Is Steve Clarke still the best man for Reading?
With the u-turn to end all u-turns, Steve Clarke’s 11 month tenure in Berkshire appears to be set to continue as he has chosen to remain with Reading in favour of joining Championship rivals Fulham. However, with many fans now demanding results, the pressure may start to build on the former Chelsea assistant – should Steve Clarke depart, who should be the new man at the Madejski?
If Clarke was to decide to leave now he would finish with 18 wins from his 50 games in charge. The league form during his first 6 months in Berkshire was poor, but he did lead Reading to their first FA Cup Semi-Final in 88 years where they agonisingly fell to defeat against Arsenal in extra time. We will never know exactly what happens behind the scenes at a football club, but from an outsider’s perspective the departure would have been a very strange one. Currently, there isn’t too much to separate Reading and Fulham – Reading are 4 points better off in the league, but both sides have seen strong investment and will have similar aims of getting themselves at least into the playoff mix this season.
In addition, Clarke has had a lot of trust and freedom given to him by Reading’s owners. He removed the long standing backroom staff, some of which had overseen the day-to-day running of the club for a decade, in favour of a new set of coaches of his own choice. The club also backed Clarke handsomely in the transfer market seeing no less than 11 players arrive in the summer transfer window – as well numerous long-serving players departing in what was seen as the start of the ‘Clarke Era’ at Reading. Clarke has completely overhauled the club but was considering leaving behind a job that he has barely started. As a Reading fan myself, that really is the cause of quite a bit of frustration.
One question that will now be on the mind of a good amount of the Reading faithful is ‘is there a manager that could do a better job than Steve Clarke?’. There are quite a few high profile names that were getting mentioned when it came to the potentially available spot at the Madejski. One such name was Nigel Pearson who himself has an excellent record and could potentially see Reading as an opportunity to add to his already impressive managerial career. However, as with most clubs there will be fans and players alike that will not be too enthralled by the idea of Pearson’s hard-nosed tactics. One thing is for sure though, Pearson knows how to win and proved with Leicester last season that he is capable of cutting it at the very highest level. Another name that received a few mentions was former Aston Villa and Spurs man Tim Sherwood. Sherwood would no doubt bring passion to the side but once again was getting mixed reviews from the Reading faithful. Sherwood is similar to Clarke in that their honesty is unbreakable and it sometimes gets them into trouble, but Clarke has shown real tactical knowledge during his time at Reading and you feel that Clarke may have the edge in this department. You would also think that if Clarke was to leave, the majority of his backroom staff appointments will too, meaning that there is relatively little chance of any of them taking over the reins at the Madejski.
One of the main outsiders for the job was Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. The current Burton manager only recently got into management but is working wonders at the Pirelli Stadium. Such an appointment would be a considerable risk for the Royals but could be an excellent choice if Hasselbaink can continue his winning ways despite stepping up a division. One name that would prove to be a major coup and was getting relatively short odds by bookmakers is David Moyes. You would surely think that Moyes would wait for a Premier League club given that he has managed Manchester United and most recently in La Liga, but stranger things have happened in football and if the former Everton manager became available it would be a hard one to turn down for the Reading board.
One thing that Reading fans will desperately want is a manager that can get what is a very impressive squad firing and Clarke’s u-turn will increase the pressure on him to do this. With the talent at his disposal, many onlookers will see the playoffs a minimum expectation. The current project at Reading is a very exciting one but the expectation of the fans could prove to be a poisoned chalice because failure to see out a decent promotion chase would be seen as a real let-down following a tremendous start to the season and a squad which for the first time in a long time feels like it has genuine quality and strength in depth.
One thing that is for certain is that after near financial collapse and poor league display last season, Reading need stability. For the moment at least, Steve Clarke remains the manager at the Madejski and it is also the opinion of many that he is one of the best managers that Reading could have at the moment, something that seems to be reflected in the Reading support as there seems to not be a single name that is getting rave reviews. All the elements are there for the Royals with a large and strong squad and a brand new state of the art training ground agreement confirmed, as well as backing from the owners. Whoever ends up with the Reading job will have a project on their hands, but it is one that is already in motion and the squad has already shown the ability to win games and win them well this season. All that is left for the board to do should Steve Clarke decide to jump ship or to be dismissed as the pressure from areas of the support increases is to make the big decision and make it fast – because the longer this situation the lasts, the more detrimental it will be for the Royals moving forward.
Featured image: All right reserved by Dan Westwall.