For Brian McDermott, bald is beautiful. For Reading, the bald truth is that before he became caretaker manager in mid-December, replacing Brendan Rodgers, the Berkshire club were heading out of the Coca-Cola Championship at an alarming pace. They were lying in 23rdspot and the players’ confidence had hit rock bottom. They couldn’t score goals nor could they buy a win at home under Rodgers which saw the fans turn against their team and their manager.
But now with McDermott in the driving seat those problems no longer exist and stability has gradually returned to the club, thanks to famous FA Cup wins over Liverpool and Burnley. Since McDermott, 48, was appointed permanently in late January, he has guided his team to 10 wins, three draws and just one defeat out of the 14 games in the Championship as the Royals have edged away from the relegation pit and into the play-off chase.
After another dramatic FA Cup victory, 3-2 against West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns, McDermott led Reading into the quarter-finals for the first time in 83 years. And if it wasn’t for a second half capitulation against Aston Villa, when his side were leading 2-0 at half-time and seemingly cruising , then McDermott could’ve been the one leading his team out at Wembley and not his counterpart Martin O’Neill.
McDermott muses on his long journey. From Arsenal winger unable to tie down a regular first-team place among the likes of Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton and David O’Leary to Swedish Player of the Year while on loan with Norrköping.
From promotion-winning campaigns with Oxford United, Cardiff City and Exeter City to stints as manager with non-League Slough Town and Woking. Always listening, learning, and soaking up everything.
Absorbing knowledge also from ten years as Reading’s reserve-team manager and chief scout and his travels to far-away places around the globe, ever on the lookout for a bargain. All of which, though, had prepared him thoroughly for when the call arrived from Sir John Madejski, the chairman, to rescue Reading’s season. No more the caretaker, now the gaffer.
Reading’s players may have been mystified about their awful start to the season, but no more. And as befits one who is follically challenged — he shaves his head every three days — McDermott sees little need for the hairdryer treatment.
So maybe that’s the reason behind Reading’s fantastic turnaround which has seen them develop from relegation favourites to championship outsiders.