number of players set to leave in just days, next season will be tough, and we cannot afford the wait for everyone new to bed in. Picking a manager and building a squad needs to start pretty much now. A blueprint should have been mapped weeks ago. Don’t we normally know one or two pre-season fixtures by now? Perhaps planning here already isn’t where it should be…
Why did this happen?
Turn your mind back to the 2015/16 season. It had a great start, then Steve Clarke had his little flirt with Fulham and got sacked. Sir John Madejski recommended Brian McDermott returning to RG2 but sadly it wasn’t the “happy reunion story” we’d all hoped for, as we only just did enough to stay up. It sounds better than this season, right? Well, it wasn’t good enough for our Thai owners at the time and they released a statement acknowledging everything they got wrong days after the season ended. Remember this?
At the time it hit the nail on the head in terms of what we were all thinking, and it’s interesting that a lot of what was said then still resonates now. It also says a lot about our former owners. Two years of ownership and calling out their own mistakes and a need to learn from them. That accountability probably renewed a few season tickets and showed a desire to keep fans onboard with the promise next season would be different - very admirable and indicated they respected the fans.
They delivered too. Within weeks Jaap Stam arrived with his “Dutch Revolution” to Reading. We all know how the next season finished, although that fateful day at Wembley was our first sighting of Dai Yongge and the transition to our now current overlord.
What will these owners do differently?
Do you think Dai or even Dayong Pang will issue a statement in a few weeks like our Thai owners did seven years ago? I doubt it. The fact there was even an April Fools suggesting Dai would sit with fans at Oakwell is a damning indictment of his ownership, especially given his predecessors did so with positive intentions - PR exercises or not.
We’re told that communication directly from our Chinese owners “isn’t their style”. Well, I call bullsh*t on it. It’s arrogant, rude and feels as though they frankly don’t care what fans think.
Ultimately the protests this season have been aimed at Dai Yongge, his stewardship of RFC (those he associates to it) and its seeming demise because of his decision-making. Anyone who works in a client-relations role will say that you should have regular communication with customers. If you don’t, you will likely lose them as a result. Therefore, it’s unsurprising attendances at the SCL are falling.
Has it ever passed Dai or Dayong’s mind why Loyal Royals speak so highly of Sir John? He doesn’t know us all personally, but the Royals are our shared love and there was a mutual respect that he made decisions to the betterment of RFC to build on our collective desire for success. Sure, he didn’t tell us everything, but he was regularly on hand to give his opinion on why he made decisions and thus he gained our trust and appreciation. Of course, not everything went nor was it received well. But again, his respect for the fans meant he put his side out there because he felt he had to.
I can’t think of anything the current ownership has done emulating Sir John or even the Thais’ openness. Rare communications from our current owners feel templated and almost self-congratulatory. They’re normally only when they hire and fire managers on the rinse-repeat schedule we’re now used to.
On other occasions Mr Dai was (apparently) directly involved in certain contract renewals or transfers, which now serve as horrible evidence towards our current sanctions and points deduction. Oh, and the very bizarre throwing of the club captain under the bus… There also seems to be a lot of credit taken for Bearwood Park. It’s worth reminding everyone it was an idea long before Dai Yongge set foot in Berkshire. His money may have made it reality, but it wasn’t all his vision.
If the current administration wants any relationship with Reading FC’s fanbase, this bunker mentality needs to end now before calls for Dai Yongge and co to sell up get louder. Yes, those voices are already out there if you look.
Pretending this season is a success is delusional. It’s not been a wake-up call, we were just lucky.
Does Dai Yongge have a plan?
Back in February I said the next Reading manager (especially if we went down) would need a plan and a reputation to attract talent. For what it’s worth, Paul Ince is our best option in my opinion as him staying might encourage others to follow suit or even move a few on - Let’s be honest (on the latter), this squad is where it is for a reason.
Judging the appointments Dai has made up to now, Ince is the only one whom the squad appear to respect and has any idea what they’re letting themselves in for. The alternative is likely to be another Jose Gomes- or Veljko Paunovic-type appointment. Someone (to quote Liam Moore) we’ll likely have to Google, which again speaks volumes and not for good reason.
Whilst I’ve mentioned Pauno, let’s address another issue. Results and performances spoke for themselves, but Reading FC’s hierarchy owe both Paunovic and the fans a huge apology here.
In their scheduled dialogues with STAR (Supporters Trust At Reading), the club said they’d look at using others to front the club’s issues. But as issues worsened they instead leant more on Pauno. Yet questions regarding embargoes, agent influence, decisions from the EFL and other issues off the pitch, Paunovic should never have been answerable for. That’s not just my opinion, similar appraisals come from fan groups and media figures. Even STAR questioned it. Considering Pauno would later come under fire whilst still fending off questions on matters the boardroom should have fronted was appalling, demeaning to fans and quite frankly cowardly from RFC top brass.
The fact Pauno didn’t “go rogue” on them and embarrass the club should earn him our respect. In years gone by managers elsewhere have done so for less. This structure needs dumping ASAP and begs the question: what on earth is Dayong Pang doing day to day?
It’s perhaps telling that the list of rumoured managerial candidates now doesn’t go beyond Paul Ince. Why would you want to work for such a toxic owner? If Ince, or whoever comes after him is to succeed, keep their job strictly to football. If Dayong Pang doesn’t want to publicly front the corporate side of Reading FC, then simply leave, or hire someone who does.
Where do we go from here?
STAR take a lot of flak for the communication they have with the club yet those who criticise are missing the point. The fact we all examine the notes from their conversations with Reading FC is an appalling indictment of where we are generally. This isn’t some fractious legal battle or political negotiation. This is our football club communicating with its supporter’s group (supposedly), and what’s worse it seems to be the only way it happens. This is a huge failing of Reading FC, and the ownership should be ashamed of itself it’s come to this.
Naturally STAR and RFC should have regular meetings, but they shouldn’t be seen by the general fanbase as so precious we’re hungry for the next installment. Equally, arguments that STAR “go easy” on RFC indicates (to me) the club’s top brass would perhaps rather such “negotiations” didn’t happen at all. Therefore, we should be praising STAR (who after all represent us) and lambasting the club for a desire to keep things opaque. We should be able to get this information easily and STAR can perhaps get back to discussing the more mundane issues we don’t want to figure out.
The ball is in Dai Yongge’s court for now. If he wants a relationship with the fans, grab the opportunity before that door gets shut. Alternatively, put someone in charge who might be better suited to doing it and let Ince etc get on with their primary job and not left as fall guys.
Dai’s time of ownership is just that: a space in time. Do it properly and he can have as much time as he wants. Carry on as he has so far, and he may find fans start calling time on him. Ghosting local journalists is one thing, but exposure from the wider footballing media will be another harder battle altogether. Pushing Sir John into the spotlight to legitimise a regime that’s clearly eroded his legacy is a nightmare waiting to happen. Sky or TalkSport unearthing scorned ex-players will just send more ammo Dai’s way and he’ll lose grip on the agenda before he even has a chance to grab it. In a weird way, I look forward to seeing that. But there’s time to not let it get that far.
It’s also up to the fans. This season can’t go by without some form of statement/post-mortem with a plan on how we move forward coming from the SCL’s boardroom. Too much has happened that it simply shouldn’t be forgotten. I’d go as far as to say anyone blindly renewing their season ticket, happy with how the last 23 home games have gone, is being taken for a fool. We deserve answers and it’s high time we got them.
Just because we’ll always support Reading FC doesn’t mean we support the way it’s being run. We certainly shouldn’t let anyone get away with doing it badly either. The clock is ticking…