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Can Jaap Stam lead Reading to the Promised Land?

Monday 18th July 2016
On 13th June 2016 Reading football club appointed Jaap Stam as first team manager on a two-year contract.

As a Champions League winner and former Dutch international, Stam's appointment was one the most intriguing of the summer but it went almost unnoticed, falling under the footballing radar with the media focus consumed by Jose Mourinho's move to Manchester United coupled with Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola pending arrivals to Chelsea and Manchester City. The back pages were also full of European Championship stories and in particular the demise of England and speculation surrounding Roy Hodgson's replacement for the biggest managerial job of them all.

While Stam's appointment may have been relatively low key it is certainly one of the more interesting managerial changes made this summer and one that will come under the microscope when the season starts in August.

My friend and a Reading season ticket holder described the appointment as ‘a gamble' and it would appear to be an accurate forecast. As a player, few can question Stam's credentials. He has played for some of the biggest clubs in Europe including a three-year spell at Manchester United where Stam played a key role in United's treble-winning season of 1998-99. He also represented Holland winning 69 caps and playing for his country in three semi-finals at major tournaments.

Stam was an uncompromising central defender who was strong in the tackle and commanding in the air. Schooled in the Dutch academies he was technical sound, comfortable on the ball and able to read a game. At Manchester United, he lost just 17 of his 127 appearances and was one of the few players that Sir Alex Ferguson admitting regret after he sold him to Lazio.
Such qualities allied with natural ability to lead should hold Stam in good stead for management, while experience playing at the highest level will earn him instant respect in the Reading dressing room, which is often half the battle for any new manager. You imagine that discipline will also not be a problem as Stam is an imposing figure that is not afraid of a battle and likely to crack down on any player discontent.

During his career, Stam played under Sir Alex Ferguson, Dick Advocaat, Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti and Louis Van Gaal, a who's who of football managers. If Stam has absorbed anything from this illustrious list then he will be well on his way to being a successful manager himself.

However, that in many ways is the concern, the nagging doubt in supporters minds is that Stam is unproven as a manager, having joined Reading from the Ajax coaching staff and while he has the relevant coaching qualifications football is littered with examples of great players who for whatever reason have failed in football management.

Without a track record in management Stam is also entering one the most competitive leagues in Europe. The Championship in England is packed full of big clubs with Premiership experience and money. It is notoriously difficult to get promoted from and the demands of a 46 game season will be something that Stam probably has not experienced before. The punishing fixture list with numerous midweek games means Stam will have little time to work with the squad on the training field.

That said you would expect Stam to have a good knowledge of the European and particularly Dutch transfer market and with his wide network of contacts and backing by Readings wealthy Thai owners we can expect some potentially exciting arrivals to the Madejski stadium over the next few transfer windows. Stam has also resisted the temptation for major changes on a staffing level with Steve Reid and Dave Beasant keeping their jobs as first team coaches. A move that should provide some continuity and help player relationships.
Only time will tell if Stam's appointment will be a success but it seems that all the ingredients are there for him to give it a real go and for Reading to realistically target promotion in 2016-17. However, the Championship has got a reputation for being a Manager's graveyard. 23 lost their jobs last season and a losing run could see Stam joining that number.

Like my friend said it's a gamble.
Allan Kemp

Born in Suffolk but a Norwich City supporter who is currently trying to swap a career in finance with one in football writing. I am an FA level 2 coach and also a published author, my book of Hall of fame - Norwich City's - All-Time Greats is available from all good bookshops. I currently have a weekly column on Norwich City website - 'My Football Writer' as well as writing book reviews on 'Its Round and Its White'.

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