Clarke skating on thin ice - Interview
Wednesday, 2nd Dec 2015 22:21 by Clive Whittingham
Steve Clarke’s flirtation with Fulham has undermined his position at Reading, which was already under threat from indifferent results according to David from Royals Rendezvous.
Assess Reading's start to the season…
David: Hot and cold, but certainly substantially cooling off of late. Before the season started we were cautious because the end of last season was very grey, few cheers in the league. We had gone from a play-off position under Nigel Adkins at the start of the season to almost facing a relegation battle. But surprise, surprise things got off far better than we dared hope.
Whilst we veered upwards to a lofty second position in the table by the middle of October, albeit on goal difference from three other teams, most believed this was the new deal. A positive, attacking style of play looked good enough to pick up on the road of another promotion chasing campaign and to be honest other managers said just as much after our matches together. Since then the club has hit a brick wall, picking up just one win in seven although including three draws – obviously six points out of 21 is not promotion material at all. It’s not just that we’ve ‘plummeted’ to ninth, what’s worse is that the desire of the players seems to have rapidly diminished as well, but for that you should continue reading…
David: We welcomed his appointment a year or so ago, it seemed an astute move, someone apparently motivated and with Premier League experience. We’re generally not that fickle, we’re long-suffering Reading fans, but the truth is that he has lost many admirers of late (and more on that specifically next question). For a long time this Clarke era has promised to produce, but somehow never really quite taken off. Although it doesn’t seem like it, statistically the results alone are the worst of all the last six managers bar the short stint of Brendan Rodgers. However, the excellent FA Cup run last season – getting into the final four for the first time since the 1920s – somehow put blinkers on.
You have to take into account that we were approaching becoming a yo-yo club, therefore a nineteenth place in the league for 2014-15 was our worst final finish in a whole decade. In the summer our Thai owners did open up their wallet – real credit to them for that – and we once again looked forward to 2015-16 with certain optimism. However the Fulham manager episode has done real damage all round and although I can’t guess what’s happening in the boardroom I dare to say that our boss will probably be standing on the knife-edge, to the brink of being relieved of duties very soon if he doesn’t start producing … and quickly.
How do you feel about the whole Fulham approach, interview and decision? Has it undermined him? Would you have been sorry to see him go?
David: We Royals fans really thought that Clarke had done a 'runner'. The BBC had even announced it so we assumed it was a done deal. But it all fell through as you all know. Let's take a look at the situation for a second - we fans are told:
* We have wealthy new owners.
* They have great ambitions for Reading, both on and off the pitch.
* They have allowed Clarke to bring in the players he wants.
* Our academy is excellent, as I speak we’re sitting third in the Premier U21 League Group 1, above teams like Everton, Man City, Man Utd and Chelsea
Now if all that is true, why would a manager want to leave us for a club that is lower in the league and who, possibly, can't match what Reading has?
Clarke said: “When I sat down and weighed it up - Reading was by far the best option. All I wanted was the chance to speak to another club and weigh up what is best for me. In my mind I was always closer to Reading than Fulham. But you have to go and find out what their plans are and what they are thinking. Could they offer something better? And the answer was no.
“The supporters are the most loyal people at the football club. I can understand the ones that were really angry. I’ve had a chat with the board. I’m not going to say everything is fine - it isn’t, they are a bit disappointed. But I believe I still have support 100% and now I want to get back to success on the pitch.”
According to an article by a pal of mine the Fulham deal may well have floundered purely on ... money. And not other questions ... which surely is at the back of a lot of our heads.
A Fulham source told Football Insider: "Steve Clarke had agreed the contract with [Fulham owner] Shahid Khan. It was then passed over to Clarke’s agent Phil Smith who wanted to renegotiate more money. The structure of the basic salary was fine. It was additional elements that was the problem, the bonuses. The tweaks [to the contract] were so substantial that Fulham were not willing to consider them. Shahid Khan said, ‘no thanks, we won’t be doing that’."
The collapse in negotiations meant Clarke was forced to return to Reading and pledge his future to the Championship promotion hopefuls after requesting permission to hold talks with Fulham earlier in the week. His failure to explain any of this to the contrary means an overwhelming majority of Royals fans – as far as I can see – believe THIS version by Football Insider and not Clarke’s own presentation on the matter.
What do you know about your new Thai owners and their ambitions and intention?
David: Growing and growing. After the Zingarevich era we were justifiably nervous. However the ‘Thais’ – there are five on the board – have done everything very discreetly, and never tried to upset the applecart. Indeed there are still three ‘natives’ on the board including long-time chairman Sir John Madejski so we feel a better line of continuity. As I mentioned they did get their cheque books out in the close season, we had almost a dozen arrivals and many older players terminated their contracts. They are now looking seriously at redeveloping the whole district where the stadium is based on the southern outskirts of the town. Plus a new concert venue of good proportions. Sasima said: "Reading FC was supposed to be my part-time job but now I am working harder than I ever have in Thailand."
What happened to the Russian? Why did that go wrong/not work?
David: Frankly the less said the better. A likeable chap, went to school near Reading, and used to watch the team from the terraces. I’d almost say ‘deluded’ was the word; we feel either that he thought that if the team got into the Premier (they did) it’d pay its own way, or that if anything happened there was daddy to help out. But he didn’t reckon on relegation the following season, and big daddy didn’t help out. A beautiful wife he certainly did have, as one of your forum posters inquired, we certainly put up a fair number of pics on our forum, but I think I read they’ve separated now as well, with the joint burden of a young baby. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but he’s probably still got a lot to learn about life.
Stand out performers and weak links in the current team?
David: It’s never nice to focus on the weaker points of your team but in all honesty I believe it goes in order of positions; goalkeeping perhaps is the most worrying (a few points have gone there from a blunder or two), then defence, then midfield, whilst the attacking force is the best. The thing is that the team has already been rotated a lot, both forced by injuries and by Clarke not really finding that definitive blend. Remember we had so many arrivals in summer and from so many nationalities that it’s still a right feel waiting game, though as I previously said we thought it was coming good at the mid-October point. Blackman has surprised a few, having such an excellent scoring record this term, and Vydra certainly promises too. But the defence has been changing too often, they’re … well, in a muddle, doesn’t look like any one person is really marshalling them.
It’s very nice nearly being the top scorers in the division but we’ve also shipped nearly double of some of our competitors above us.
Short, medium and long term aims for the club?
David: As of today short-term is simply steadying the ship, stopping a down-ward slide becoming too much of a reality, and sorting out the manager’s real commitment or not to the club. Medium term would be producing a team to scare Championship defences, making a promotion launch this season or next…
Longer term though? That has got to be Premier League status, no doubt about it. The Thais are here for that. The last twenty years has been the most glorious in the club’s 135-year history without a shadow of a doubt. When I started going in the late 70s and 80s in the third and fourth tier even the second tier seemed a dream. To us then it was like being in the clouds being able to rub shoulders with teams like QPR who we just used to see on TV, and yet here we are a couple of decades later, generally floating in the top half of the championship with occasional excursions in the premier.
If this trend is to be continued then establishing ourselves season after season in the Premier, like Bolton did, will be a long-term aim. The town is a fair size, the stadium not bad (and could be extended), the youth set-up superb, and the catchment area of the Thames Valley and beyond is immense. Due to such distances in tiers no local rivals like Aldershot, Oxford or Swindon anymore – you’re almost a derby match for us now.
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