In hindsight, the Royals’ summer transfer activity may well have been what brought down Jose Gomes, who was sacked this week after a run of two draws and four defeats in his last six league games, leaving Reading in the bottom three. Why do I say that? Because of the expectation those signings brought.
After months of frustration in the transfer market – first a lack of news on incomings and outgoings, followed by a ‘soft transfer embargo’, then a few relatively low-key signings in Joao Virginia, Michael Morrison and others – Reading spent big in August.
In came significantly higher-profile talent: Lucas Boye on loan from Torino, Pele from Monaco, Rafael from Sampdoria, George Puscas from Inter Milan and Ovie Ejaria from Liverpool among them. It was a bold, expensive strategy from a club that surprised and excited Reading fans in equal measure.
Crucially, it showed Reading’s ambition. The owners weren’t happy for the club to have an ‘ok’ 2019/20 season – they opened the cheque book and approved the arrivals of players they thought Gomes needed to get the Royals into the top six this season. Given the quality (at least on paper) and experience that came through the door in early August, the team certainly got the upgrade it needed to challenge at the right end of the table.
However, there was a sting in the tail. The late arrival of those players meant any time needed for them to acclimatise would have to be used up during the season itself. Although that was less of a problem for Championship veteran Lucas Joao and the returning Ejaria, it was naturally more of an issue for Rafael, Boye and Puscas – none of whom had played in England before.
To get the most out of those players, Reading needed to be patient. The likelihood of all new signings immediately clicking with the rest of the team and performing consistently was low, so Gomes should have been given the time to find the right combination. But how patient will owners realistically be when they’ve heavily invested in the squad – and even smashed the club’s transfer record to bring in one of Europe’s most highly rated young strikers?
In truth, bar Gomes miraculously discovering the right setup for Reading in the opening weeks of the season and the new signings clicking, in hindsight patience and ambition were always going to be on a collision course.
Ironically, patience will be needed for Gomes’ successor – they’ll need time to find the best setup and get their ideas across. But, after a high-spending summer, they don’t have any time to spare.