Fulham or Reading? Why Steve Clarke made the right choice

So after a series of twists, turns and fiendishly complex manoeuvring, it transpires that Steve Clarke will be staying at Reading for the foreseeable future.

This did not look like it would be the case only a few days ago, when it was strongly reported and claimed by plenty of media outlets that the Royals boss was in fact on his way to take up the vacant managerial post at Fulham.

After several days of no one really knowing what was going on, eventually Clarke came out in a press conference and explained that he would be staying at the Madejski Stadium.

With the Royals fanbase currently divided over whether he should be welcomed back with open arms, or instead dismissed as a ruthless mercenary who will simply abandon them at the next possible opportunity, now would seem a good time to point out a fact which many people seem to have missed – Clarke made the obvious and correct decision in staying where he is.

For a start, Reading are currently five places higher in the league than the Cottagers, with six more points. After more than a third of the season gone, most fans of both sides would be in no doubt as to which is the club with most going for it this season. Fulham sit 12th in the league, after a start that has been staggeringly inconsistent.

They have dealt out their fair share of thrashings, but have also slumped to some embarrassing defeats against unexpected opponents. They have not, in short, put the sort of run together that would lead observers to see them as potential promotion contenders.

Reading, on the other hand, have generally been more impressive so far this term, especially when compared to last season’s shambles, when they found goals and wins almost impossible to come by from around February onwards. They have scored the third most goals in the division, and up until a blip a few weeks ago, also had a startlingly impressive defensive record.

The players at each club should also be looked at. Reading gave Clarke the funds to invest heavily and extensively in the playing staff at the club in the summer, and he conducted possibly the largest overhaul seen at the Madejski in at least the last 10 years.

Players with proven ability at the higher level arrived, such as Stephen Quinn and Paul McShane, while exciting and dynamic forward options arrived, like Matej Vydra and Lucas Piazon on loan. In addition to this, Clarke managed to ship out all the deadwood that had accumulated at the club over the last couple of seasons. He has also significantly reduced the age of the squad.

In contrast to this, Fulham let go many more players than they brought in, and although all of the four summer recruits could be seen as good, steady professionals, none of them really have the ‘wow’ factor that supporters at the Cottage want to see. It’s not like he would have had plenty more to spend at Fulham, either; the Thai consortium that owns Reading were clearly desperate to give him all the financial support he needed in the summer, and have suggested that January could see more of the same.

It is also important to remember that until this fiasco, Clarke had pretty much the unanimous support and respect of the Reading fanbase, and also clearly a good operational relationship with the club’s new Thai owners, who let him pretty much mould the football side of the club to what he wanted during the summer.

While those relationships have of course taken a hit with this showcasing of his potential infidelity, it must be remembered that Clarke still has, in theory, a very good thing going at Reading – why exchange that for a club lower in the same league, where he’d just have to start the rebuilding process all over again?

It may well take Clarke some time before he gets the support back from most of the Reading fans, and of course some of them may never truly forgive him. While he may well fret and ponder about that, he can at least rest easy knowing that, in terms of his own future, he made the right decision.