Even Puskas and Pele haven’t prevented another Reading struggle – Interview
Tuesday, 22nd Oct 2019 08:59 by Clive Whittingham
Reading were supposedly under a ‘soft’ transfer embargo over the summer, but suddenly splashed £10m on two strikers at the end of the window. It hasn’t been enough to prevent another poor start and change of manager though, as Simeon Pickup explains.
Jose Gomes seemed a really left field choice for Reading last season, but the fans seemed to take to him and his style. How did you assess the work he did last season first of all?
Even before he came in, he was seemingly written off by most fans. A very left-field choice, no-one had heard of him before he was linked with the job and his managerial record (in Hungary, Saudi Arabia and Portugal) had nothing in it to suggest that he’d be a success at Reading. However, he almost immediately impressed with an engaging, confident first interview with the club right after being announced as manager a few days before Christmas.
From then on in, he had two clear objectives: keep the team in the Championship and try to restore the connection between the fans and team - that had broken down badly in Jaap Stam’s second season and throughout Paul Clement’s time in charge. It wasn’t just that the football and results were bad, but the team felt badly out of touch by the time Gomes arrived in late 2018.
On both those objectives, he unequivocally succeeded. Reading didn’t stay up by that much in the end, with the relegation race going down to the last few games, but Gomes did still do enough to keep us up. A key part of that was energising the team and fans, leading to some memorable moments such as a last-minute wins over relegation rivals Ipswich Town (away) and Wigan Athletic (home).
However, his critics will fairly point out that there wasn’t a huge upturn in results after his arrival, especially given that he had half of the season to work with and five quality loanees in January.
A weird summer where for a while there were stories of a soft transfer embargo, then suddenly you went mad spending at the end, including two big money strikers, what did you make of it all? How did you assess the business done?
That probably goes down as our most bizarre transfer window in quite some time. Going into the summer, we all knew that Reading had to get rid of players first if they were to bring any in, with the club carrying a bloated wage bill after years of mismanagement. Otherwise we risked a points deduction that could prove fatal to our Championship survival.
That was dialled up a notch a while into the summer when it emerged that Reading were under a ‘soft transfer embargo’ that essentially meant ‘one out, one in’. It was apparently a pre-emptive move from the EFL to help make sure we didn’t breach FFP.
What exactly changed still hasn’t gone public, but we do know that Reading were inventive with their finances (paying for Puscas and Lucas Joao in instalments for example) and reportedly had the help of one Kia Joorabchian. (What could possible go wrong – ed).
On the business itself, we did well to add some real first-team quality throughout the side. It’s exactly what we needed going into the window, so from that point of view it’s a good job well done. However, that business happened very late in the window, meaning that a lot of those first-team signings didn’t get a pre-season with us.
Ins: George Puskas, 23, CF, Inter, £7.2m >>> Lucas Joao, 25, CF, Sheff Wed, £4.8m >>> Rafael, 29, GK, Sampdoria, Free >>> Michael Morrison, 31, CB, Birmingham, Free >>> Charlie Adam 33, CM, Stoke, Free >>> Matt Miazga, 24, CB, Chelsea, Loan >>> João Virgínia, 19, GK, Everton, Loan >>> Pele, 27, DM, Monaco, Loan >>> Ovie Ejaria, 21, CM, Liverpool, Loan >>> Lucas Boye, 23, CF, Torino, Loan
Outs: Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, 27, CF, Millwall, £765k >>> Joey van den Berg, 33, CM, NEC Nijmegen, Free >>> Anssi Jaakkola, 32, GK, Bristol Rovers, Free >>> Andrija Novakovich, 23, CF, Frosinone (Italy), Free >>> Liam Kelly, 23, AM, Feyenoord, Free >>> Marc McNulty, CF, Sunderland, Loan >>> Adrian Popa 31, RW, FCSB (Romania), Loan >>> Jordan Holsgrove, 19, CM, Balearas (Spain), Loan >>> Tennai Watson 19, RB, Coventry, Loan >>> Sam Smith, 21, CF, Cambridge, Loan >>> Modou Barrow, 26, LW, Denizlispor (Turkey), Loan >>> George Legg, 23, GK, Released >>> Danzell Gravenberch, 25, CB, Top OSS (Netherlands), Free >>> Paul McShane, 33, CB, Rochdale, Free >>> John O’Shea, 38, CB, Retired >>> David Meyler, 30, CM, Retired >>> Callum Harriott, 25, LW, Released
Couple of big wins at the start, you looked great against Cardiff, but it’s been on the slide since – how do you assess your start to the season and why has it gone wrong in recent games?
In the first two games (Sheffield Wednesday at home, 3-1 loss, Hull City away, 2-1 loss) we were still largely working with the pre-signings squad - lots of young players for the most part, and giving a few debuts in the second game, and we conceded goals far too easily.
