Despite Adkins’ optimism, relegation looked inevitable before his appointment. His positivity however felt to mask pragmatism that regardless to how the season finishes; the RFC locker-room will see a clear-out. When last relegated in 2008, Sir John Madejski described the squad’s disbanding as "cutting the cloth to match the coat." Fans may expect to experience that process again, but this time round there aren’t any obvious "star players" that could be sold to fill the "black holes" on the Club’s accounting sheet. Relegation will no doubt move some players towards the exit doors, but even more could be pushed through if Adkins’ desires.
So how should Nigel go about rebuilding the squad?
Repeating the exploits of the 2005/06 season is unlikely, but it does provide a good framework to constructing a side capable of promotion. Many of those players had been here long enough to form a winning rapport and were polled by pundits as "the best outside the Premier League." Hahnemann, Shorey, Ingimarsson, Sonko, Little, Harper, Sidwell and Kitson; Established top-end Championship players. The rest of the squad consisted of players either with proven potential and/or Premier League experience.
The fact RFC’s starting eleven hardly changed from 2005-07 surely attributed to that success? Something McDermott tried to emulate this season by often using the 2011/12 squad over new signings. But unlike Steve Coppell, Nigel Adkins has seen in advance of being in the Championship who’s competent in the Premier League, which means there could be quite a cull at the Madejski if he’s to follow a similar model.
By no means should the club spend heavily in acquiring the best and brightest, but sticking by individuals that’ll likely fail again in the Premier League is surely short-sighted? If Adkins wants to create another promotion worthy squad, a new core of established Championship players is needed. Players that would at least make the bench in most rival sides. A few veterans from the top tier could ease the necessary turnover too. Then add the promising players from the lower rungs. Having that concoction in reverse has probably limited RFC in seasons past.
So who should leave? Obviously this doesn’t take into account clauses in contracts nor natural attrition. But here (in my view) is how Adkins should re-build the RFC squad.
Since 2011 debate has raged over who's best between Adam Federici and Alex McCarthy? Some say Mikkel Andersen isn’t far behind either. Surely the Fedders vs. McCarthy saga can’t continue and with Andersen reportedly frustrated he’s yet to feature, it seems excessive to have five keepers? Therefore let Stuart Taylor go when his contract ends this summer and sell either Fedders or McCarthy. Both would fetch a high price and are surely destined for more than the Championship, never mind bench-warming. Andersen should get his chance in the Cups and Jon Henly time to blossom likewise.
Bar an unlikely change of heart Alex Pearce will depart, leaving Adrian Mariappa and Sean Morrison as the only centre-backs. The lack of clean sheets indicates they’re not yet a strong partnership, but they’ve shown potential and a drop in league and regular starts could spark positive developments?
Kaspars Gorkss’ loan to Wolves has the option to go permanent once concluded. Given that QPR’s damning judgment to sell Gorkss sadly appears correct alongside performances this season, it looks best to accept what Wolves or anyone may offer.
Just for numbers at least, new arrivals are needed.
Neither Ian Harte nor Nicky Shorey is the player they once were. With their contracts up this summer it seems right to part company. Joseph Mills too, having failed to make much impact both here and on-loan to Burnley. Mills’ is well known to Adkins, having loaned him in when Scunthorpe manager, only to loan him out to Doncaster and then sell him to us when managing Southampton! Unlucky for Joe it would seem.
Both full-back spots hadn’t looked solid until Stephen Kelly’s arrival. With Shaun Cummings and Chris Gunter also in contention, the right-side initially looks crowded. But all three have shown during their careers they can adequately perform at both flanks. With two starting places between the three, decent competition would hopefully bloom? Granted not their natural side, a proven left-back is probably sought, but at least the squad can have a healthy number of full-backs than the gluttonous contingent of six we’ve had this season.
Limited to brief appearances thus far, Hope Akpan will hopefully come through in the Championship. Daniel Carrico’s impressive cameo against Liverpool only adds to the frustration surrounding his absence. Both should flourish under Adkins.
Put diplomatically (seeing as his goal won promotion,) Mikele Leigertwood’s Premier League credentials look like they went with his Crystal Palace days! Sadly I think this season’s dented his integrity so much he might want to leave anyway. The damage in having Leige on-pitch was probably matched by Danny Guthrie’s resulting antics off it. Although it doesn’t justify his actions, it does add empathy to them. Adkins’ use of Guthrie has finally allowed him to showcase his worth and next season could see him atone.
