A month ago, I wrote ‘What The F*** Happens Now’ after the revelation that both Reading FC and owner Dai Yongge had been charged by the EFL, which at the time felt like a true low-point for the club. Soon after, a HMRC winding-up petition was served (which would be a new low had it not happened three times previously).
And yet, hey presto, this week the tax bill has been paid, transfer embargo lifted and we’re back in Kansas, safe and sound. Alas, there is still the massive question of What The F** Happens Now (Part 2)? Let’s hope this doesn’t turn into a trilogy!
The first unknown is what the EFL will do with the outstanding charge of failing to pay players on three occasions last season. Wigan’s three breaches last season resulted in a suspended three-point deduction, which became a four-point penalty this campaign (with a further three suspended) when breaches four and five came. That hints at Reading being put on the cliff-edge, but not pushed over yet.
For some fans, the biggest ‘what now’ relates to Dai Yongge. Will supporters readily welcome him back with open arms, willing to forgive a simple misunderstanding? The ‘time to go’ sentiment will continue but the level of support for full-on protests will be largely based on the team’s on-pitch performance and any further financial screw-ups. There has also been a swell of sentiment, including from myself, that Dai is simply not equipped to run the club anymore regardless of these outcomes. There have been multiple reports of Chinese business and football club owners struggling to get their money out of the country to invest into foreign means for some time, with football seemingly no longer the sport du jour of the powers that be. Whether that’s truly behind these machinations or if the faults lie more personally with Dai (or both) then it’s clear he is not best-placed to own and run Reading anymore.
There has also been talk of the Royals being open to new investors, which feels like a minority-purchase kind of deal rather than a full ‘up for sale’ come-and-get-me plea. This makes sense for the reasons above but also points to the totally reasonable argument that Dai genuinely wants to see the club be a success while being a part of it. It’s easy to see why he may view himself as having too much skin in the game and having invested too much time and cash to simply toddle off when his efforts have reaped their least reward.
Ultimately, the club is still as financially beholden to Dai as it was beforehand and the scenario has been wrestled back from the brink of disaster, to some extent. As any Reading fan will tell you though, it needn’t have been anything like this bad in the first place.
One other area of ‘what now’ worth considering is what exactly the club will tell us about all this. Public statements have never been a speciality of the Royals and the EFL too have kept fans updated throughout this process by letting them click refresh on an online spreadsheet, which is not acceptable for a body of their might. Something has to be said though and perhaps this will come via some form of Mark Bowen interview, preaching a ‘focus back on the pitch’ mentality with pre-season underway.
That brings us to where things are really about to change. The good thing about Reading taking a trip to Spain was it allowed the coach-in-waiting the opportunity to oversee his new squad while perching (not always convincingly) just out of shot of the cameras. That is presuming Ruben Selles is a Spanish citizen and not some kind of international persona non grata or an AI-generated hologram - which wouldn’t actually surprise us at this point.
New signings will, and indeed have already, start to arrive with deals seemingly in place and even with Reading able to pay fees this appears to largely be on a similar basis to as before. Cash remains in short supply, so free transfers for plucky Football League upstarts and the odd veteran will be the order of the day. If that can build a promotion-winning squad, well, I won’t hold my breath.
By my reckoning, a left-back, centre-back, at least two central midfielders, another winger and a couple of strikers are the minimum targets depending on the quality of the academy players who should be given the chance to fill out the squad for the first half of the season. It’s a fairly big workload that still remains but I have no worries about Bowen and Co being able to see to that, it’s just the lingering fear that major trouble lurks just around the corner that will take a long, long time to go away.