Recently we asked you to grade the job Reading’s manager and owners are doing in their respective roles, and the results are relatively positive for all concerned, albeit in different ways.
First up, Paul Ince, who comes away with an average of exactly 3.00/5. Overall, 3/5 is the specific score 57% of you gave him, while you were almost evenly split between 2/5 (18.1%) and 4/5 (19.2%). Finally, a few of you went with 1/5 (3.1%) or 5/5 (2/6%).
I’m not surprised that 3/5 was the most popular response. After all, there have been both substantial positives and negatives from Ince’s time in the dugout so far and they broadly balance out, rather than it feeling as if he’s done a particularly amazing or awful job.
On the one hand, he did well to keep Reading in the division with a couple of games to spare when it had previously looked like the Royals’ Championship status was precarious. Away from results though, Ince didn’t decisively and consistently improve performances compared to what we’d seen before his arrival. He managed a modest upturn that was enough to seal safety - not a stark turnaround.
Interestingly there’s no stand-out second-place score. Normally when we run an approval rating - like the one for the owners in this article for example - you’ll be able to see a clear order of preference. With Ince’s June 2022 score though, responses were evenly split between 2/5 and 4/5. In fact, one vote for 4/5 switching to 2/5 would have drawn them precisely level.
I think it’s safe to say that the consensus opinion on Ince is mixed. Fans respect him for keeping Reading in the division and can point to specific things such as late fightbacks as evidence that he instilled spirit in the team. At the same time though, concerns about the long-term suitability of someone who was out of work for eight years haven’t been assuaged.
In a historical context, 3/5 puts Ince well above Veljko Paunovic’s last score (1.31/5 in February) and a little above the Serb’s 2.63/5 in September 2021, but well below the 4.51, 4.79 and 3.59 Pauno achieved in his first season.
Going back a bit further, Ince is almost at exactly the same level as a few other averages clustered around the 3/5 mark. Jose Gomes got 2.92 in his final approval rating after being sacked, demonstrating the mixture of fans’ respect for him keeping the team up and his poor start to the 2019/20 campaign. A year later, Mark Bowen scored 2.91 at the end of that same season before rising to 3.11 after being replaced by Paunovic, with both of those averages reflecting a solid but uninsping 2020.
Let’s compare Ince’s June 2022 score with a broadly similar example: June 2019 when Gomes had just guided Reading to safety. While some details are different (length of tenure, state of the club when the manager arrived), we’re still talking about two men who had a decent amount of time to tackle a relegation battle and ultimately did so with a few games to spare.
So it’s interesting that Ince now (3.00) comes off far worse than Gomes did in June 2019 (4.26). Similar criticisms over performances and consistency could be raised about those respective periods, but clearly fans were evidently far more won over by Gomes than Ince.
Reading’s owners on the other hand get 2.15/5. The biggest chunk of you went with 2/5 (39.5%), with 1/5 being a stand-out second-place score (28.9%) over 3/5 (23.2%). Rounding out the rest, 7.4% of you chose 4/5 while 1.1% (two people) thought Dai Yongge could not be doing a better job as owner of this club and went with 5/5.
Here’s how that looks in another bar chart:
In Dai’s case we’ve got plenty of prior marks for comparison. He had been on a strong run from the start of 2019, only dipping below 3/5 once (2.92 in July 2020). However, against the backdrop of losing Michael Olise and Omar Richards for peanuts, poor long-term planning and FFP woes, we saw the lowest-ever owner rating (2.29) in September 2021. A points deduction, ongoing relegation battle and Reading generally being a mess of a club pushed that score lower still to a truly dire 1.61 in February 2022.
So in that context, getting up to 2.15 is a small improvement for Dai but one that’s not to be scoffed at given how toxic things were a few months ago. An increase of 0.5 to me demonstrates that fans acknowledge changes made behind the scenes (Mark Bowen and Brian Carey coming in) while maintaining lasting resentment over long-term mismanagement of the club and profound concern over the future.
It’ll take an awful lot more for fans’ confidence to improve and Dai’s approval rating to properly recover. We need to see concrete evidence that the club has learned its lessons from past mistakes and that it has a plan to move forward sustainably in the future. While that could partially happen by the end of the summer window - when we plan on doing our next approval rating for Dai - really this must all be judged over the next few years, not just the next few months.
What could happen now though and would really go down well is communication. It’s something we’ve all banged on about for ages, but the silence from Dai (plus chief executive Dayong Pang) is deafening. It’s been a long time since it felt as if the club’s decision-makers behind the scenes were willing to properly engage with fans on a semi-regular basis, and that needs to change.