At the time the majority of Reading fans were happy with the sacking of Brendan Rodgers but will we look back on that decision and regret short-termism.
It’s been nearly 3 years since the man with the big watch, or Bodgers, (to some fans) was sacked by Sir John. Since then Rodgers has got a team promoted to the Premier League, cemented their place in the Premier League and has been made manager of one of the biggest clubs in the world. But when he was Reading manager his tenure was regarded as a failure by most fans and is largely disregarded by pundits when they cover him with praise about the ‘great job that he did at Swansea.’ Pundits rarely mention the years of hard work put in by Roberto Martinez and continued by Paulo Sousa to put in the foundations of a passing game before Rodgers took over at Swansea. Having said all of this, he did a great job in one of the most competitive leagues in the world with Swansea and his team demolished us in the first half of the play-off final.
The obvious conclusion that most fans took from the failure of Rodgers' reign was the fact he tried to play a new style of football. This new style was so different from the Steve Coppell (traditional British 4-4-2, high tempo, two proper wingers) style that Reading didn’t have the players with the right qualities to be able to play the tiki-taka style that Rodgers wanted to implement. He did bring in new players to implement this style - Howard, Mills, McAnuff, Bertrand, Rasiak, O’Dea and Cummings. But even with bringing in over half a team he still didn’t manage to achieve success through implementing his style on a squad so used to one style of play. This led to many fans being frustrated as the players would pass the ball sideways and backwards, keeping possession but not creating many chances and not taking the few that were created. Even though possession was high, results were hard to come by. With only 21 points from 21 games (five wins, six draws and ten losses) Reading were sat 21st in the league, only three points clear of the relegation zone. This led to Sir John surprisingly sacking Rodgers on 16th December - surprisingly, as Sir John in his time as chairman has backed his managers well and supported them for a long time (some would argue too long). The appointment of Brian McDermott as caretaker manager was claimed by many to be a cheap option after the large compensation paid to Watford for Rodgers and the seven different players brought in by Rodgers.
It was no surprise when McDermott reverted to the more traditional style of football that the squad where used to, we made our way up the league. Interestingly we started by playing 4-4-2 and successfully changed to 4-2-3-1, but overall it was still a more direct, high-paced style of football. In the rest of the 2009/10 season we climbed up the league table slowly but although our late run wasn’t good enough to make the play-offs, the high-tempo direct style of play was back. At the beginning of 2010/11 the sale of Sigurdsson in August led to Reading changing back to a more traditional 4-4-2. With the focus on Shane Long's work ethic and the traditional Coppell style of play, we managed to get to the play-off final, against Rodgers' Swansea, who passed us off the pitch in yet another play-off final defeat for Reading. One day I hope to witness Reading win a play-off final. In the following season (2011/12), the direct style and 4-4-2 formation, with the added quality of Jason Roberts, led to Reading being crowned champions! This included a winning run from the end of January, winning 15 out of 17 games, the likes of which Reading fans will probably never see again. The fans’ elation at promotion was tempered by worries about the quality of the squad, but most felt confident that McDermott would add to it.
The addition of Danny Guthrie led many fans to believe that potentially McDermott would be able to change our style of play to a shorter passing game when needed. But through failing to adapt to the direct style of play, falling out with McDermott and now injury, Guthrie’s appearances have been limited. Also the fans that thought McDermott would use Guthrie to vary the team's style of play were sadly wrong, as McDermott instead expected Guthrie to adapt to our direct style. We’ve now played 13 games of the Premier League season and have managed one win, six draws and six losses, with many complaining that McDermott’s direct style is outdated and we need to keep the ball more. Not many complained when we were successful playing this style, and now we’re struggling - which many promoted teams realistically do - everyone is questioning our style of play. Should we have stuck with Rodgers, who would’ve modernised our style of play? We might have been relegated to League One or survived in the Championship that season but in the long term would we have had a better quality of football to watch, and also potentially a better chance of survival in the top flight? Obviously this is all conjecture and we’ll never know. It’s an interesting thought as we hounded out a manager who was trying to change the playing style of the club, but now many fans want to hound out another manager for implementing the style that they wanted to return to three years ago.
Obviously we have two very juxtaposed styles of play and a hybrid can be achieved, but with the limited resources available to McDermott the direct style of play that Stoke and Bolton both successfully adopted recently in surviving the Premier League is an obvious route to survival. Also Celtic’s 16.4% possession but success in a recent Champions League match against Barcelona clearly shows you can be successful playing a low-possession style of football. This is an isolated performance in a cup competition and I’m not convinced that you can play this style successfully within a division week-in week-out at the highest level. I don’t think we can change our style of play now, as this will take a long time and we don’t have that time in the Premier League. This is why I think we have reverted to the basics and McDermott is hoping we can survive and slowly improve over time. The other more realistic reality is we’ll get relegated, stick with McDermott and hope that he’ll learn from this experience and we’ll come back better prepared with more variety of play. We could change manager now but I’m not convinced if would improve our current situation. It could, given the January transfer window, but that depends on a lot of funds being made available. Were we right to sack Rodgers? Probably, but long-term we could regret not taking the opportunity to change the culture and the style of play of the club.