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Where Do We Go From Here? A Reading FC Summer Preview

June 7, 2011

So as the dust settles on our Wembley appearance and the players jet off to exotic destinations around the world, attention will now be switched to next season, where Reading will begin their fourth straight Championship campaign.

Below I'll be looking at some of the big decisions that need to be taken over the summer, including looking at who may come in and who might leave the club as well as a bit of pondering about our general future.

Some of the implications for missing out on promotion have been touched upon by Jon in his article after the final  and in our match report while Nick has looked a bit on the future of some players during his season review. There's no point going too much over old ground so I'll try and give this a general look, breaking it down into subsections.

Saying Goodbye

The club has already said goodbye to five players who have featured in the first team, with the most notable the departure of  club captain Ivar Ingimarsson who left at the end of his contract.  Scott Davies, Julian Kelly and Dave Mooney (for more on Mooney check out Sam's article here) have also all been released at the end of their deals, with none of them featuring for the first team on a consistant basis.  We've also likely seen the last of defender Zurab Khizanishvili, who has now finished his loan deal and according to the club has plenty of offers on the table. 

Thankfully for the first time since relegation we'll not be forced to sell any players under contract, and if any do leave it'll be largely on our terms, rather than forced sales.

With the last of the Premier League contracts offloaded in the summer of 2010 and the £8.5 million generated from selling Matejovsky, Cisse, Henry and Sigurdsson, the club's financial 'black hole' of around £4m was safely swallowed up last year with room to spare.   Those cost saving measures coupled with our unexpected Play-Off and FA Cup revenue means that financially we shouldn't be in an immediate hurry to sell anybody below a price we judge fair.

However, our success over the past 18 months will have made bigger teams sit up and take notice of some of our better players. Some of them may well be keen to prove themselves at a higher level, so inevitably some players will leave the club.

The biggest name on the wanted lists of the bigger boys will be top scorer Shane Long, who's been watched by Celtic, Newcastle, Liverpool and Everton to name a few.  Long's got 1 year left on his current deal and his affection for the club and Brian McDermott means he's unlikely to agitate for a move, but that mutual respect will ensure that if a decent off comes in, the Irish International will leave the club. Figures have been quoted between around £4-6million but I can see it being closer to the former will a sell on clause.

Chances of leaving - 80%

Next on the hit list will be Jimmy Kebe who also has 1 year left to run on his contract. The Malian winger has expressed a desire to play in France again  during past interviews and with just one year left on his deal the club could be tempted to ensure they get a fee, rather then gambling on Kebe leaving for free next summer.  The club has held onto stars in the past when their deals were expiring, most notably with Steve Sidwell so it's not out of the question that Brian McDermott rolls the dice and keeps Jimmy for one last season, with a cut price sale possible in January if we are looking out of contention. If we were to sell now I'd expect a fee of between £3-4 million, with that amount halving in January.

Chances of leaving - 60%

Team captain Matt Mills has also come onto the radar of the bigger fish with eye catching displays during our FA Cup run and after spending the past few seasons in the second tier, Mills could well decide he wants a chance at a higher level. The former Doncaster man is also out of contract next summer and if he decides his future is away from the club, there is once again the temptation to get a return on a player who cost the club a seven figure transfer fee. However given the faith McDermott's placed in him and our gradual progression I think Mills will stay at the club unless we get blown away by a silly offer.

Chances of leaving - 35%

Is it a coincidence that since Nicky Hammond retired and took a backroom role that we've slowly improved our goalkeeping department?  Since his time upstairs, we've had a string of solid keepers including Phil Whitehead, Marcus Hahnemann and now Adam Federici who has established himself as the club's number one. Federici is one of the best goalkeepers we've had at the club since Shaka Hislop, perhaps second only to Marcus Hahnemann and despite the occasional error, has won us more than a few points in the last couple of years.  He's also an international goalkeeper with Australia and if Aussie No3 Brad Jones was worth a seven figure fee to go and be Liverpool's number 2 last season, then there is no reason to believe Federici couldn't attract similar interest.  Normally you wouldn't want to lose a goalkeeper of Federici's quality but considering we have Alex McCarthy and Mikel Andersen knocking on the door and Ben Hamer also under contract, the club may see the Australian as expendable to help strengthen other areas of the team.

Chances of leaving - 50%

Another who is more likely out of the door is midfielder Brian Howard, who nearly joined Southampton  in March but chose to stay due to injuries and a desire to help the club get back in the Premier League. However Howard didn't feature much in the run in and with the club locking up Mikele Leigertwood, Howard seems surplus to requirements at the club. That's not to say he isn't usefull, or isn't a good player (see our article on Howard from April) but as a Championship club it's in our interest to free up wage room and generate a transfer fee so I can see Brian almost certainly leaving the club.

Chances of leaving - 75%

Amongst the rest of the squad , both Brynjar Gunnarsson and Hal Robson-Kanu might turn down the contracts they've been offered and leave, though the club would receive a compensation fee for anyone signing Hal.  Elsewhere Jobi McAnuff and Jem Karacan have had interest in the past though it's hard to see McAnuff getting a Premier League move now, and Karacan probably needs another full season under his belt before he'd be considered seriously by a Premier League club. Otherwise we could see another one of the 'keepers leave, with Mikel Andersen or Ben Hamer both candidates, while Marcus Williams may be shipped out if another left back is signed.

