Reading must stick to core values – just like Norwich
23:56 GMT, 21 April 2012
It has been a momentous week
for Reading, who secured their
return to the Premier League
after four years outside the top
flight. It was great to see such a
well run club. who have kept
faith in their manager Brian
McDermott, reap their just
McDermott took over when
Brendan Rodgers was sacked and
while he may not have be among the
biggest names in management when
he was appointed, he had been at the
club for 12 years, rising from chief
scout, and he knew the place inside
When he lost the play-off final last
year, ironically to Rodgers's Swansea side, the club simply regrouped
and started over again with the same manager. Which is why I cringed
when this week I saw the headline: 'I want Reading in Europe.'
Going up: Reading celebrate promotion to Premier League with an enormous pitch invasion
When you read down the article, current club owner John Madejski was promising that the club would still be careful and not go mad and bring in lots of big-name signings. But he is on the verge of selling to a multi-millionaire owner, Anton Zingarevich.
I wonder if the philosophy of the club will now change. I hope not because the financial collapses of Portsmouth and Rangers show just how vulnerable clubs are when in the wrong hands or pursuing the wrong philosophy. If Reading wanted an example of how to grow in the Premier League, they don't have to look far.
This year has been a real eyeopener for me, watching more football than ever before around the grounds in my role with Sky. And when I've watched clubs such as Norwich and Swansea this season, I've enjoyed myself more than I could imagine.
Net gains: Reading surged up the table playing football in a way that was true to their club ethos
It's not just because those two clubs have been the unexpected success stories of the season, both coming from League One in recent years to be a force in the Premier League. And it's not just because both play good football, with Swansea doing so in a style I never expected to see in the top flight.
But what strikes you about those clubs is that they are connected to their local communities, they have a plan that is sustainable and they know where they're going.
They have achieved their success
this season with the core of the
squad that got them promoted. How
can that be Surely players such as
Grant Holt – until this season a
journeyman in the lower leagues –
and Leon Britton – released by
West Ham as he was deemed not good enough and spending his life in the
lower leagues – cannot be good enough for the Premier League
Three wise men: Anton Zingarevich, chairman Sir John Madejski and manager Brian McDermott
Or John Ruddy, a player who has been on loan at Motherwell, Crewe, Stockport and Bristol City and is now watched by England scouts But they and other players have proved an important point. There are still players down the divisions with the quality to play in the Premier League. You're not telling me there aren't another six or seven like Holt or Britton out there.
Sometimes clubs just aren't looking in the right places. Then there are those players who they have brought in to supplement their squads. Swansea's Michel Vorm has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League since signing from Utrecht, but who else was interested in him
Newcastle are another team who have done exceptionally well with unheralded signings. Yohan Cabaye may have come from French champions Lille but no one wanted to take a risk. Likewise, Demba Ba, who had half a season at West Ham. But Newcastle did and they now have one of the most effective midfielders and prolific strikers in the Premier League.
The other factor so important when recruiting players is the academy. We were reminded of it when Barcelona took on Chelsea, starting with seven home-grown players. For too long this has been ignored by too many clubs who prefer to sign big-name stars.
Success story: Norwich and Grant Holt have both exceeded expectation in the Premier League
Last week we saw Chelsea take a
4-0 lead in the first leg of the FA
Youth Cup final. My hope is that this
generation will be given the chance
to play in the first team. It is vital
for clubs who want to retain a link
with their community to nurture
boys the fans can relate to.
As football gets more globalised,
it's probably more important than
ever to have one or two players in
your team who have grown up in the
same streets or been to the same
schools as the hard-core fans.
Lean on me: Brendan Rodgers
With good coaching, proper motivation
and the right club structure
with organic growth, you can
achieve an awful lot in football. On the other hand, take QPR, who came up as champions, well clear of Norwich and Swansea. Instead of sticking to the core of their promoted squad and making one or two smart additions, they decided to splash out and buy big.
I suppose it was partly because new owner Tony Fernandes only took over in August. They rushed through big buys on deadline days – but these obvious big-name players have not kept them out of the relegation fight. And good though Mark Hughes is, changing managers hasn't made a big impact.
Even last year, when they came up and before Fernandes took over, their wage bill was 29.7million. But the club turned over just 16.2m. What will happen if they go down
There are lots of concerns facing English football but for me the major one is the way in which football clubs are run by owners, whether they are growing organically and sustainably and how that is being policed by the football authorities.
Alongside that, you could add whether clubs are retaining a link to their communities. That link is more essential for football than ever in a time of economic depression, when those communities are under pressure. I just hope Reading know that and take lessons from Norwich and Swansea, rather than QPR.
FA's crown jewel is losing its shine
When I was a child, the FA Cup was one of the crown jewels of the sporting year, along with the Grand National, Wimbledon and The Open.
But with every announcement it seems to lose another piece of its identity. First it was sponsors added to the name, followed by the semi-finals at Wembley.
Then it was no longer the last game of the season and now the kick-off is 5.15pm. And each club still get only 25,000 tickets, a point Kenny Dalglish raised last week.
For me, the Carling Cup has become almost more fun and certainly the equal of the FA Cup. Both are used for rotation and both give you a Europa League place.
The FA have to decide what their cup is for. Either it's a tournament run in the most traditional way, or you might as well rip up the format and start again. Either way, it has to be protected and I would like it to be restored to being a crown jewel again.