-What Went Wrong For Brendan Rodgers At Reading FC?
June 9, 2011
On HobNob Anyone? there’s a thread open about Brendan Rodgers and why his time at Reading was such a failure. As I started writing a reply to the topic I realised to give my full feelings, it needed more detail than was fitting for a web forum so below is my own personal feelings on the ‘Rodgers Era’.
I’ll preface this entire article by saying that there is no way in my mind that Rodgers would have achieved the level of success that Brian McDermott has had during his time here, and ultimately his dismissal has proved 100% the right decision. Still I’m trying to look at his sacking more as I saw it at the time. I’m also not privy to exactly what happened behind the scenes, either in the board room or in the dressing room. Various rumours and stories have come out about Brendan but in the absence of definitive facts regarding those, I’ll have to go by what we do know for certain or has been said publicly.The Position Of The Club When Rodgers Was Appointed
People talk of the work Brendan did to undermine the Steve Coppell way of playing, a system that had led to the greatest success in the club’s history. However Coppell’s last six months as manager were blighted by poor form, inconsistant selection and generally drab ineffective hoofball led by Michael Duberry.
Coppell departed in the summer of 2009, taking long serving assistants Kevin Dillon and Wally Downes with him, decimating the backroom staff with the exception of Nigel Gibbs and one Brian McDermott…
Financially the club was also in fairly troublesome shape, having committed the bulk of its two years of parachute payments into retaining the majority of the Premier League era side on high wages for the 08/09 season. That gamble backfired as we failed to win promotion and as a result top scorer Kevin Doyle, leading assist maker Stephen Hunt and arguably the best defender at the club, Andre Bikey were all sold. Graeme Murty, Marcus Hahnemann, Michael Duberry, Leroy Lita and Dan Harding also left the club before Rodgers was appointed on June 5th, taking with them vital first team experience.
It’s easy to say that Rodgers still had a full pre-season to re-shape the side as he wanted, but the financial constraints he was working with at the club were massive at the time of his appointment. Wriggle room was barely possible until the sales of Stephen Hunt (August 13) and Andre Bikey (August 18). Even after those sales, the club still had several high wage earners left from the Premier League era including James Harper and Liam Rosenior. Those two players were sacrificed by Rodgers before the deadline to give him more room for wages going forward. Those deals weren’t completed until the deadline week and until you can actually confirm a player has left the club it’s a potential financial disaster to bring in replacements but I’ll go more into transfers later on…
On top of the uncertainty over such players Rodgers also had to deal with Ivar Ingimarsson, the club’s captain being injured going into the season, Noel Hunt struggling for fitness and Chris Armstrong also out injured. Andre Bikey was also unable to play in the first four games due to a ban handed out for his Burnley meltdown which left Rodgers with just a handful of players who had played more than 20 league starts the previous season. Those players were Khalifa Cisse, Jimmy Kebe, James Harper and Liam Rosenior, with the future of the final two not certain due to their high wages.
What Rodgers did have to work with was a group of promising but largely inexperienced youngsters, including Alex Pearce, Jem Karacan, Simon Church, Adam Federici, Hal Robson-Kanu and Glyfi Sigurdsson.Transfers
Rodgers is regularly hung out to dry over the on/off Tommy Smith transfer saga. Brendan does deserves some stick for making our interest public and making the club seem a bit like a bully, but was the management of the football club any worse with its very public pursuit of Brendan from Watford?
More to the point it wasn’t Brendan’s fault that we missed out on Tommy Smith, it was Tommy Smith and Portsmouth that denied the club his signature. It’s silly to think that Portsmouth just saw some quotes from Brendan on Smith and thought ‘wow we should sign that bloke!’
Smith aside, who Rodgers did manage to sign turned out to be pretty good for the short and medium and long term success we’ve had/will hopefully have under Brian McDermott. Gregorz Rasiak got into double digits for goals in 09/10, Jobi McAnuff started at Wembley, Brian Howard was on the bench and Ryan Bertrand was 3rd in the Player Of The Season voting for 09/10. Matt Mills is now our club captain and Shaun Cummings is also looking a good prospect at right back. The only real ‘flop’ was Celtic’s Darren O’Dea who was only signed on a 6 month loan and wasn’t actually a bad player when played in his natural position at centre-back.
Where Rodgers does deserve stick is for his reluctance to play Matt Mills, his biggest signing and for one of the highest transfer fees in the club’s history. Nobody will know the exact reasons for why Mills was dropped, but it was apparent to fans that Mills would be an upgrade over the Ingimarsson/Pearce partnership.
But before Rodgers is crucified for dropping an expensive acquisition, don’t forget that Steve Coppell bought Emerse Fae and Greg Halford to the club and failed to play them. Sometimes players get to a club and they just don’t fit under a manager, hardly a sackable offence in my opinion.
