“This is a business; you can’t look at it in any other way.”
These were the words of Anton Zingarevich in August of last year, just a couple of months after taking over as the owner of Reading Football Club.
On Monday, he took the “hardest decision” of his life when sacking manager Brian McDermott, leaving the club one off the bottom of the English Premier League table, with nine games of the season remaining.
Some would describe it as a brave call; others have suggested a mixture of naivety and sheer stupidity; but it’s his party, and the deed is done. I am reminded of the situation at Wolverhampton Wanderers last season, when they dispensed with the services of manager Mick McCarthy before the end of the season. The club was relegated anyway, and is now struggling for survival in the second tier of English football.
Relegation will cost Reading FC somewhere in the region of £60 million, and it may be fair to suggest that a fraction of that would have been enough to keep the club in English football’s top flight, were it to have been spent wisely in the summer.
In McDermott’s own words in December last year: “In the summer time we didn’t really invest; possibly we should have done more.” The club brought in two defenders in the close season, at a cost of £5 million, and that was about it until January 2013. At the start of this campaign, most pundits looked at the Reading squad and knew they would struggle.
The manager, as always, takes responsibility, but many people would contend that McDermott did the best that he could with such limited resources. And this is not a case of changing horses in midstream – the season is too far along. Reading now doesn’t even have a mount, and are in serious danger of getting swept away by the current.
At this stage in the season, for the clubs battling against relegation, it’s all about momentum, and as much about psychology and belief as it is about actual talent.
Reading have lost their last four league games on the bounce, and defeat last weekend, at home, against relegation rivals Aston Villa must have been the bitterest of pills to swallow. Confidence in the camp will be at an all-time low, and the prospect of facing Manchester United and Arsenal, both away, in their next two games, isn’t likely to relieve the tension.
There can be no doubting Reading’s fighting spirit under McDermott. They have scored more goals in the last 15 minutes of games than any other team in the league, and their late win against Sunderland in early February, along with their miraculous 3-2 win over West Bromwich Albion (they were 2-0 down with eight minutes to play), as well as the point they grabbed against Chelsea (also 2-0 down, this time with only three minutes remaining) are testament to the never-say-die attitude at the club.
The question is; will that spirit be heading out the door along with their former manager?
Eamonn Dolan (the club’s academy coach) will take the reins this weekend at Old Trafford, after which there will be a two week break in the league programme. It’s going to be a brave man who steps into the breach and assumes control of a team that could be bottom of the table, with eight games of a troubled campaign remaining.
No new appointment is imminent, according to the club, but the decision to sack McDermott has been made nevertheless. It may well have been a tough decision made by Reading’s billionaire owner, and the question everyone will be asking at the end of the season will probably be, ‘at what cost?’
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