Stiff up­per lip Roy­als inch­ing way back

The Football League Paper - - MARATHON BET - Chris Dunlavy

SOME clubs wear their trou­bles on their sleeve. Sparsely pop­u­lated team sheets. 8-0 home hid­ings. Me­dia bans and sup­porter protests. Their pain is played out in pub­lic, their strife aired like a scrap­ping fam­ily on Jeremy Kyle.

So give Read­ing credit for suf­fer­ing with dig­nity. The Roy­als – who this week re­placed Nigel Ad­kins with Steve Clarke – are the Cham­pi­onship’s quiet strug­glers.

Crip­pled by the false prom­ises of for­mer owner An­ton Zin­gare­vich, they evaded ad­min­is­tra­tion only by a whisker in the sum­mer. But for the shot­gun sale of Adam Le Fon­dre to Cardiff, the cof­fers truly would have run dry.

And whilst the Berk­shire club now have new Thai own­ers and an el­e­ment of sta­bil­ity, the legacy of Zin­gare­vich and his plas­tic em­pire con­tin­ues to cast a shadow.

Sup­pos­edly a bil­lion­aire, the 29-year-old Rus­sian was noth­ing more than a rich man’s son de­pen­dent on hand­outs. His old man wasted lit­tle time in recog­nis­ing foot­ball as a loss-mak­ing ex­er­cise and swiftly pulled the plug.

At best, Zin­gare­vich jnr was naïve; a young man who be­lieved a ruth­less Rus­sian oli­garch would put rel­a­tives be­fore rou­bles. At worst, he was brazen chancer who put the cart be­fore the horse.

Ei­ther way, his only legacy was a £21m debt moun­tain and a hand­ful of mon­ster Premier League con­tracts that the club could never af­ford.

Striker Pavel Po­greb­nyak is Read­ing’s own Nikola Zigic, a one-man drain on re­sources whose £30,000-a-week salary ac­counts for a hefty per­cent­age of the an­nual wage bill. Dutch winger/loose can­non Roys­ton Dren­the – cur­rently out on loan at Sh­effield Wed­nes­day – isn’t far be­hind. He even told the lo­cal pa­per that Read­ing could “af­ford four new play­ers” were he wiped off the roster.

Those who could be re­leased this sum­mer were has­tened out of the door. A trans­fer em­bargo has been avoided this sea­son, but with para­chute pay­ments dwin­dling and Fi­nan­cial Fair Play lim­it­ing losses to £6m next year, things could get worse be­fore they get bet­ter.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions have not been opened with play­ers out of con­tract in the sum­mer. Nick Ham­mond, the Roy­als’ di­rec­tor of foot­ball, has warned fans to ex­pect a “quiet Jan­uary”. He also spoke of fo­cussing on youth and a pe­riod of “flush­ing through” ex­ist­ing deals. This is aus­ter­ity, Cham­pi­onship style.

Fi­nan­cially, it is a model course of ac­tion. Too many clubs drop out of the Premier League and gam­ble the fam­ily sil­ver on bounc­ing back, usu­ally suc­ceed­ing only in pil­ing debt upon debt.

Read­ing and their new own­ers – though wor­ry­ingly silent – have moved to head any fi­nan­cial prob­lems off at the pass, and that must be applauded.

But for sup­port­ers who just three years ago cel­e­brated pro­mo­tion and dreamed of be­ing the next Man City, it is gut-wrench­ingly dis­ap­point­ing.

For Clarke, too, it will be hard work. The patho­log­i­cally pos­i­tive Ad­kins tried his best to put a brave face on things, but last week’s 6-1 drub­bing at Birm­ing­ham showed even his perma-grin couldn’t over­come an in­her­ent lack of qual­ity.

Clarke, for all his bullish talk of be­ing good enough to go up, will also know that the com­ing months rep­re­sent the big­gest test of his fledg­ling man­age­rial ca­reer. He is renowned as a coach and will need ev­ery­thing in his ar­moury to get the best out of a thin and de­mor­alised squad.

But we should wish him and Read­ing luck. It may take a long time. But hav­ing been shafted to the point of ex­tinc­tion by Zin­gare­vich, they are at least inch­ing their way back.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.