The signing of Shaun Cummings was also widely criticised at the time. Cummings had a steadyish start but was horrendously exposed by West Brom’s Jerome Thomas in a 3-1 Royals defeat at the Hawthorns. Some have suggested that Rodgers was wrong to leave him out there, as it shattered the youngster’s confidence but who else was he supposed to play? Injuries to Julian Kelly and the departure of Rosenior meant that Cummings was the only natural right back available. Jay Tabb was subsequently slotted in but hardly set the world alight in his time at the position, and in hindsight the only other option would have been Brynjar Gunnarsson who at the time was being used in midfield.
Brendan ultimately did decide to take Cummings out of the firing line and tried Tabb at right back, while rumour has it he lined up Andy Griffin on loan to come in when the window opened in January, so it’s clear he had identified that Cummings needed a bit of help.
It’s also been argued that Rodgers gave Alex Pearce too much responsibility for a player so young. While it’s true that being made captain and being promoted as ‘the new John Terry’ were big responsibilities, some younger players can thrive under such situations. Pearce may not have lived up to the hype quite yet but I’d still bet on him being a Reading captain somewhere down the line, while again with Ingimarsson out who else was suitable for the armband?How Long Does It Take To Bed In?
Given what I’ve outlined in the first two sections I’m surprised that some fans are still so shocked by Brendan’s comment’s of it still feeling like pre-season after a few games. With all the uncertainty about the place, the hangover from last season, a very young team and the lack of Rodgers buys what more was expected in those opening four league games? Brian McDermott has said it took 12 games for us to get over losing Gylfi for example.
Even so lets look at the results from that ‘extended pre-season’
H) Forest (D) <- Finished Third
A) Newcastle (L) <- Champions
A) Swansea (D) <- Finished seventh
H) Sheff Utd (L) <- Finished Eighth
In hindsight those were 4 very difficult games and if you said at the start of the season you’ll get 2 points out of 12 from games against top 8 sides including 2 of the top 3 I think you’d be disappointed but not by much. What was alarming though was a lack of goals, with the team scoring just once, against Sheffield United.
Howard, Rasiak and co were signed at the end of August, and from the Barnsley game (where Rasiak made his debut) our record was
P17 W5 D4 L8 = 19pts, including defeats against teams finishing, 2nd, 4th and 5th.
That’s not a stellar record by any stretch of the imagination, but at that pace we WOULD have survived relegation.
It’s not just Rodgers who needed time to bed into his Reading career either.
Here are the starts of some other recent Royals bosses compared to Rodgers.
Steve Coppell – P23 W9 D2 L 11 = 29pts
Brendan Rodgers – P21 W5 D6 L10 = 21pts
Alan Pardew – P22 W5 D10 L7 = 25pts
Mark McGhee – P21 W6 D8 L7 = 26pts
So there’s difference of around 8 points from who many describe as the best manager in our history, who took over a far more settled Reading side. Both Alan Pardew and Mark McGhee took over third tier sides with far less consistency and achieved similar openings. The key difference in that was the lower expectations and position of the club when Pardew and McGhee took over, while Coppell at least had points on the board accrued by Alan Pardew at the start of 2003/04.Turning The Corner?
I can’t argue against the fact that there were some dire dire performances when Rodgers was at the helm. I had the misfortune of being at West Brom and as others have said, it’s hard to remember a more pitiful performance by a Reading side. Add in the debacles at Peterborough and QPR and you can easily see why many felt Rodgers was doomed and getting it so totally wrong.
That being said, those dire performances at QPR and West Brom were the catalyst to Rodgers getting the hint that he couldn’t get these players playing in a 4-3-3 and he went back to a more tried and tested formula, playing 4-4-2, using 2 wingers.
From West Brom onwards our performances were by and large MUCH better. His record from after West Brom read
P8 W3 D2 L3 = 11pts
That type of record that would have seen us survive even without any new signings that already seemed to look immanent in January. The defeats in that time included a very unlucky defeat at home to Leicester and throwing away a lead at Derby, while Victor Mosses and Adam Federici combined to throw away any chance of points against Palace.
Reading picked up 11/21 points in Rodgers final 7 games
It’s also worth noting the experience that was being gained each week by some of the younger players. Rodgers had a largely inexperienced core to work with at the time. Though that group has slowly developed over the last two seasons, it’s something they were just as likely to do under Rodgers as they have under Brian McDermott.
Brendan wouldn’t have been able to get as much out of Jimmy Kebe and Shane Long as McDermott, but he arguably got far more out of Jobi McAnuff and gave Sigurdsson his break. Rodgers was trying to mould these younger players and former fringe men into a team capable of playing patient passing 4-3-3 but we just didn’t have the players capable of adopting it and Rodgers waited far too long before changing his style. Without those right players in the team it was often horrible football to watch, too many passes with no end product led to frustrations on the terraces and the team wasn’t getting the best out of its best players.
