Friday, July 19, 2024

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Royals Flushed?

Dai Yongge watching Reading FC

As they continue to stare down the barrel of an uncertain future, just how did Reading find themselves in such rapid a freefall? A third EFL- imposed points deduction in as many seasons, for financial irregularities linked to failure to pay both players and staff on time, comes against the backdrop of owner Dai Yongge's already disastrous stewardship which threatens to plumb new depths. The Sell Before We Dai supporters' group is in no doubt that his stepping aside is the only way to safeguard the future of the club. 


Former chairman John Madejski's decision to step aside in May of 2012, having accepted a takeover bid by Thames Sports Investments- actually a Russian consortium headed by Anton Zingarevich, son of multi-billionaire Boris- after they paid £40 million for a 51 per cent controlling stake, could conceivably be said to herald the start of the rot setting in.

Though the then-new owner, by most accounts, had little interest in the actual day to day running of the club, it was he who had the final say in the decision to sack manager Brian McDermott in the March of the following year. Coming after just five Premier League wins all season up to that point, having kicked off 2012-13 with no wins until Everton visited on November 17th, two goals from Adam Le Fondre sealing a comeback after Steven Naismith had opened the scoring for the visitors in just the tenth minute.

The opening ten games of what would prove to be their final season in the top flight would yield just six points, kicking off with a stalemate against Stoke as Le Fondre opened his account with a last minute penalty. A relatively short trip to Chelsea, the following weekend, ended with Roman Abramovich's expensively assembled hosts dismantling the visitors, two goals in four minutes from Danny Guthrie and Pavel Pogrebnyak being mere consolations.


Just the two goals would separate the sides when Spurs made a short hop down to the Thames Valley, as a last-kick Hal Robson-Kanu penalty salvaged a little pride. Two valuable early points then came via draws with Newcastle and Swansea, as future Royals caretaker manager Noel Hunt helped himself to a goal in each.

A narrow reverse to Liverpool followed, now led by Brendan Rodgers, the man who had previously returned to take the Reading reins via a first senior managerial role at Watford  (having spent three years as a reserve player at their former Elm Park home). Though his time in the dugout lasted mere months and ended with them dangling over the precipice of relegation from the Championship…

Any talk of slipping back down to that level under McDermott was at least on hold following a run of three points from three games as 3-3, 1-1 and 0-0 draws were recorded against Fulham, QPR and Norwich respectively. However, much of the following month served as a herald of what was to come as the Royals looked flushed until a 1-0 win in front of the Madejski Stadium crowd against West Ham on December 29th, Pogrebnyak on the mark to stem the tide.

Ultimately that was to be as good as it got prior to the curtain falling on their stay in the top flight, just three more wins from New Year's Day 2013 up to the final day on May 19th ensuring they went down with something of a whimper. McDermott's easing aside in favour of Nigel Adkins on March 26th hardly inspiring a turnaround, his first game away at Arsenal saw his new charges fall to a 4-1 defeat to the Gunners.


The administrators circled in the immediate aftermath of their failure to return to the top division at the first attempt, as marquee signings Wayne Bridge and Royston Drenthe couldn't help their new team-mates up via the play-offs, Brighton snaffling the coveted spot as Adkins' first full campaign in charge ended with a seventh placed finish.

He wouldn't see out a second, after a 6-1 mauling at Birmingham in December 2014 convinced the Thai consortium who had stepped in post-Zingarevich that enough was enough. Steve Clarke was given the job of steadying things and eventually staved off the threat of a further fall into League One, with an unlikely FA Cup run, ending in a semi-final defeat by Arsenal, a temporary relief from the clouds gathering behind the scenes. 

Clarke bit the bullet just a year after taking over, Brian McDermott persuaded to return and take over in his stead until Jaap Stam's appointment in June of 2016. The former Manchester United man led them to those previously elusive play-offs, although they would lose on penalties to Huddersfield in something of a last dance with success before the music stopped, prior to Dai's acquisition of the club alongside his sister and business partner Dai Xuili the following year.

Following a run of nine games without a win Stam resigned in March 2018, Paul Clement took over and just about did enough to paper over the comparative cracks to steer them to 20th place and keep them up by just three points. His eventual successor José Gomes was no improvement as he went on to achieve exactly the same! Not until ex-Chicago Fire gaffer Velkjo Paunović arrived would there be any sign of the slump halting, with another seventh placed finish, to just miss out on the Championship play-offs, ending his first campaign in charge.

November 7th 2021 brought with it a six point deduction for breaching EFL profit and sustainability rules, and accepting another such penalty around three years later undoubtedly contributed to the axe falling on their time in the Championship. Without it they'd have secured fifty points, enough to escape the chop. As is, though, surely it remains a case of live and let Dai (go)?!

Let us hope that the sort of “credible offer of interest” the man himself claims to be open to materialises soon. The likes of Tom McIntyre and Nelson Abbey having departed in this January's transfer window to ease the cash flow problems and indeed a little of the long-term pain for those fed up of watching their club lurch from bad to worse under ownership whose previous forays, at Beijing Renhe in their homeland and KSV Roeselare of Belgium, spelt disaster as both went to the wall. The men from the Madejski are surely desperate to avoid a similarly grim fate and deserve much better.

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