Reading chairman John Madejski (right) with owner Anton Zingarevich (left) in the stands (PA Photos)
It may not seem that much of a surprise to see Brian McDermott sacked by the owners of the second-bottom Premier League side. After all, there’s a lot at stake.
Let’s not underestimate the value of staying in the Premier League. With the new TV deal set to kick in next season, staying up will benefit the likes of Reading, Queen’s Park Rangers and Wigan – the current bottom three – to the tune of around £60 million.
For any club that is invaluable revenue, but for Reading it’s game changing.
But for all a talented British manager’s motivational skills and tactical acumen, that can only be secured by a Premier League quality playing squad.
Obviously a coach enhances the group to varying degrees – and in some cases he can diminish the team’s capabilities – but ultimately you are not going to stay in the Premier League with a lower-mid-table Championship squad.
None of the teams that have stayed up in recent seasons have had personnel as weak – throughout the starting XI – as Reading, who are a side that simply should not have been promoted.
Even Blackpool – marshalled by the inimitable Ian Holloway – had a far more capable playing staff than this Reading side, who rode a fantastic run and the nerves of others to somehow get promotion last season.
That Reading were in the hunt as far as the play-off final the previous campaign should alone be testament to Brian McDermott’s ability. Looking through the squad list and you find the stand-out players to be Jimmy Kebe, Adrian Mariappa and Pavel Pogrebnyak, the latter two brought in this season and – while handy to an extent – not remotely of the required ability to inspire survival.
Unless Anton ZIngarevich and Sir John Madejski had really pushed out the boat transfers-wise in the summer and January, there could not have been any expectation other than consolidation, the gaining of experience and a fun ride before a return to the second tier, and a renewed effort to regain promotion.
There was no such boat-pushing. The free transfer signing on hugely inflated wages of average Russia striker Pogrebnyak was greeted with much fanfare by the Royals’ hierarchy. It was embarrassing – the Pog had performed ably for a couple of months at Fulham, before degenerating into the frustrating inconsistency previously displayed for several seasons at Stuttgart.
There is an element of delusion about Zingarevich, in particular. As ED mentioned, Reading were over-achieving as a top-six Championship side in McDermott’s first full season, and the incredible surge to promotion during the second half of last season was by any estimation a freak run.
The powerful finances of QPR’s owners or the attractive grandiosity of Wigan’s canny transfer operators do not exist in Berkshire. There does not even appear to be the world-class development strategy of the likes of Swansea – who beat Reading in that play-off final – or Southampton, who have a long-game that sadly required an experienced Latin boss.
This was a Blackpool and, like Holloway’s Tangerines, it was all about raising the bar and expectation for where the club should be operating for the next Championship season.
For QPR, it is obviously survive-or-bust, and their borderline crazy owners have the finances to back it up: if West London’s third finest go down, there is a wage bill of Malaga-esque proportions to field, a wage bill the generous parachute payments for relegated sides cannot compensate for. Indeed, QPR’s wage bill increase this season alone was £29m – the increase, not the overall spend which is more than double that at current estimations.
Those parachute payments are £24m, a tidy sum in itself for a club like Reading.
And this is where Zingarevich’s decision falls to pieces – whatever Reading do, they will not and cannot stay up. As explained, the players are too poor and there is no one game-changer who could possibly fire them to safety late in the season. They could bring in Jose Mourinho and they would still go down.
The decision to release McDermott is weak by any token, but made over a month after the transfer window has shut makes it an incredibly poor and frankly stupid one.
What on earth can the new man do? He can’t even buy any players. If it’s the hilariously unstable Paolo Di Canio, as is being strongly proposed at the time of writing, he will ostracise half the playing squad, fist-fight an official and publicly curse the owners for good measure, ensuring that the club are in a shambolic state on their relegation.
The best-case scenario is that Reading will return to the Championship less better off financially than had they retained McDermott – they’ve had to pay him off, and will have to entice a new coach, this increasing their overall outlay by a few more million quid.
Many football club owners are fine business people, but many fine business people make lousy club owners.
Football is not like a standard, consumer-based business – where throwing money at problems often yields solutions, and where single management changes can inspire enough in the short-term to shepherd through a restructuring programme.
Football has an additional variable than cannot be changed at will – the playing squad. In any other business you can think short-term at times, and allow instinct to guide management changes. But in any other business you can release under-performing or ill-trained staff members at will, bringing in new personnel at whichever time you see fit, and even employ freelance or temporary staff to cover weakened areas.
This kind of willy-nilly managerial chopping and changing would be all very well if the next coach could sign benchwarmers like Brad Friedel, Mario Gomez or blinking Kaka on a short-term, two-month contract for the final run of the season, but he can’t. He will have to make do with – and no offence intended – Hal Robson-Kanu and Jem Karacan.
ED will never be able to understand flamboyant megalomaniacs or penny-pinching abacus counters who fail to grasp the parameters of the business they have entered, who fail to understand that stability and vision is by far the greatest virtue a club can have (take a bow Huw Jenkins, Dave Whelan and Mohamed Al-Fayed).
But maybe that’s why ED is ED, and not a yacht-crashing Azeri oligarch.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"I saw Leo down emotionally, but who am I to ask. In the day to day I see him normal. But I'm not hypocritical, I don’t cover things. It is clear that in recent games he has been low emotionally. Why? I do not know, I don’t plan to find out. I just want to know what you're interested in sharing. And if someone is not interested in sharing his life or what he goes through: Who am I to ask?” Barcelona full-back Dani Alves gets all Emo while analysing Lionel Messi’s ‘dip’ in form, a ‘dip’ that has seen him score 17 goals in 17 games, extending his own record. It’s tough at the top.
The ultimate bonkers chairman has to be Palermo’s Maurizio Zamparini, who had a top-four side a few years back but is utterly committed to getting his club relegated by firing someone every time they lose a game. You get the impression he harbours a secret desire to nominate a horse as senator, and lives out his Caligula fantasy through the relatively sterile environment of football. Anyway, he has sacked Gian Piero Gasperini for the god-knows-how-many time, meaning the pink-clad Southerners may well actually slide down to what is now unofficially known as Divisione Pro Bribe.
The world stopped for Manchester United’s defeat to Real Madrid last week, but it started again, and an arguably equally big clash takes place tonight – as Barcelona seek to overhaul Milan’s 2-0 advantage in the second leg of their Champions League last 16 clash tonight. There is nothing to suggest Barca cannot do it.
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