x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Reading's Brian McDermott prefers ruthless world of Premier League

Reading manager speaks to Gary Meenaghan during his team's short-trip to Dubai about his unusual route to the top tier of English football.

Brian McDermott, the Reading manager, says the club are better off than a year ago. Satish Kumar / The National
Brian McDermott, the Reading manager, says the club are better off than a year ago. Satish Kumar / The National
Football, it is said, is a ruthless game lacking in both sentiment and sincerity, yet Brian McDermott, the 51-year-old manager of relegation-threatened Reading, not only appears as relaxed as a Sunday afternoon stroll, but feels he has endured much worse.

The Englishman, following a 14-year playing career that started at Arsenal and ended in Hong Kong, retired in 1995 to find himself 35 years old with little in the bank and even less going on in terms of employment possibilities. He was offered a job selling insurance in the English capital and signed up.

"I did it for a year, driving up to London every day," McDermott, in Dubai with Reading as part of a four-day training camp, told The National. "It wasn't for me, but I did my best. It's a ruthless game and I wasn't ruthless. It was always about the sale, but I was trying to find the best solutions to people's problems. They say football is ruthless and it probably is, but I don't find it like that at all. "

McDermott breathes the game to the extent it is said he invents hobbies in order not to sound boring.

While the likes of Harry Redknapp and Sam Allardyce might be tempted by the fairways of some of Dubai's best golf courses during their clubs' trips to the UAE this week, McDermott expressed only an interest in attending Monday night's UAE President's Cup tie between Al Ahli and Dibba Al Fujairah.

He has not always found football so enjoyable, however. During his first coaching position at Slough Town, McDermott struggled to find his feet, choosing to mimic the old school managerial style of his former bosses, including Terry Neill.

"I had a tough time when I was at Slough in my first year and I thought: 'I cant do this'," he said. "I was 38 and I was pretty volatile believe it or not - very different to what you see now. I had been managed a certain way, which was aggressive, and I was doing the same.

"Basically, I learnt I was replicating the way I was managed, which hadn't been good for me, so it was nonsense."

McDermott changed his approach and the results changed with it, eventually leading to him being offered the manager's job at Woking in 1998, which he held for 18 months before being dismissed in March 2000.

"Getting sacked was a learning experience for me," he said. "I learnt an awful lot from that, but don't get me wrong, I don't want it to happen again here."

Reading sit third from bottom in the English Premier League and still face trips to Manchester United and Arsenal next month as they fight to avoid an immediate return to the Championship from which they arrived last summer. With 12 games remaining, Reading need to be at their best from now until May, which is why McDermott has brought them to the UAE.

"Four days here is perfect," he said, observing the manicured training pitch at Al Wasl Club. "It's nice weather here and sometimes just to do something different with the lads is good for them."

McDermott initially joined Reading as a chief scout, which proved fitting for a man who while playing for South China in Hong Kong resided on an island called Discovery Bay. In time, he took control of the Under 19s and, later, the reserves. When Brendan Rodgers departed in late 2009 for Swansea City, McDermott made the step up to the first team.

Following FA Cup wins over Liverpool, Burnley and West Bromwich Albion, Reading reached the quarter-finals for the first time in 83 years. A year later they reached the Championship play-offs and last season they went on a remarkable sequence of 15 wins from 17 games to win the league and gain promotion.

The result is a return to a ruthless atmosphere, where Premier League chairmen are quick to change managerial personnel if financial gains appear to be slipping away. Nigel Adkins, the English coach who gained promotion last season with Southampton, was dismissed last month, despite having lost only twice in his previous 12 games, while Roman Abramovich, Chelsea's Russian billionaire owner, terminated the contract of Roberto di Matteo after only eight months in the role.

McDermott, who is now the sixth longest-reigning manager in the Premier League, calls the situation "crazy", but insists he has never been concerned for his own future, even after the Royals found themselves with their own wealthy Russian owner in the form of Anton Zingarevich.

"I don't worry about getting the sack because there is no point," he said. "I have lost seven games on the trot in this league and never had to worry about it. People asked me questions about my job, but I don't worry. I always said I was just doing what I could to make sure we won our next game, I was calm and fine and that won't change between now and the end of the season."

McDermott, who offered his resignation when Zingarevich first acquired the club in January last year, said "nothing has changed" since the takeover, although he acknowledged last month's transfer window offered a glimpse of what the future might hold.

"In January, things shifted a little bit," he said. "We had a big offer in for [the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder] Gylfi Sigurdsson. We've never been in a position to make a big offer like that before and we nearly got him. I would suggest that will be a good thing."

Yet McDermott knows when it comes to the future of the club, much depends on the next three months. It may not be selling insurance, but football can be ruthless and results dictate developments.

"We are building a club here, but whatever happens this season, we have a better club now than we had last year," he said.

"The challenge for us is to just keep getting better."

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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