The headlines this weekend will be dominated by Wayne Rooney’s wonder goal, Liverpool’s SAS-inspired title challenge and Arsene Wenger’s nightmare 1000 game milestone at Stamford Bridge. However in the Championship Reading continued their push for an immediate return to the Premier League. While a 2-1 victory at a struggling Birmingham City may not have been noticed by many people outside the Royal County of Berkshire it was a significant win for one player at the club especially, club captain, Jobi McAnuff.
When he followed Brendan Rodgers to the Royals from Watford in the summer of 2009 his career had taken him to West Ham, Cardiff City and Crystal Palace. Since starting his career at Wimbledon, the Jamaican international hadn’t played over 100 games for any of his previous five clubs and never staying at a club more than a few years.
At the start of the 2008/9 season Reading were a club in transition following the departure of legendary manager Steve Coppell and a number of their high profile players including Kevin Doyle. Former youth team coach Rodgers took the helm with the task of rebuilding the team. While trying to introduce a new passing philosophy, new signings and integrating youth players into the squad, an appointment which looked perfect didn’t work out and Rodgers was gone before Christmas.
When Rodgers left it could have also signalled the end for McAnuff’s Reading career as the man who brought him to the club had moved on. However the London-born winger settled into the team, which was revived in the New Year by Brian McDermott, and made 41 appearances in his first season at the club. One of the highlights of the year was an FA Cup win at Anfield, and when Jobi McAnuff slalomed through the Liverpool defence he almost scored one of the most memorable goals ever seen in a Reading shirt.
The following year, with the new-look team settling in the Championship, Reading reached the play-off final. In the semi-final at Cardiff Jobi McAnuff scored a superb individual goal to round off the victory. For a young team including Jem Karacan, Simon Church and Hal Robson-Kanu, with a new manager it was a fine achievement. As fate would have it their opponents at Wembley were Brendan Rodger’s Swansea, who went on to reach the promised land of the Premier League with a 4-2 victory.
The defeat lead to a Shane Long and Matt Mills departing over the summer and the prospects for a successful season looked slim. With club captain Mills one of the players moving on Reading had to appoint a new skipper. At the age of 30 and having become a highly respected member of the squad following 3 years at the Madejski Stadium, McAnuff was the ideal man for the job.
When the club went on their pre-season tour to Slovenia a number of youth players were integrated into the squad. A story of new skipper, McAnuff choosing to sit with then-18 year old Jordan Obita on the team bus, rather than his mates showed the class of the man. After games McAnuff always makes himself available to the local media to give his thoughts on the team. He always comes across with great dignity and maturity.
However, not everyone is a fan of McAnuff. When the team is playing badly the skipper is the first player the crowd start to complain about. As a winger and a key player for the club he puts extra responsibility on himself to take the initiative in games and sometimes that can be his downfall. After the game on the phone-ins the captain always seems to be the fall guy.
After playing every Premier League game last season, under Nigel Adkins McAnuff has been in and out of the team. Some players would complain to the manager or the media, especially if they were the captain, feeling they were entitled to a place in the side. However Jobi McAnuff has never let his head drop and is always encouraging his team mates from the side-lines when he’s not playing. Through his hard work he has forced his way back into the team, which has seen an upturn in the team’s fortunes, and this weekend he scored a brace, his first goals for the club in 2 years.
Following his match-winning display the local radio phone-in consisted of a mixture of praise for the team, and supporters of the club questioning where the “Jobi haters” had gone. This wasn’t just one or two; there were a number of texts, calls and tweets in support of the club captain, also saying that they were happy for him on a personal level, something which is rare in the modern game. One person admitted they “weren’t Jobi’s biggest fan”, but said he did well in the match (how big of him to say so) but thought that sometimes Jobi lacked effort and passion. Those are two qualities that Jobi McAnuff is never short of and thankfully club legend and BBC Radio Berkshire presenter Ady Williams picked up on this to set the record straight.
For all the people who don’t support Jobi McAnuff there are plenty who do. One of the most popular and respected players in the dressing room, his application and desire make him a fine example to the younger players on the team. As a Reading fan and supporter, some people are neither when they claim to be both, I am proud to call Jobi McAnuff our club captain for all the work he does on and off the pitch.