IT is entirely appropriate that the day after getting sacked as Reading manager, Brian McDermott opted to come to Ireland for a bit of R&R. Chances are he will be back here on a more permanent footing, this time as Giovanni Trapattoni’s replacement.
While that is the job McDermott craves more than any other — “when I was a teenager I played underage for England and have regretted it ever since” — the hurt he feels at being ditched from his Reading position will take time to heal.
“I don’t have hobbies,” McDermott said last month. “I’m not into golf. To get away from football, I go to football.”
Where he goes next is a fascinating prospect. With the Trapattoni era nearing an end — McDermott is the logical choice to take his place, not just because of his ability but also, from a financial perspective, his availability. The question is how long can he wait for something that may never happen.
Patience, though, has long been one of McDermott’s many charming characteristics. Having worked his way up the coaching ladder from non-League Slough to Woking to the position of chief scout at Reading, this second-generation Irishman’s big break came when Brendan Rodgers got the heave-ho from the Madejski Stadium in December 2009 with the Royals fourth from bottom in the Championship.
Appointed on a caretaker basis, he had the good grace to engineer FA Cup wins over Premier League sides Burnley and Liverpool. With their league form also improving, John Madejski, the club’s previous owner, handed him the keys for the rest of the season.
“There were times when we’d be winning 1-0,” McDermott recalled of his early days, “there’d be a minute or so left on the clock, we’d be really hanging on — and I’d look around and think, ‘this isn’t enjoyable, this is a crazy way to make your living.’”
But in football, crazy things happen and the decision of the club’s new owner, Anton Zingarevich, to sack McDermott last week is up there with the most foolish. Owners, however, are obsessed with the bottom line and after Reading slumped to a fifth successive defeat at Aston Villa, Zingarevich panicked, wondering if he — and Reading — would get the chance to share the £3billion in domestic TV money available to all Premier League clubs next season.
Had he acted less hastily, however, Zingarevich might have looked at the Premier League’s history, where on the nine previous occasions clubs in the relegation zone changed manager from March onwards, all nine still dropped down a division. He may also have listened to Jimmy Kebe, Reading’s winger, who expressed the view in December that the Royals were a Championship team plying their trade in the Premier League. Or perhaps too he could have taken into account the words of Peter Reid, a man who engineered Leeds United’s and Sunderland’s survival from similarly treacherous positions.
“With great respect to Reading, they don’t have real quality. Just look at Ian Harte — he’s 35 now, whereas he was a player in his prime when I had him at Leeds. So they have a real battle on their hands. It isn’t disrespectful to say they were always going to have a battle and it is credit to the job Brian did that they are still even in with a chance. Bottom line is are they good enough? I’m not sure.”
One man who was sure he needed to make them better was… Brian McDermott. After achieving promotion, he approached Zingarevich and handed him a shopping list. Top of it was Shane Long. Instead he got Pavel Pogrebnyak, who just happens to be Russian.
In total, Reading spent less than £6million last summer whereas Southampton, who came up from the Championship with them, forked out five times that amount. And yet McDermott has kept them in the hunt for survival but when they lost to Aston Villa 10 days ago, his owner had enough. Interestingly, McDermott pointed out to him that his entire team cost less to assemble than Villa’s centre forward, Christian Benteke.
And yet despite what has happened, relations between McDermott and Zingarevich were surprisingly good — mainly because McDermott never allowed himself to be bullied or upset by what was going on around him. As the club refused to spend, he simply accepted his working conditions and vowed to work even harder than before. From July to March, he never took one day off. Midweeks would see him trawl the country in the search for bargains.
On his travels, he’d come across some of the players he either scouted or signed — Long, Kevin Doyle, Matt Mills, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Dave Kitson — and who Reading would later make a £30million profit out of and he would wonder why that amount was never reinvested in the club. Diplomatically he kept his thoughts to himself, perfecting the art of managing above as well as managing below.
“I never look for credit,” he said last year. “My philosophy is simple: if there is any credit, I give it away. I give it to the players, to the staff, to the people who work at this club. It might sound quaint, but giving is so much more satisfying than receiving.”
With Reading it was more give than take.
Zingarevich, when he bought Reading, promised not be another Roman Abramovich. And he has been true to his word. Red Rom is a big spender. Sacking McDermott will exact a different kind of cost. Ireland, though, could be the ones who profit most.