THERE was an almost inevitable sideshow at this week’s Premier League clash between Sunderland and Reading, with the football media waiting to see which manager would go first. Would it be Martin O’Neill, a year to the day since his appointment at the Stadium of Light? Or Brian McDermott, after a poor start to the 2012/13 season for the Royals? Thankfully neither, with O’Neill giving himself a little time after a 3-0 win for the Rokerites (sorry, can’t bring myself to use the more corporate Black Cats nickname), and Reading’s owners keeping their powder dry despite a fifth straight league defeat. Yet it still seems likely that the Premier League merry-go-round is ready to throw off another victim soon – with the usual rumour-mill about all those waiting in the wings too. Bookies Stan James are still offering good odds on Martin O’Neill getting the bullet (13/8 to 5/1 after his midweek win), with McDermott now 13/8, Arsene Wenger 6/1 at Arsenal, and Manchester City’s Roberto Mancini and Rafael Benitez at Chelsea at 8/1 on Saturday morning. All fundamentally ludicrous of course, but more than likely worth a dabble if that’s your bag. Mancini screams out at me for starters. I’ve no real feelings either way, but didn’t his team win some pretty respectable trophy or other just a few months ago? Did I just dream about some last-day excitement, Sergio Aguero’s late wonder goal and something about a 44-year wait being over? Well, I guess you can’t expect people to remember as far back as May in football circles. Wenger’s not had too tardy a spell at Highbury and the Emirates these past 16 years either, with 11 trophies amassed en route. It’s also interesting that the McDermott rumours increased after his club’s slim weekend defeat to Southampton, a club where you just get the feeling that Nigel Adkins has been on borrowed time for a long spell, with – as at Reading – bigger names always expected to step in. Adkins’ odds are 16/1 at the moment, by the way. I’m probably adding to the speculation about all these sitting ducks by writing this. But no. I’ll get back to Reading (my Mum was brought up just a couple of streets away from Elm Park after all) and suggest that here lies a real opportunity for Royals chairman Sir John Madejski to buck this pathetic trend and not just back his manager in the light of media interest only to sack him within a few days, but properly stand by him. When will the top-flight football world actually get it that change is rarely a good thing? Now may be the time for the former Arsenal player to sharpen his resolve and see what needs changing himself, rather than for some old stager outside the club to come in and ‘do a job’ in a bid to keep the mighty Biscuitmen up and please a few businessmen. So far Madejski has said all the right things, not least suggesting McDermott being sacked would be ‘absurd’, despite just one win in the league this season and a second-bottom placing with just nine points from 16 games. As the chairman himself has suggested, the fact that Reading are even competing at that level is an ‘amazing achievement, on a limited budget’. McDermott has one of his hardest tasks ahead of him maybe, but judge him by the way he reacts to that rather than the 16 results so far. I remember Brian dipping his toes into club management, and while he hardly set the world on fire at my club, Woking, he earned a fair bit of respect and clearly further built on that in his time at Reading – from his appointment as chief scout in 2000 onwards. I was surprised he got the nod from Madejski in late 2009 (although I was probably more surprised that he’d lost all his hair by that stage, which at least ruled out it going grey in the following years), but applauded the Royals for standing by him from there on in after his gradual rise up the ranks from within, just as we once saw at ultra-successful clubs like Liverpool back in the old days. He went on to pay that compliment back too, and long might that continue. And now is the time to see what sway the chairman actually holds at Reading, as opposed to the Berkshire club’s new owner and money-man Anton Zingarevich. While a lot of our clubs would kill for the kind of budget even Reading ‘survive’ on, I think we all realise the club is truly punching above its weight at present and are struggling to compete with all around them. But Madejski and Zingarevich (who truth be told sound like one of the detectives in The Fast Show’s ‘Unpronounceables’ sketches) can garner a lot of respect if they’re to ignore the dissenting calls and properly stand by their man now. Out of interest, going back to the Stan James odds, I see you can get a punt on the next Premiership casualty being David Moyes leaving Everton at 80/1, or Alex Ferguson exiting Man United, Michael Laudrup departing Swansea or Tony Pulis leaving Stoke at 100/1. I’m not suggesting for one moment those bets are good value and worth a shout, but perhaps those clubs are doing something right at present to keep faith in their respective bosses. We see it so often, and rarely does it make sense. And yet all the time we also know of the amazing success Fergie has enjoyed at Old Trafford since overcoming a few early wobbles in his 26-year reign. Roberto Di Matteo and Mark Hughes were potted within two days of each other last month, and now the national news hounds will be looking to dust down their Santa’s sack clichés in the coming fortnight. Don’t let them have that satisfaction. It’s all too much of a cliché. A version of this Malcolm Wyatt article first appeared on the http://www.sportnw.co.uk website, and is reproduced her with the site’s and the author’s permission.
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- Raising the roof for refugees – with The Amber List, Red Moon Joe, West on Colfax … plus Jah Wobble and The Ukrainians
- Learning new things with the passing of time – revisiting Never Loved Elvis and The Wonder Stuff with Miles Hunt
- Discovering Tresor – the Gwenno feature/interview
- Shine on Mellow Moon – the Alfie Templeman interview
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- Pip Blom / San Lorenz – Preston, The Ferret
- All the way from Detroit, destined for success – celebrating Duke Fakir’s I’ll Be There: My Life with The Four Tops