Defying sceptics he’d cope in the Premier League, Jay Tabb was again RFC’s "Johnny-on-the-spot," being the only positive in midfield when played. With his standard "take no prisoners" approach; he tackled, won the ball back (even in the air,) could actually pass and rarely allowed anyone space. Topped by his tenacious versatility, professionalism and injury-free record, it seems unjust he can leave this summer instead of Jem Karacan. Tabb may not be a game-changing player, but likewise when is Karacan? For me, Jem’s injury record is indicative as to why he’s an ineffectual midfielder. If a bid comes, take it!
What Reading really lack in midfield is a goal scorer. Not quite a Gylfi Sigurdsson-esc second-striker type role (although that would be nice!) But more a Sidwell, Andy Hughes or Darren Caskey type player; a competent midfielder with an eye for goal, regardless if it’s from open or set-plays. Having too many defensive midfielders prevents this.
Captain Jobi McAnuff’s tenure of the armband’s been more criticised than predecessor Matt Mills’. Telling given Mills "flipped the bird" to home fans, never mind comparisons with the likes of Hicks, Murty or Parkinson etc. McAnuff’s inconsistent performances haven’t been what some fans expect of a captain, heightening scrutiny. Given Adkins' right to pick his own skipper, it leaves the decision of whether McAnuff’s presence remains tenable if demoted? Furthermore some believe this season exemplifies why top-flight football previously evaded the Jamaican.
The inconsistent label has been habitual to Jimmy Kebe and sadly this campaign, his fitness followed suit. Although Kebe has blistering pace, he often lacks the composure needed in the final-third. In contrast Garath McCleary & Hal Robson-Kanu have shown all the above attributes and thus probably shone the most this season and more so since Adkins’ arrival. Therefore selling Kebe wouldn’t be disastrous, as both HRK and McCleary have made good cases to start over him.
Recent seasons have relied on consistent scoring from individuals rather than a gang. You only have to look at any successful club to deduce that having such a group is what creates lasting success. Currently nobody in the RFC ranks has a record comparable to Nicky Forster, never mind being the next budding Doyle, Kitson, Lita and Long collective. Adkins must amass such a group to realistically compete for promotion.
Firstly there’s deadwood that needs dumping. The likes of Nicholas Bignall, Karl Sheppard & Brett Williams were all given "Roy of the Rovers" billing, but have shown nothing on loan. To some degree, the same goes to Simon Church and Noel Hunt. Although they’ve jointly made over 200 hundred appearances, their prowess in front of goal is just too irregular, especially compared with colleagues both past and present. Hardworking yet non-scoring forwards simply aren’t viable at the level Reading aspire. Hence Jason Roberts should also be jettisoned. Possibly having a career ending injury, twinned with media commitments has cast last season’s hero an ever growing estranged figure.
Pavel Progrebnyak would frighten Championship defences, but this season either tactics or the player himself has massively let the club down. Normally parties would re-evaluate, but with Pog wanting to make the 2014 World Cup and his apparent high wages for such little return, he’ll likely exit. He could still have some use, but only if each side see it.
Therefore all the Royals have is "super-sub" Adam Le Fondre. A tag he must lose if he’s to rightfully wear the #9 shirt, otherwise cashing in on him might not be a bad idea? A similar challenge waits a yet to score Nick Blackman. But these are players still to undertake a full season in the Championship so let’s not be hasty, nor pin all our hopes on them.
The kids are alright?
Reading FC has for too long flattered to deceive when it comes to the majority of academy graduates. McCarthy, Pearce & Robson-Kanu etc. have all been given a chance and are now rightly reaping the plaudits. In contrast however there is a longer list that hasn’t made it, whom the club were probably too generous in giving time.
The current crop in notably; Lawson D’Ath, Angus MacDonald, Jordan Obita, Dominic Samuel, Jake Taylor & Gozie Ugwu must be given their chance or promptly harvested. For both the club’s wage bill and the academy’s reputation.
As scathing as my proposed exodus is, a possible Reading FC line-up come August doesn’t lack too much in quality: Federici, Cummings, Mariappa, Morrison, Kelly, McCleary, Akpan, Carrico, Robson-Kanu, Le Fondre & Blackman. Subs: Andersen, Gunter, MacDonald, Guthrie, Obita, Samuel & Ugwu.
So lastly, this summer sees the inflated Sky TV deals paid to Premier League sides. Future relegated clubs could keep their top players and thus outclass their rivals vying for promotion leaving the Championship’s top six monopolised by the Premier League’s most recently relegated. Further stretching the already wide financial gap between the two divisions. RFC’s shrewd financial model used in the past wouldn’t compete against the new money. If TSI are to achieve their target of establishing RFC in the Premier League, we need to get back there quickly!
To paraphrase The Clash, if players go there could be trouble. Stay, it may be double.