With Reading preparing to face Brendan Rodgers’ new side in-form Swansea in what could be described as their biggest game of the season so far, it seems like the perfect opportunity to look back on his time at Reading Football Club.
Brendan Rodgers is not remembered fondly by the majority of Reading fans. His reign ended when he left the club ‘by mutual consent’ with Reading averaging just under a point a game with him in charge. He had managed to win just five league games of his twenty-three and only one of those at home. At the time of Rodgers’ departure, a little under a year ago, Reading sat just one place clear of the relegation zone and the future looked bleak.
However, Rodgers did do some good for the club.
Brendan Rodgers started off his stretch at the Madejski by promising to develop youth players. It would be fair to give him some credit for the development of Hal Robson-Kanu and Simon Church among others. But that development seemed to come with the cost of playing such a young, inexperienced team. Rodgers’ Reading just couldn’t string together wins. As Jimmy Kebé, a player of prodigious talent, lost form, Royals fans began to realize that their low league position was no longer a misleading early season statistic. The bad results began to stack up and as Christmas approached, not even the most optimistic Reading fan could deny that the Royals were in trouble.
In what was effectively his first move as manager, Rodgers signed Matthew Mills in August of 2009 for a fee of approximately £2m. I have to admit that I was initially sceptical of this price-tag, especially when Mills didn’t become a regular starter immediately. But our current captain, who coincidentally made his Reading debut in a 0-0 draw against Swansea, has now arguably justified the expenditure. Now, as one of the first names on Reading’s team-sheet, Mills must be regarded as one of the most successful transfers in Reading’s recent history.
The first competitive win for Brendan Rodgers’ came in the form of a 5-1 win over Burton Albion in the League Cup, including a blistering strike from a youngster by the name of Gylfi Sigurdsson. Brendan Rodgers has to be recorded as the manager who brought Gylfi Sigurdsson into the first team at Reading, starting off a season that saw him finish as Player of the Season for Reading. However, it didn’t really take a genius to spot the Sig’s class; Gylfi’s success that season was down to him.
Further action in the transfer market saw Stephen Hunt and Andre Bikey both joining Premiership clubs – these were predictable backlash from Reading’s relegation from the top flight but oddly, the club seemed quite eager to sell the pair. It’s understandable: Andre Bikey was unreliable at best, downright reckless at worst and him leaving opened up a first-team place for Matthew Mills. As for Stephen Hunt: Rodgers introduced his more than adequate replacement not long after, turning to a player he had managed at his old club Watford. Now one of Reading’s top performers, this was none other than the skilful Jamaican winger, Jobi McAnuff. While his Reading career has been an almost unqualified success, the striker who joined with him from Southampton didn’t turn out so well.
Grzegorsz Rasiak, whom Rodgers also knew well (he had been on loan at Watford in the previous season), struck a rather ungainly stance on the football pitch. Although scoring ten goals for the club, he was distinctly underwhelming and Royals fans, used to hard-working Irish strikers like Kevin Doyle, Noel Hunt and Shane Long, didn’t appreciate his casual and often lazy playing style. Rasiak, then, will have to go down as one of Rodgers’ errors.
Brendan Rodgers continued his activities in the transfer market, acquiring Darren O’Dea on loan, and signing Shaun Cummings and Brian Howard. O’Dea, despite his international pedigree, was never a success, and barely featured in Reading’s plans. Shaun Cummings, though he has now broken into the first team and is putting together a good run of form, started woefully with Reading. His mistake-ridden first few games showed he was no replacement for the on-loan and now, of course, reviled, Liam Rosenior. Brian Howard is very much a matter of opinion: undoubtedly only in the first team thanks to the absence of Gylfi Sigurdsson, he is nevertheless well admired by Brian McDermott. Personally, I think he has little talent, is too fat, doesn’t run enough and is far too eager to take free kicks away from specialists like Ian Harte. But he does play a vital role in Reading’s Sigurdsson-free attack, and is quite a good all-round player, if a bit of a weak link.
But all Rodgers’ transfers are largely irrelevant. For it is on results that all managers are, and should be, judged. At 6 wins, 6 draws and 11 defeats, the results were clearly not good enough in December. He had failed to get the best out of talented players like Gylfi Sigurdsson, Jimmy Kebé and Jobi McAnuff. So, whether the club released a true statement for once, and mutual consent was indeed the reason, or Brendan Rodgers was in fact sacked, Reading managed to get Brendan Rodgers out of the club before the looming beast of relegation got any closer.
From then on, we all know what happened. Our saviour Brian McDermott guided us to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and helped us climb nine places from relegation candidates to possible playoff contenders. He brought Kebé’s form back, motivated Gylfi Sigurdsson to become bigger than Reading itself and restored the status Reading fans expect of their club: that of constant promotion candidates.
So, as a season-ticket holder in Y25 of the East Stand, I can safely say how I will be welcoming Brendan Rodgers back to the Mad Stad, but I’ll leave your own decisions to you.