Smart idea suits Reading manager Brian McDermott
What difference does a suit make?
The weekend before last, Brian McDermott broke with the habit of his managerial career to date by ditching his tracksuit, opting instead for something a little bit smarter ahead of Reading’s Premier League clash against Everton.
It was a decision made on a whim about two hours before kick-off and it didn’t escape the attention of local reporters who were keen to put the inevitable question to him afterwards. That the Royals came from behind to bag their first victory of the season only heightened the intrigue. How significant was the suit in getting that particular monkey off their backs?
When questioned about it, McDermott came across slightly embarrassed. His initial repsonse was that he “just fancied a change” but once he opened up on the matter, it became apparent that the whole issue was, indeed, significant to him. The suit was a statement, not just a statement to himself, but also a statement to his players.
In his own words: “This is a really crazy thing to say, but sometimes you’ve got to earn the right to wear a suit. I know it’s a silly thing to say but I see young managers going straight onto the bench with a suit on and it just doesn’t seem right to me.”
It’s a romantic view, one that probably isn’t shared by many, primarily because it hasn’t really occurred to them before. But it’s classic McDermott. He’s a man of old-fashioned principles and humility is a personal strength, an endearing quality that players respect and seldom wish to take advantage of. So nice is Brian, who could possibly disobey him and then live with the ensuing guilt?
All of which gives us a glimpse into the character of the man and goes some way towards explaining why, over the past three years, Reading players have been so responsive to the ideas of someone who hardly fits the leadership template. But what of the suit?
By outlining his belief that managers must ‘earn the right’ to wear one, McDermott is evidently declaring his belief that he has now crossed that particular threshold. No longer should he be considered a manager of questionable experience, he is now a fully-fledged member of the gaffer fraternity. The underlying message is one of belonging.
And this is interesting insomuch that Reading have probably been guilty of giving their opponents too much respect this season. Since early hidings at the hands of Chelsea and Tottenham, ten subsequent matches have been on a knife-edge with the final whistle approaching, yet the Royals left the pitch disappointed in each of the next seven, five of which finished all-square.
What they needed was a push, a subliminal cue to promote the idea that they belong at this level and that cue was provided by McDermott. For ten matches, he paraded his technical area looking like someone who’d just finished a night shift stacking shelves at the local supermarket. Against Everton, he put on his best whistle and suddenly he looked the part.
There’s also a distinction to be made between what happens on the training ground and what happens on a matchday. By changing his attire, McDermott is perhaps conveying the message that his preparation is done, the players are ready and now the performance is down to them, whereas the tracksuit says the opposite.
Subsequent defeats at Wigan and Aston Villa will have the luddites howling with derision at the suggestion that a suit can somehow have any influence over results, yet we succumb to such biases in all walks of life. Who hasn’t been hooked on an idea based on somebody’s appearance before?
What we can assume with greater certainty is that Reading will improve as the season progresses and they become more familiar with their surroundings. In each of the past three seasons with McDermott at the helm, the Royals have performed markedly better in the second half of the season compared to the first.
On average, Reading accumulate 50 per cent more points after Christmas when runs of six, seven or eight successive victories are not uncommon. Such a trend is unlikely to be coincidence. This ability to harness momentum is probably down to McDermott’s awareness of his surroundings and his tendency to convey the right messages when necessary.football, Premier League, Reading
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