The defining image from Reading’s 1-0 win over Watford was not anything that happened during the game, but rather the post-match scenes as the Royals celebrated their victory.
Veljko Paunovic gathered all the players and members of the backroom staff in the middle of the pitch in a giant team huddle, epitomising the unity that has been created at the club since the Serbian’s arrival.
There was a particularly touching moment when a member of stuff rushed back to the tunnel to get Felipe Araruna, and the midfielder hopped over to the centre circle on crutches to join the group. It cannot have been easy for Araruna arriving at the club from Brazil in January only for the world to shutdown two months later, but he now appears to be a fully integrated member of the squad.
As the huddle dispersed, there was rousing shout of ‘TEAM!’. It perhaps had more of an impact because there was no crowd noise to mask it, but it really showed the togetherness and fighting spirit in the squad.
It was emphasised again last week when Paunovic was awarded the Championship’s Manager of the Month accolade for September.
There is one particular image of Pauno holding the trophy, and behind him are a remarkable 16 members of staff. The usual suspects are there – those in the coaching set-up – but also groundsmen, medical staff and the kit man. It is a rather literal manifestation of the phrase ‘we’re all in this together’, but amazing to see.
Unity is something Paunovic has mentioned in multiple interviews and it is easy to pass it off as an old cliché, but it is a genuinely vital part of a successful team.
This is a shameless plug, but I interviewed Brian Tevreden for The Tilehurst End Podcast in the summer. He said a lot of interesting things, certainly some eye-opening things about Ron Gourlay, but one of the quotes that stood out the most for me was when he was describing the cohesion around the club as Reading reached the play-off final in 2017:
“What was really important that year was that everybody was together, from top to bottom. From kitchen staff to the toilet cleaners – everybody was one. There were no closed doors. There was a really good vibe at the club.”
The impact of a feel-good atmosphere cannot be understated. To paraphrase a famous Michael Jordan quote, talent can only get you so far. It is teamwork that achieves meaningful success.
On the playing side of things, the fact that Reading have a smaller squad this year certainly helps – having fewer out of favour players sitting on the sidelines will only benefit team morale.
If the squad does need bolstering on occasion due to injuries, Paunovic has shown he is happy to supplement the matchday 18 with academy prospects who are hungry to impress and this only improves the squad dynamic.
Winning the first four games of the season has undoubtedly helped foster a great team spirit, so it’s important that when the Royals do suffer a blip, that togetherness remains because ultimately it will be what gets them out of a rut. Pass that test, and who knows where the season could take us.
By Olly Allen