The reaction from Reading supporters to the lack of business conducted by the club on deadline day has been pronounced with many calling into question the club’s ambition – especially in comparison to the others vying for promotion – while the official @ReadingFC twitter feed has come in for particularly strident criticism.
However, these past few days were always going to be about lessening the wage bill at the Madejski Stadium and player sales were always going to be the priority.
In that, Director of Football Nicky Hammond has only been partially successful of course. Pavel Pogrebnyak was surely the main person the club were looking to move on given his paltry return of goals for the club, wages variously estimated at between £35,000 and £65,000 a week and diminishing confidence that has seen the Russian forced to step aside for the equally unconvincing Nick Blackman so far this term.
But a generally miserable Premier League campaign that underlined how far Reading were out of their depth seriously damaged the prospects for personnel to move on and ‘The Pog’, for all his hard work and good attitude, was never going to be an easy guy to shift.
There is also the catastrophe of the 6-0 defeat to Peterborough in the League Cup a week ago to take into account. That detonated the chances of many to find new homes – scouts will have been there and they won’t have liked what they saw, while Nigel Adkins’ anger could well have been down to impatience at the knowledge he would now find it harder to find buyers for the likes of Kaspars Gorkšs and Adam Federici as much as the result.
In the end, Aidy Mariappa is one who has found a new home – signing for Crystal Palace for an undisclosed fee although it’s reasonable to suggest that the Berkshire club collected roughly the same amount of money for the defender as they did a year ago when procuring his services from Watford.
The wailing and gnashing of teeth on the Reading message boards has been fierce – but although Mariappa had a better season than any of his central defensive confreres, his lack of inches and occasional positional lapses cast heavy doubt on his ability to be a Premier League player if you are being generous. Yes – he could have done a worthy job in the Championship but the Posh disaster coupled with a clean sheet for first choices Alex Pearce and Sean Morrison in the win at Yeovil sealed the need for a move.
With agents ever hovering, it’s likely the Jamaican international will have agitated to depart too – and ditto Jimmy Kébé. The Malian has been one of my favourite players of recent years but a fee quoted by a range of sources of between £750,000 and £2 million is good business for a player who has suffered from injury for most of 2013. Rumours are circulating that Kébé’s loyalty to previous manager Brian McDermott has left him unhappy at the Mad Stad ever since Nigel Adkins took charge. He’s had a great five years at the club but the primary emotion should be to wish him well.
Earlier in the window, Reading were quick to bolster the squad with the additions of Royston Drenthe, Danny Williams and Wayne Bridge. None will have come cheap of course and the wages for all three will have made a significant dent in Reading’s summer budget.
I should also point out – tentatively – that all three look to be potentially smart additions to the squad so far. Bridge is a proven left back – not only as an international, but with a full season behind him for Brighton at this level last year – while Drenthe has already shown how he can weave magic in spurts and Williams has provided a couple of very powerful looking performances from the bench. With Jem Karacan and Danny Guthrie also starting 2003-14 well, I’m not sure that a rumoured deal for free agent Momo Sissoko should be a priority either.
Reading don’t need a goalkeeper – Alex McCarthy has been in outstanding form and is on Roy Hodgson’s radar to boot. Nor do they need a full back – I’m not convinced at all by Chris Gunter but Sean Cummings has a Championship winning medal on his CV and Stephen Kelly is solidity personified.
In wide areas, they have captain Jobi McAnuff – criminally underrated by the fans – Garath McCleary Hal Robson-Kanu and Drenthe while up front Adam Le Fondre continues to be a reliable source of goals.
If this latter is less effective when he starts games – although he did score against both Watford and Yeovil having made the XI – his presence should urge caution as far as bringing a new name in is concerned. Yes – Reading do need a supplementary striker following Noel Hunt’s departure and given the faltering form of Blackman and the travails of the aforementioned Pogrebnayk.
But the loan window is open for a month yet and it would be so much more sensible to do good business during that period, especially given we are now on an international break, than saddle the team with a panic buy on a long contract. Who is to day that rumoured target Billy Sharp won’t be available on a temporary basis for instance?
So there is method in Hammond’s strategy and refusing to be held to ransom is a sensible stance given the still large squad, the emergence of some promising players at under-21 level and the new realities of lower league football. Yes – Reading proved depressingly unequipped for the Premier League and the lack of serious spending a year ago was always going to end in relegation but financial prudence is a necessary evil in these straitened times.