Posing for a shot with Sir John and Brian (aka who's coming in)

This one is a lot more fluid and will largely depend on who of the aforementioned players departs, but I'll try and break it down position by position and see if we can expect any new signings arriving at the Madejski Stadium before September.

Goalkeepers

Probably the area of the team where we'll see the least incoming traffic this summer. The club currently have four goalkeepers who have played at League One or higher plus another couple in the Academy who have been getting first team games in the non-leagues.  It's hard to see a scenario where a 'keeper comes in unless two are sold over the summer and one of the remaining stoppers picks up a knock.

Chances Of Signings - 5%

Full-Backs

This is one area where I think we're going to see movement, even though Andy Griffin, Ian Harte and their understudies Shaun Cummings & Marcus Williams are all under contract to the club next year. The Play-Off final showed our frailties against pace and while Cummings could be the answer down the right, the club is looking short down the left hand side. Ian Harte has surpassed all of our expectations, scoring some vital goals and winning a place in the PFA team of the year, but his lack of pace was cruelly exposed at Wembley and if the club are to truly go for automatic promotion then they are going to need somebody a bit more mobile who is able to come in and counteract teams with good wingers and pacey strikers.  I think Harte, Griffin and Cummings will all stay with the club but I can see Brian bringing in a left back, maybe on loan.

Chances of Signings - 80%

Centre-Backs

Another area where we're likely to at least see a loan signing, as currently the club has just two centre backs with Championship experience. Zurab and Ivar have gone, taking with them some 40 league appearances last season and a career total of over 500 games leaving Matt Mills as our oldest centre back at just 25 when we kick off next season.  Mills and Alex Pearce are a solid paring on paper but their record last year wasn't brilliant, with the team winning just 7 of 16 games when the two played together. They haven't ever really looked a brilliant pair when I've seen them play but individually they've both come on well and I'd not be that worried seeing them paired up on opening day.  January signing Sean Morrison is also a good prospect but the jump from League One to the Championship has unstuck many a defender (John Mackie anyone?). A loan is the more likely acquisition (presuming Mills stays...) but I wouldn't rule out a permanent signing of an experienced defender on a short term deal either.

Chances Of Signings - 60%

Wide Midfielders

Right now the club is in pretty good shape, with Jimmy Kebe, Jobi McAnuff, Hal Robson-Kanu at the front of the queue ahead of Michail Antonio and youngsters Jacob Walcott and Jordan Obita. However with some doubts over the future of all of our first three we could again see movement if anybody leaves.  My gut instinct is that Kebe will be the only one to leave with Robson-Kanu and Antonio given more of a chance to shine and no replacements signed.

Chances Of Signings - 30%

Central Midfielders

One of our strongest areas right now, with Jem Karacan, Mikele Leigertwood, Jay Tabb and Brian Howard all under contract next season. On top of that Brynjar Gunnarson has been offered another year and we have a good prospect in Jake Taylor coming through so once again it would take an unexpected departure like Karacan to prompt a major signings.

Chances Of Signings - 20%

Strikers

This is one position where we'll almost certainly see changes as Shane Long looks almost certain to move. With Shane gone our options will be down to Simon Church, Matthuei Manset and Noel Hunt and given Hunt's injury history and the inconsistancies of Church and Manset it's almost certain that Brian will opt to bring somebody in.

Chances Of Signings - 90%

Early Championship Outlook

Once again the Championship promises to be fiercely competitive, with Burnley, Hull, Portsmouth, West Ham, Blackpool and Birmingham all having parachute payments plus strong teams coming up from League One in Brighton, Southampton and free-scoring Peterborough. When you add traditional Championship heavyweights like Leeds, Forest, Middlesbrough and Cardiff it's almost impossible to predict who'll finish where.

That being said Reading have finished in the top 10 in the Championship every season we've been in it since promotion in 2001/02 so we've got nothing to fear. Without knowing the ins and outs of every squad its hard to say where Reading might finish and add our own squad uncertainties to the mix then it's even worse.  Still, if you held a gun to my head and asked me where we'll finish I'd say we'd be in the play-off mix once again. Even if Long and Kebe go we'll have the funds to sign new players and our squad will have benefited from the experiences of last year.

Other Summer Dates

A few key dates for your diary.

June 17th - Fixtures Released

July 11-20th - Slovenia Pre-Season Tour

July 23rd - Northampton (A)

On The Tilehurst End

We'll be bringing you plenty of content over the summer here on The Tilehurst End so keep us in your bookmarks!  In the next week we'll have an end of season Round Table,  a follow up to our Play-Off Final ticket survey, a look at the choice of music at games, transfer rumours, NewsBites an interview or two and lots more.

On top of that we're always keen to get as many people on board as we can, so if you'd like to write something for the site or help out on some of our more regular features please drop us an email at thetilehurstend@gmail.com or visit our Twitter or Facebook pages.