With the Premier League season now just under seven weeks away, Reading are showing early signs of intent with three signings before pre-season training has even begun. Danny Guthrie signed on the dotted line last week to join another new boy, Garath McCleary, on the Reading roster. The third signing of the summer should be completed this week, as Russian international striker Pavel Pogrebnyak will join the Royals as soon as he secures a work permit. The 28-year-old will sign a four year contract at the Mad Stad - here's a look at the past, present and future of Reading's newest striker.
Pogrebnyak is a product of the Spartak Moscow youth system, making his debut for the first team at the age of 19. He scored two goals in 18 appearances for Spartak before moving to Tom Tomsk in 2006, another side in the Russian Premier League. The 23-year-old scored 13 goals in 26 games, helping Tomsk to 8th, their highest ever position. These goals also saw him make his debut for the Russian national side, in a friendly against Latvia - he scored the only goal in a 1-0 win.
His performances for Tomsk secured him a move to Zenit St. Petersburg for the 2007 season, where he joined up with Russian team-mate Andrei Arshavin (now of Arsenal) as well as some other familiar names such as Martin Skrtel and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk. This season, Pogrebnyak managed 11 goals, topping the scoring charts for his new club, as they won the Russian title for the first time in 23 years. This led to Zenit taking part in the Russian Super Cup the next year - and Pogrebnyak scored the winner against Lokomotiv Moscow to secure more silverware for the club.
Russian Super Cup: Zenit 2-1 Lokomotiv - Pogrebnyak's goal (via fin4eg)
The next season, Zenit could only manage 5th place in the League but more than made up for their disappointing League campaign with UEFA Cup glory. Pogrebnyak hit ten goals in European competition - joint top-scorer with Luca Toni of Bayern Munich - as the Russian side beat Rangers in the final. This of course led Zenit into another Super Cup - the UEFA version, against Champions League winners Manchester United. Pogrebnyak grabbed the first goal just before half-time, from less than a yard out, as the Russian side shocked Fergie's men by winning 2-1.
UEFA Super Cup 2008 Final - Manchester United vs Zenit (via blogbola)
Pogrebnyak's performances were not going unnoticed, and it was reported in January 2009 that he might be moving to Blackburn Rovers. The move fell through, but six months later he was indeed packing his bags. His destination was Stuttgart, who had just sold Mario Gomez to Bayern Munich. In two and a half years at the German side he scored 15 goals in 68 appearances, including helping his club into the last 16 of the Champions League in the 2009-10 season, where they drew 1-1 at home to Barcelona before being routed 4-0 away.
Pogrebnyak's goals for Stuttgart 2010/11 (via GeraSagex)
The Russian only managed one goal in 14 League appearances for Stuttgart in the 2011-12 season, although he was noted as a player who worked hard for the team despite his drought. Subsequently on the final day of the January 2012 transfer window, he joined Fulham on a 6-month contract (his deal at Stuttgart was due to expire in the Summer of 2012 anyway). He scored on debut for the Cottagers, opening his account after just 16 minutes against Stoke City. He then grabbed the only goal of a 1-0 win against QPR, before netting a hat-trick in just his third match for Fulham - a 5-0 drubbing of Wolves. This made him the quickest player to net 5 goals in the Premier League. He managed 1 goal in his next 9 appearances for Fulham, finishing the season with 6 in 12.
Pogrebnyak's Fulham goals (via VasiliyRodionov)
Pogrebnyak made it clear that he wanted to stay in England after the expiry of his Fulham contract, and Reading pounced to secure the Russian striker's signing. It was even reported that new owner Anton Zingarevich personally met with his compatriot to present his vision of the club to the striker, a move which also helped secure midfielder Danny Guthrie's services last week.
So how to utilise the new striker?
Pogrebnyak stands at 6'2 and so obviously is potent in the air. One writer says he "holds the ball up well but is erratic in front of goal", whilst Brian McDermott says he is "a team player and he can also score goals". Thus, he sounds similar in stature and ability to January signing Jason Roberts, who is of course suspended for the first two games of the Premier League season. Fulham alternated between 4-4-1-1 and 4-4-2 formations, with Pogrebnyak partnering both Moussa Dembélé and Andrew Johnson up front. In both systems he was the spearhead of the attack, and McDermott will almost certainly play his new striker in a similar role.
The question then comes: who to partner him with? The traditional "little-and-large" combination may be one McDermott wants to try if he sticks with 4-4-2 in the Premier League, and so Adam Le Fondre or Noel Hunt may be the choice along-side Pog for the opening fixture against Stoke City. When Jason Roberts returns after suspension, I'm not sure that he and Pog will play together, as they are similar sorts of players in terms of ball retention and spreading play. However, for difficult away games we may see the two up top together in order to try to retain possession as much as possible. If Jordan Rhodes signs for the Royals after his long-rumoured move to any number of Premier League clubs, I should think they will be the first choice pairing, combining the power and hustle of Pogrebnyak with the sheer natural finishing ability of Rhodes.
McDermott may, of course, try to fit Pogrebnyak into a 4-5-1 system. As previously mentioned, Fulham played Moussa Dembélé just off the Pog as a second striker, whilst for the Russian national side he also spearheads a similar 4-5-1/4-3-3 system. So we may see someone drop slightly off in order to link midfield and attack. Perhaps this will be another new player of the Reading revolution, but contenders from within the squad include new boys Danny Guthrie and Garath McCleary, or possibly even Jobi McAnuff, who has been seen in central midfield for the Royals.
Naturally we must look at the squad size now that Pogrebnyak joins the strikeforce. It means that Reading now have the problem of juggling Pogrebnyak, Roberts, Le Fondre, Hunt, Manset and Church (as well as Brett Williams and Michail Antonio who will also count towards the 25 man Premier League squad-list if included). Perhaps we will see moves out for some of these players - Mathieu Manset of course spent last season on loan at Shanghai Shenhua in China, whilst Antonio and Williams spent time at Sheffield Wednesday and Northampton Town respectively.
As the new era of Premier League football is ushered in at the Madejski Stadium, we may see plenty more moves in and out of the club before the deadline on 31st August. Some shrewd early business for the Royals has seen the side strengthen in key areas already, but don't expect the chequebook to be closed now. The Reading revolution has only just begun.