by Bob Lethaby
Despite recent results that have plummeted Reading into a situation where relegation is now a near certainty, I was still surprised to hear of the dismissal of Royals manager, Brian McDermott yesterday.
Reading, a provincial club that has grown in proportion with the expanding Berkshire town have enjoyed incredible success under McDermott during his tenure, including two FA Cup quarter-finals, a play-off Final, and an incredible and unforgettable surge to the Premiership last term. Few Reading fans will forget the ecstasy of the away wins at West Ham and Southampton last season that propelled us from Play-off hopefuls to Championship winners.
However, despite the fact that many fans are bemoaning the dismissal of this likable and personable character, time waits for no man and as a Premiership Manager, McDermott, for reasons that are not yet fully clear, has failed. When I say that the reasons are unclear, I am of course talking about the investment, or lack of it. Reading tried to do everything on budget buys and with the exception of Marriappa and the occasional cameo from Pogbreynak, they have generally failed or fallen foul (Danny Guthrie) of the manager.
Was McDermott given funds or was it a case that that he had to work with an impossible budget? Whatever the case, the truth is, when I saw the team line ups for the Wigan and Aston Villa games, I knew we were going to lose. Reading’s game plan this season began with an up and at ‘em 4-4-2 that resulted in battering after battering. This necessitated in a change to a 4-5-1 system that was based around keeping a clean sheet and hoping for a lucky break.
4-5-1 worked for a while (along with some last ditch miracles) before getting picked apart, then there was a host of confusing stuff that reverted between the two systems and it all fell apart. Paul Lambert and Roberto Martinez are bright young managers and despite being apparent relegation rivals they picked us apart in a manner that was widely predicted by supporters of the club who have even a small degree of footballing knowledge. Sadly, McDermott is a busted flush and his post-match interviews were becoming the stuff that makes you put your fingers in your ears and start acting like a child by shouting “La, la ,la, I’m not listening.”
(Better times above as Reading surge to victory against Southampton last season)
Assuming that Reading are relegated (which they will be) it is difficult to see how the club will shape up. There are positives with a good youth system in place and players such as Hunt, Robson-Kanu, Karacan, Leigertwood and Morrison are all decent Championship players who will not attract Premier League clubs, though it is likely that Pearce, Pogbreynak , Marriappa, Le Fondre and possibly Kebe, will move on to pastures new. With a good manager and new ideas, an instant return is unlikely, but certainly not impossible with some spending of the parachute money.
So, what of the managerial vacancy? Di Canio appears the favourite, an appointment that in my opinion will end in tears and ramifications; Di Canio is a great pantomime manager, a dashing Mod with a fiery desire for success, but he is also as mad as a box of demented frogs and is an accident waiting to happen. My choice would be another more composed Italian, Roberto Di Matteo or perhaps Gus Poyet, though I am not sure that Poyet would choose to leave a club on the up like Brighton; he is more than capable of achieving as much and possibly more than he could at Reading. If we get Neil Warnock, I’m off to watch Basingstoke Town.
Finally and critically, what of the finances? Is Anton Zingaravich the real deal? There has been no big spending at Reading that many anticipated, an apparent £10 million transfer window attempt at Gylfi Siggurdson being the only rumour with any substance; all the pre-season gossip surrounding Wifred Zaha, Charlie Austin, Jermaine Defoe and Jordan Rhodes came to nothing and we ended up with mediocrity in the form of Gunter and McCleary along with the pitiful, some might say desperate signings from any lower league club we knocked out of the FA Cup. The “Reading Way” rapidly became the “Relegation Way.”
Reading fans owe huge gratitude for the good times that McDermott gave us; last season was a fantastic time to be a Royals supporter. However, his tactics have become flawed, one dimensional and painful on the eye. Football, courtesy of Barcelona and Spain, is moving on, teams like Swansea are entertaining and effective yet they have no more money to spend than Reading. The Royals have become neither effective nor entertaining, that’s the brutal truth and that’s why sentiment has to be replaced by realism.
As one Reading fan said on the unofficial web page HobNob Anyone ; “Watching Reading going into a game is the equivalent of using Spitfires in the Gulf War because they were effective in the Battle of Britain.”
Sadly, he was quite correct; Brian McDermott was trying to shoot down cruise missiles in a bi-plane.