by Neill Rees
Picture the scene if you will and it will likely resonate with you. Your team has little spirit, soul or purpose. It is barely competitive and results do not come. The fans would most likely turn on their team, resulting in the time-honoured “chorus of boos” that often occurs in sport, yes? You would think so.
Imagine another scenario where the same team has changed almost every aspect in the following summer – a new manager, 11 new signings, renewed purpose and drive from the owners and most of all a new style of football. Gone is a rather woeful and baseless diamond formation and in its place comes a progressive and exciting Dutch style 4-3-3.
Now, riddle me this: which one of these scenarios would deliver more disdain from the certain quarters of the faithful? Normally, you’d be bang on – it’s the system that has failed and did not deliver, but no, it’s the latter. However, I won’t kid on and say that this view is entirely universal.
The #readingfc hashtag has had hot water poured over it in recent weeks discussing the merits of booing or not to boo. The view from some is that the new system is dull with too many passes among the defence and goalkeeper, such is the determination from the manager, Jaap Stam, not to lose the ball.
The Dutch philosophy while not quite ‘Total Football’ is a very much new to fans of Reading. A lot of our previous successes (quite some time ago at that) were via the trusty 4-4-2 and that’s how some like it.
But we now know that football moves on; three at the back, wing backs, false nines, ‘number 10’s’, registas, trequartistas etc and while everything has its cycles, 4-4-2 is about as fashionable as flares right now.
The passing system that Reading now deploys is not new, but it’s new to the fans. We have seen opposition teams pass us by and pass us to death in recent times. Often the boots have been on the other feet where we’ve been totally outplayed by teams who are comfortable with the ball at their feet.
For many fans, it’s a breath of fresh air to see players being asked to show their technical ability and tactical nous rather than being shoved into an arbitrary formation with no real purpose behind it and expect to get results.
But yet, for some, possession football is just not for them. The adage that if the opposition can’t have the ball then you, in theory, can’t lose is somehow looked down upon, versus the system or systems that patently did not work previously. It’s a difficult square to circle, especially when in comparison, we’re in a much better place results wise also.
The further counter-argument to the disgruntlement is that the squad is very much in learning mode also. With all the new signings from all across Europe adapting as well as a new way of playing, it’s admirable that Reading are gelling rather well and achieving better results in the process. Apart from a 4-1 loss to Newcastle, generally we’re doing alright.
A lot of fans would take a win by almost any means over playing pretty patterns endlessly, we can all subscribe to that, but when the manager (and new to management to boot) has clearly stated that possession football is how Reading are going to play, who would argue with a character like Jaap Stam? Would you?
Obviously the fans do not have to face the wrath of Stam for not obeying orders to keep the ball unless a timely hoof is the only option, but for some the change is too hard to adjust to, it’s so divorced from what Reading fans have previously seen.
Fans throughout are known to be fickle, unkind, impatient and often hypocritical, that has always been our preserve. What we see, we may never fully understand as we have never or very rarely been professional footballers, but when you see a team steadfastly doing what it has been instructed to do and it also bears fruit, then who can argue with that?