However, Gomes switched Reading around to solidify the team defensively. We started playing 3-5-2 at that point and we went on a bit of a run, conceding only once from open play (a deflected goal) until the international break. We were still certainly a work in progress, but having that more solid setup made us much harder to beat, while creative outlets Ovie Ejaria and John Swift really started to shine.
After that though, teams started to work us out, making our new formation much less effective - particularly in possession, but also in transitions with the wingbacks pushing so high that the back three was frequently left exposed. We also started to let stupid defensive errors creep into our game, which largely coincided with an injury to Matt Miazga (since returned) that meant the back three/five was disrupted.
Nonetheless, bar a few occasions, we kept creating chances really well - the issue was us being unable to take them. 1-0 away defeats to Middlesbrough and Bristol City were particularly frustrating, with Reading spurning enough chances to win the game on each occasion. George Puscas has been a main culprit here, having missed at least half a dozen golden chances in his Reading career so far.
I thought it was a matter of time until we clicked and results started to turn - Gomes really needed to settle on one formation and stick with it. But the owners weren’t so patient and decided to give him the boot, eventually settling on sporting director Mark Bowen as his replacement.
What’s the general consensus on the decision to sack Gomes?
We ran a Twitter poll on The Tilehurst End when Gomes was sacked, and it came back with around 75% of people being against the decision to get rid of him. For any manager being kicked out of a job, that’s a huge level of dissent, let alone for someone who’d overseen Reading being in the bottom three by the time he was booted.
Generally speaking, the impression was that he hadn’t been given enough time. Gomes only got around 10 months in the job, during which time he helped keep us up. Although the start to the season has been poor, Reading fans are still sick of the club constantly having to change manager, with only two of our last six seasons not featuring a managerial change.
Gomes was also very popular with the fans. He connected with us really well, going out of his way to make it clear that he appreciated the supporters. That kind of thing can be brushed off quite easily, but given the deep-set apathy that had built up over the last few years, it was really refreshing to have a manager like Gomes. In some ways he felt like a throwback to better days when the fanbase felt a lot more connected to the team in general.
League results so far…
QPR obviously have big history with Mark Bowen, Mark Hughes and Kia Joorabchian. Bowen charged with finding a new manager has gone for himself having presumably led on the Gomes sacking. What on earth do you make of that? What’s the mood like among the fans?
When the appointment was announced, it was met with wide-scale derision. As you mention, the impression from many was that Bowen had essentially been supposed to lead the search for a new manager, but had instead settled on himself. Given that he was succeeding a popular manager, it did feel as if Gomes had been unfairly booted out in a power grab.
In fairness though, that’s almost certainly not the case. As Bowen said in his first press conference, he wouldn’t have had the unilateral authority to either sack Gomes or appoint himself. His version is that he was looking for a candidate after Gomes went, and after a few days was asked by the owner to take the job on so that there wouldn’t be too much upheaval.
I don’t necessarily disbelieve that, but I do still have nagging doubts about the appointment. Bowen’s desire in the summer to become Swansea City manager was widely known, and I don’t really believe that his managerial ambitions vanished as soon as he was appointed as sporting director at Reading in August. My suspicion is that this appointment has been on the cards to some extent for quite some time, perhaps even as far back as the Spring when he was brought in as a technical advisor.
As for Joorabchian, he’s reportedly been very involved with Reading’s transfers in recent years, particularly in 2015/16 when we brought in a string of high-profile loanees. That happened again in January with five loanees playing a big part in keeping us up, and yet again in the summer when Joorabchian was reportedly influential in our late splurge.
Stand out players and weak links in the side?
John Swift and Ovie Ejaria are, on their day, two of the better creative midfielders in the division. Swift is more of an orchestrator, getting on the ball and knocking passes around - he’s probably the only player in our squad available on Tuesday who can play accurate crossfield passes and unlock a defence. Check out the video of his rabona assist at Wolves in the League Cup for evidence. However, he’s also inconsistent, so it depends which Swift turns up.
Ejaria on the other hand loves to run at defenders - he’s one of the most frequent dribblers of the ball in the Championship this season. He’s got a fantastic close control and ability to beat defenders, especially in tight spaces when you think he’ll inevitably be crowded out. He does need to be more productive in the final third though, which is perhaps mainly down to decision making. Still only 21, he’ll improve a lot.
Realistic hopes and expectations for the rest of the season? I mean, I’d be worried having Bowen in charge of anything, but how do you see this going?
I’m confident we’ll stay up, as we do have a strong squad, but anything beyond that depends on how good a manager Bowen turns out to be, simply put. I wasn’t overly impressed with his tactics in the win over Preston North End, as we were much too direct and didn’t use possession well enough. That may however not prove to be representative of him going forwards. Ask me again later in the season.
The Twitter @TheTilehurstEnd, @SimFromBucks, @loftforwords
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