Home and Away

Reading manager Brian McDermott victim of his own success

McDermott was a victim of his own success, but clubs at risk of relegation who change managers from March have gone down

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 March, 2013, 3:47am

Success for some managers in the top tier of English football can be an ethereal commodity. For others it is a poisoned chalice. Just ask Reading manager Brian McDermott, the latest and one of the four managers ruthlessly fired this season.

You can win promotion from the Championship, be named EPL manager of the month and struggle admirably each week on a laughably low budget in your battle for survival in the world's toughest league. Yet eventually you become a victim of your own success and are rewarded with the boot.

McDermott was suddenly axed this week with just nine games left and 39 days after he was given a pat on the back for picking up the January best manager award.

The ruthless manner in which he was dispatched was underscored by the round-robin text messages sent from the club owner's office to the players informing them of McDermott's departure.

Little wonder a core group of senior players said they were baffled, shocked and angered by the treatment of their 51-year-old manager who led them into the EPL just 10 months ago.

The Royals were in a tailspin during November and December with seven consecutive defeats. Somehow McDermott, who is revered for his deep-thinking and ability as a motivator, pulled his side out of the nosedive and gained 14 vital points from seven matches in January.

He had given nearly 13 years of devoted service in numerous roles, including his appointment as caretaker manager in 2009. The subsequent 15 wins from 17 games secured EPL promotion for only the second time in the club's history, and as champions.

Such remarkable success is all very well, but you upset your Russian paymaster at your peril.

Losing five games in a row and hovering one place off the bottom is deemed a sackable offence, especially when there is a generous slice of the £5 billion (HK$58 billion) TV deal waiting to fill the coffers of survivors at the end of the season.

So who can blame Anton Zingarevich for summarily sacking his trusted lieutenant? We all can. When ex-chairman John Madejski stepped sideways to allow Zingarevich to run the club, McDermott was not given any more money to spend.

Reading shelled out just £10 million on new blood since promotion, while all around rivals beefed up with new players, including QPR who brought in fortune-changing Chris Samba and Loic Remy in January alone.

Despite having the smallest budget and in the face of overwhelming odds, it is testament to McDermott's savvy dressing room skills that Reading are not yet down and out.

He underlined the simple, single problems he faced after his side lost at home to Aston Villa last week - a lack of investment. He pointed out in the post-match synopsis his team cost less to assemble than the £7 million the visitors paid for their centre-forward Christian Benteke.

What would have been the Zingarevich's reaction if his side had beaten Villa? Reading would have moved two points clear of the bottom three rather than four points adrift of safety as they are today and head to Old Trafford to face Manchester United.

The tasteless sacking has continued a trend. Of the last nine teams promoted from the Championship, five have sacked their managers before the end of the following season - Reading, Southampton, QPR, West Bromwich and Newcastle.

McDermott is the fourth EPL manager to be sacked this season, joining Chelsea's Robert Di Matteo, QPR's Mark Hughes and Southampton's Nigel Adkins.

Adkins has much in common with McDermott, sacked as he was in January by the Swiss owner of St Mary's despite his remarkable success - victims both of their own eminence and their owners' failure to release the required funds.

Zingarevich said a new manager would soon be appointed and chief among the candidates is Paolo Di Canio, the sacked Swindon boss who was spotted at the Madejski Stadium last weekend. Di Canio led Swindon to their promotion from League Two last season as champions, but recently walked out of the club in a fit of anger after one of his star players was sold to Bournemouth.

Former Charlton and West Ham boss Alan Curbishley and, somewhat unsettling for deeply troubled Saints fans, Adkins have also been touted as replacements, though Di Matteo has ruled himself out.

Keeping Reading up will be no push over. This unsettling week ends with the trip to Old Trafford, then its Arsenal after the international break followed in April by Southampton and Liverpool.

Successful managers might not mean too much to Zingarevich, but history has a warning for the club. Nine Premier League clubs have changed their manager from March onwards, while sitting in the relegation zone, and all nine subsequently went down.