Here's a tricky question you can ask your Reading supporting friends when you next see them: Who is currently the longest-serving player who's yet to make their first-team debut at Reading? Of the 43 professionals in the First Team squad at the moment, 20 players are yet to feature in the League or Cup for the Royals. Of those, Danish goalkeeper Mikkel Andersen has been at the Madejski the longest.
Since signing professional terms with the club in January 2007, Mikkel has played 70 games in England and has featured on the bench many a time for the Royals. However, all of his 70 games have come out on loan in lower leagues, while Reading have had 4 other 'keepers feature on the pitch for them since Andersen joined back in the 2006/07 season. It's not like the management don't believe the he's good enough, regular contract extensions and kind words about the Dane from the coaching staff show he's highly rated despite the lack of game time, but with so many good goalkeepers in recent years, Mikkel has simply been unable to break into the team since he joined nearly 5 years ago. So after so many years without an appearance, it surely won't be long until Andersen decides he needs to be a permanent first choice at a club. But with Adam Federici and Alex McCarthy ahead of him in the pecking order, it seems there isn't much chance he will be this at Reading. This is the problem for the club, how do you keep a player as good as Mikkel at a club, if you're not going to play him?
There is no doubt he's a superb goalkeeper. Rave reviews from fans as well as being awarded the Young Player of the Season while at Bristol Rovers, coupled with some brilliant saves at the recent Euro Under-21's tournament have shown he has the ability to keep goal at a high level, but as mentioned before, there's two things stopping him starting between the posts on Saturday, and Adam and Alex won't be allowing Mikkel much chance of a game at Reading.
While backup goalkeepers, both Adam Federici and Alex McCarthy both enjoyed decent stints playing in the League for the Royals (with Mikkel covering them on the bench on both occasions). 'Fedders' played a number of games following injury to Marcus Hahnemann back in 2008, while McCarthy featured just last season when Adam suffered injury himself. Yet Mikkel is still awaiting a run in the Royals first team, and is unlikely to get one if he remains 3rd choice this season. He will need both Federici and McCarthy to be out injured at the same time, and have a very impressive couple of games in goal if he is to become first choice, which is very, very unlikely.
So how else can he break his way into the first team? Unlike most young backup goalkeepers, who have an older, experienced player ahead of them in the pecking order and wait for age to catch up on the first choice before taking over, Mikkel unfortunately has two 'keepers of a similar age to him, and have another 15 years or so in front of them. Andersen has to prove that he is a better player than the other 'keepers at the club, and he has to find a way of doing this while 3rd choice at Reading.
Next Tuesday could prove to be a big day for the Dane. Reading travel to Charlton in the Carling Cup and as is usually the case with the competition, manager Brian McDermott is likely to rest his first choice Goalkeeper and give the gloves to the backup, but will this be Mikkel? The obvious choice for Tuesday night would be McCarthy (supposing Federici is first choice on Saturday), but following Alex's long run in the first team, Brian may be willing to give the matchday experience to the goalkeeper who hasn't had many games recently, and give Andersen, who has only played once at club level since the start of 2011, his long-awaited debut.
This is the first big decision the club will have to make regarding Andersen, and this match gives a chance to give him some pitch time, however this is also a chance to give McCarthy a game when his options may also be limited this season, so choosing the 'keeper on Tuesday is not an easy decision.
Supposing he doesn't get his chance in the Carling Cup, the only other way for Mikkel to be playing is out on loan, which is where he's been the last couple of years. Spells at Torquay, Rushden & Diamonds, Brentford, Brighton and most notably at Bristol Rovers, where he has made over 50 appearances for the Pirates, is where he's made his name, and it could be what happens again this year with clubs on the look out for goalkeepers as usual. This time however there might not be the right club available. After some good spells at Bristol the last two seasons they may seem a good choice to head off to again, but following their relegation to League 2 at the end of last season, Andersen is unlikely to want to be playing down in the bottom tier and will want to progress his career by playing in the highest standard possible.
So can he get a loan to a Championship club? Unlikely, but to be first choice at that level would be ideal. However League 1 would again be the most likely, which is not the progress the Dane will be wanting, having spent the last two years in that division.
The best option for Andersen it seems, is to leave Reading and be a permanent first choice at a successful club. He has been linked away from the Madejski before, with Panathinaikos and Olympiakos rumoured to be interested last season. It won't be long before he decides he cannot remain backup at Reading any longer, and wants to leave to pursue first-team football. This is the problem for the club, and it will become tougher and tougher to keep him if he remains low in the pecking order for any longer.
So what can Reading do? There's no doubt they won't want to lose him with the talent he obviously has, but with Federici and McCarthy as supposed better options it gives them not much chance of giving him match time to keep him happy. They've been sending him out on loan for games the last couple of years, and while this is all well and good, any player will eventually want to be playing at a club they are permanently at and feel attached to. It won't be long before they are stuck in a situation of play or sell when it comes to the Danish keeper.
It's a problem that's not really been mentioned before, but if Mikkel goes another season without an appearance for the Royals, we could be seeing the last of the Dane. Another problem is if they are to sell him, can they get a good price? While his international showings during the summer will have helped his appeal, the fact he hasn't yet featured at ta higher level than League 1 may put a lot of clubs off bidding a good enough fee for him, and Andersen will need to prove himself at a decent level for clubs to be willing to pay a £1 Million fee that Reading will be likely to demand for a top, young goalkeeper.
It's going to be an important year for Mikkel Andersen. Recent reports suggesting Alex McCarthy could be off on loan for the season, freeing up a space on the Reading bench for Mikkel. All it would then take is an injury to Adam Federici, and Mikkel would finally be getting his chance for the Royals in goal. But then again, he could spend another season sitting on the bench or spending time in the lower leagues, failing to make an impact at his parent club.
Leave your thoughts below on Andersen, what would you do if you were in charge? Loan, play, keep or sell? It's a difficult decision.