Others have made the point that the fact we weren’t getting results in those games was a warning sign in itself but the point remains that we were creating more chances and looking more solid at the back, scoring 10 and conceding just 7 in that period (excluding Palace which would otherwise make it 12/11).
As infamous as the Tim Dellor v Rodgers meltdown interview post Scunthorpe was and as petulantly as Rodgers reacted, I can see why Brendan thought the Scunthorpe game was far better, given the sheer number of chances we had to win that game, while we only conceding once. As I’ve said on other occasions, if Sigurdsson puts 1 of 4 golden chances away against Scunny, maybe he survives, but then football often boils down to such fine margins as Brendan found out in his favour at Wembley when Karacan’s shot deflected onto the post…..What Otherwise Went Wrong?
Brendan never really endeared himself to a fanbase who had seen unprecedented success under Steve Coppell and Alan Pardew. Coppell was the very definition of understated and unassuming while Brendan came with the tag of being the apprentice of the ‘special one’ Jose Mourinho, and while he didn’t exactly wear that as a badge, it was a tag he did little to distance himself from. Rodgers was also far more open about his plans, be they tactical (his big book of tactics) or transfer targets (Tommy Smith).
His backroom staff also seemed to win him few fans, with Reading supporters angry that the club was paying ‘football consultant’ Frank Lampard Senior who was regularly away from the club and had no clearly defined role. Lampard Snr even admitted to watching his son’s games at Stamford Bridge rather than being at the Madejski to watch Reading, hardly something that would endear you to the people that pay your wages.
On top of that Brendan always came across as super confident, something that’s great when your team is flying (like Swansea or Mourinho at Chelsea/Porto) but aggrivates and winds up fans when things are going badly. Officially his petulant and aggresive reaction to Tim Dellor’s questioning after the Scunthorpe game had nothing to do with his dismissal but it MUST have been in Sir John Madejski’s mind when the decision to sack him was being taken.
On top of all that I can’t help but think there was a volcano of frustration with the fan base that was always about to explode and that sadly Rodgers took the brunt of that. The meek way that we fell from the Premier League and then blew promotion under Coppell was something that many fans couldn’t blame on a set of players and a manager who had got them to such heights in the first place. Rodgers on the other hand, with his confidence and ego was seemed a perfect target on which to blame the clubs problems, a burden he shared with Nick Hammond and Sir John Madejski. Again I’m not suggesting that Rodgers didn’t deserve some criticism but and to be the target of some frustrations, I just feel the relegation hangover was unleashed a bit unfairly on him.
The other thing that went wrong was a mixed indication of the amount of time that Rodgers would be given to get things right. Rodgers was given a long term contract and sold the club on a 3 year plan to get back to it’s previous heights if not more. His signings team selection and tactics showed that he was clearly more focussed on the long-term than the short term. In the meantime the points just never came and as Reading sunk further and further his desire to find a winning long term formula cost him short term results that would have kept the dressing room, fans and the board happy. The need for short term results eventually sank in after the humiliations away at West Brom & QPR but by then it was always an uphill struggle outside of a transfer and loan window, to change things.Overall
As I said at the start of this article, it’s impossible to argue that the decisions made in December 2009 haven’t worked out positively for Reading or for Brendan Rodgers. Reading were still deep in a relegation battle at the time of his sacking and the fact that they finished in the top ten means that ultimately the decision wasn’t the WRONG one. Under Brian McDermott Reading survived comfortably last season while reaching the play-off final this year. While for Rodgers, he was given a job at Swansea where they already played a passing style and with lower expectations. Helped by his Reading experiences, Rodgers has flourished and has lead the Swans into the Premier League for the first time in their history. The Northern Irishman has admitted since his sacking that he understands the decision, holds no ill will towards the Chairman and has acknowledged that he learned a lot from the experience, while Brian McDermott is already on course to be one of our most successful managers.
While Swansea’s success was directly to our detriment, it’s still pleasing to see a man who has given such great service to this club achieve personal success. Rodgers worked his way through our coaching system, lived in the town for two decades and helped recruit some of the youngsters and senior pros who fill our squad today.
Ultimately I just think he was the right man at the wrong time for the club. Had he been appointed when Reading were in the Premier Leauge, or even in the first season after relegation he may have had a better chance of success. As it transpired he came in during one of the most difficult summers in our history and couldn’t cope. It’s a shame that it didn’t work out and that his learning curve had to come with his home town club and the club he has the greatest feelings for.
Still, In the future I still think he’d be a good fit for Reading but that time isn’t now and won’t come for a good while yet.
That press conference 'exchange'. http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xctmrs_brendan-rodgers-last-live-post-matc_sport