Betfred Sport

Great Expectations of money and spoils to come, or a sacking waiting to happen?

Simon Grayson has been sacked by Leeds United. 165 miles away in Reading, Berkshire, the Russians have arrived. As one manager departs, who on the face of it has done nothing wrong, another one finds himself in the limelight of great expectations. Is Brian McDermott doomed? History tells us he probably is. I for one, hope this prophecy is wrong.

Leeds United were 9th in League One when Grayson took the reins at Christmas time in 2008. They currently lie 10th in the Championship, 4 points off a play-off spot and 9 from Southampton in 2nd. Hardly a disaster given the boardroom smoke and mirrors that seem to follow Ken Bates wherever he goes.

At their home match immediately prior to the 1-4 reverse against Birmingham City which saw Grayson sacked, against Ipswich on 21 January, Leeds fans demonstrated against their controversial chairman, Ken Bates, running of club. Sacking Grayson, a lifelong Leeds fan, is one rather strange way of going about answering those calls.

Ken Bates is a pair of stockings short of a full kit. Frankly and factually, Leeds is basically a yo-yo club, flitting between the first and second tiers of English football throughout the last century, save for a 18 year to flight stint under Don Revie. In relation to their recent problems, current board room wrangling’s and yo-yo history, they are doing all right.

The fans seem generally happy with on field matters and Simon Grayson was well supported as evidenced by the outcry at his sacking. Grayson has fallen foul of the great expectations of the stupid men in football who want immediate success, yesterday if possible.

Undistinguished history

Reading FC has a long and somewhat undistinguished history. The Simod Cup, which many readers won’t have heard of, let alone remember, its first “major” honour (well, I say major because it was only contested by teams from the top two tiers at a time when English clubs were barred from European competition) in 1988.

Add to that the Championship title won with a record breaking 106 points in 2006 and a smattering of third and fourth tier titles over a 141 year history. The real Reading story lies in 38 consecutive seasons in the old third tier – only broken by its relegation to the fourth in its 1971 centenary year.

But it’s not all doom and gloom for the Biscuitmen turned Royals. Since John Madejski (pictured) took over an ailing club in 1991 and appointed Mark McGhee as manager the club has generally been on an upward curve, even though it is ostensibly a selling club. The Madejski mantra is prudence, prudence, prudence.

Reading sells to survive. It lives within its means. It does not spend what it hasn’t got. It has risen from the jaws of collapse, financial ruin and a 1-3 reverse at Aldershot in the Leyland DAF Trophy 20 odd years ago to where it is now. It is an established Championship team with a multi-million pound stadium, Academy status youth system and a reputation throughout football as a well-run club.

At its helm, Brian McDermott, an unassuming, self-assured student of the game of football. He has worked under a constraint financially, a natural consequence of running a football club properly, and has done so with diligence and humility. When he took over, Reading was struggling for any kind of form. Within a month, the team was buzzing and winning with free flowing attacking football. 2 years on and the fans still sing his song more loudly than any other. He is a Royal now.

Proud of the club's achievements

The fans at Reading are pretty fair and pretty knowledgeable. They will continue to sing the McDermott song. They will continue to be proud of the club's achievements in the recent past. In the last 10 years, Reading has achieved nine top 8 finishes – one of those in the Premier League.

Their team is always in the hunt at the end of the season, be that for automatic promotion, a play-off place or in 2007 for Europe. Even in its one relegation in that period in 2008, it went down on goal difference on the last game of the season. Every year pretty much goes right until the last kick.

There is no mid table mediocrity here. It’s been a bountiful period for Reading fans and whilst no-one would argue that the quality of football can be somewhat lacking, entertainment has certainly been high. That’s what Reading fans have got used to in the last 21 years and for the most part it’s the way they like it.

In less than two weeks it has all changed. Thames Sport Investment (TSI) has arrived under the money of Anton Zingarevich. The tone is markedly different. Fans and the clubs management alike are not used to it.

Reading is synonymous with doing its business behind closed doors. There are no rumours which emanate from within the Madejski walls. It does not talk about players from other clubs. It does things properly. Having money and expectations puts at risk everything Reading FC holds dear.

'No misgivings'

But loyal Royals need not fear, there has been lots reassurance on offer. Madejski’s and Zingarevich’s sidekick Chris Samuelson have been on message. Madejski has “no misgivings about credentials. No misgivings about integrity” of the new investors. Furthermore it’s “not a crude way of throwing money around” and “they understand the Reading way”. For McDermott, an even more pleasing message that “everyone is going to keep their job”.

Samuelson says unless you are financially wise you will bankrupt a club and that “(the investors are) people of the same values”.

This is obviously good to hear but actions speak louder than words. Whilst it is great for the fans already to see some quality come in, one cannot help but feel the Grayson effect will eventually catch up with McDermott. The new money will lead to the club selling its soul and the over inflated expectations of Zingarevich will be akin to those of Ken Bates. The “on message” sound bite from the men in charge is that the ethos will not change. Yes it will, and it already has.

Great expectations are being laid. Relativity to the past is irrelevant now, as it was at Elland Road for Grayson. Irrespective of what the fans think about the manager, or how loudly they sing his name, the managerial form guide does not make particularly attractive reading for McDermott.

No one needs reminding of what happened to Micky Adams when expectations at Fullham rose about 15 years ago. He won the league and was then sacked, to be replaced by big gun Kevin Keegan. QPR have just received a financial boost at a time when Neil Warnock was doing a great job. He was sacked and replaced with Mark Hughes.

No win situation

No wonder McDermott initially sounded downbeat at his first post investment interview. He is in a no win situation. The new owners are in this to establish Reading in the way the likes of Fulham have established themselves in the last decade. Most fans think the club can achieve its ambition but to the real winners in this game go not the spoils. They just get the sack. The expectation will be promotion next season (if it’s not for this season already). Even if he succeeds, McDermott may well find himself on the dole queue.

He is not helping himself. In his weekly press conference ahead of the game at Doncaster and just after the window closed he named four players – Wayne Bridge, Craig MacKail-Smith, Nicky Maynard and Keith Andrews, that ended up elsewhere or staying put. All players with high wage expectations and/or transfer fees well outside of Reading’s traditional league. So what happened to the same ethos?

What happened about doing business quietly? McDermott was then quick to talk up the talent he already has at the club but the truth is already out there – money talks and its already poisoning the old Reading way. The ethos that the outgoing Chairman claims he is so keen to preserve is quickly being forgotten.

From a fans perspective, I have my fingers crossed that McDermott handles this well and goes on to have a long and successful career ahead of him at Reading. I hope these investors are true to their words and that they do not bankrupt the Club.

I hope the fans keep their feet on the ground too. Madejski, who is staying on as chairman for at least two years, says this is not a time for fantasy football. For Reading, signing four players in this transfer window and talking openly about four others, it already is. It has started so McDermott had better watch out.

By Graham Luckett

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