A year into the job and Reading Boss Veljko Paunović still hasn’t made one permanent signing.
Even so, he took the Royals to the verge of the play-offs last season and there’s little reason to believe his side won’t be in the mix again.
So ahead of a tricky opening day trip to Stoke City and with another grueling Championship campaign to look forward to, Charlie Gregory spoke to Talk Reading about summer preparations, the chances of promotion and the club’s commitment to youth development…
Last season you weren’t too far away from securing a play-off spot – where did you go wrong?
“Firstly, nobody expected Reading to be anywhere near the top 6 as Veljko Paunović arrived just two weeks before the season and even missed our first game to quarantine.
“Therefore, just to be in contention was a welcome surprise after three very mediocre seasons.
“The downfall of the season was predominantly due to the poor squad depth.
“Our bench was regularly consisting of Academy players that had never tasted senior football before and when the injuries hit (and they hit hard), we started to struggle.
“Reading were the only club not to sign a player in the January transfer window and there probably wasn’t a club that needed a signing more than the Royals! Ultimately, we just ran out of steam as the injuries piled up.”
How has pre-season gone so far and how is the squad shaping up? Is no new arrivals a worrying sign for you?
“Pre-season hasn’t filled Reading fans with much hope.
“A squad trip to Scotland was blighted by positive COVID tests leading to the cancellation of the planned friendly with Aberdeen, so just the four pre-season friendlies with one win hasn’t been the best preparation.
“Reading lost two incredibly talented players in Omar Richards to Bayern Munich and Michael Olise to Crystal Palace and they haven’t been replaced.
“This is a big worry as Richards and Olise were some of the first names on the team sheet last season. There’s hope that John Swift, if he can stay fit (and that’s a big if), can step up to replace Olise’s output.
“While there is no senior recognised left-back in the squad now Richards has departed, the rest of the side looks paper-thin.
“But with lots of talent coming through the Academy, such as Dejan Tetek, Femi Azeez and Ethan Bristow, there is still reason to be positive.”
If recent years are anything to go off, managers at Reading don’t manage to remain in the hotseat for too long – of the last eight permanent managers, only two have lasted longer than a year. If the 2021/22 campaign starts slowly, is Paunovic’s position under threat?
“I sincerely hope not! However, the Dais have shown to be ruthless with managers that underperform.
“I’d like to think Pauno will be shown a bit more sympathy if results aren’t great as the transfer embargo has massively limited what he has been able to do.
“Also, sacking another manager costs money and Reading can’t be wasting anymore money as the club battles against FFP.”
Only three sides have been in the Championship for longer than Reading (since 2013), is it a possibility that such a statistic will change this season? What is the expectation?
“In a word: no. I can’t see Reading challenging at the top of the league this season due to the lack of squad depth.
“On paper, the starting XI is one of the better sides in the league, but once a couple of injuries to key players inevitably happens, it’s a whole different story.
“However, with players such as Lucas João, John Swift, Ovie Ejaria, etc. I feel this team has too much quality to go down.
“Reading might find themselves drifting towards the bottom three at times, but I’m fairly confident we’ll be okay. I’ll predict a 15th placed finish.”
Veljko Paunović has not made one permanent signing in nearly a year in charge – that’s crazy! Does such a stat underline how tough a job it’s been and how well he’s done so far?
“Absolutely. The task Pauno has on his hands is enormous and to get Reading fighting for promotion last season was a great achievement.
“This group of players is entirely inherited from previous management so Pauno has had to adapt his style to what fits the current group of players.
“A lot of managers would have walked away from this situation, and I can imagine there was a fair amount of interest in Pauno after what he did at Reading last season, but he seems fully committed to this project.
“I’ve also been very impressed with how he has developed young players and hopefully this trend continues in order to plug the gaps in the squad.
“Pauno helped turn Omar Richards into the best left-back in the league and Michael Olise into the best young player in the league, so a few more breakout players like that could make this season a more successful one.”
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