The left back slot is one that traditionally has been a very productive one for Reading. Ever since Nicky Shorey broke on to the scene over a decade ago we've been blessed with some really excellent performers as, along with Shorey, Chris Armstrong, Ryan Bertrand and Ian Harte nailing their places in the starting XI. It's a position that we’ve taken for granted really. The problems there last season then were a bit uncharacteristic and it's understandable that Nigel Adkins has highlighted it as a main area to strengthen.
After the departure of Harte and Shorey the defence is looking pretty inexperienced with only Stephen Kelly aged over 26. However with the centre backs looking relatively settled it makes sense to add a left back who can bring a bit of nous and experience and on paper Wayne Bridge can do that.
It is 15 years since Wayne Bridge made his debut for Southampton and in that time he's played in an FA Cup final, Champions League semi final as well as at a World Cup and a European Championship. There is though a slight sense that he has never quite lived up to his potential.
In 2003 he made a big money move to Chelsea and earned him a regular place in Sven Goran Eriksson's England side but after only a two seasons as first choice left back the arrival of Ashley Cole forced him out of the team and so began a strange limbo period for him. He would stay at Chelsea for three more years but was limited mostly to cup appearances, the odd spell when Cole was injured and a dozen games on loan at Fulham.
Bridge was offered a way out of Stamford Bridge by Mark Hughes and Manchester City's new found millions in 2009 and it was around this time that he had his much publicised issues with John Terry (that we won't go into here). Once again though he again found himself on the sidelines, this time by the arrivals of Aleksander Kolarov and Gael Clichy.
Short loan spells at West Ham and Sunderland followed before he managed to settle at Brighton last season. He played pretty much the full season at the Amex, his first as a regular starter since 2003/04.
The peculiar nature of Bridge's career makes it a little hard to properly judge this signing. On the one hand he is a man who has played in big matches and has 36 caps for England to his name. On the other he is someone who has played very little football in the last decade and has seemed more interested in the celebrity lifestyle rather than resurrecting his football career.
Maybe the most objective way of assessing Bridge then is to look at his year with Brighton. Under Gus Poyet he became adept at playing in a side who look to pass the ball out from the back in much the same manner as Adkins wants to do at Reading. Plus the Seagulls had a good year, finishing fourth in the Championship with Bridge playing 37 games and establishing himself as integral part in their push for promotion.
@tommyrfc Speedy, cracking technique, good passer and not bad defensively. An all rounder. Great championship player. Enjoy!— Marco. (@marco8981) June 7, 2013
The Brighton fans I've spoken to have all been very positive about him as well. He's been variously described as "very good and consistent", "the best left back in the Championship" and "speedy, cracking technique, good passer and not bad defensively". All very reassuring given that this is from people who have been watching him all season.
I must admit to initially being a little bit underwhelmed by this signing. When I hear the name Wayne Bridge I think of a perennial substitute who is happy drifting between clubs whilst picking up a massive pay cheque for not really doing much. A left back version of Stuart Taylor if you will.
On the first point, it does seem that his year at Brighton has rejuvenated him. He’s spoken recently about how Poyet helped to get him to "focus and enjoy [his] football" and it is true that this has also coincided with his much publicised engagement to Frankie Sandford of the Saturdays. Also, Reading often aim to get players who they believe fit in with the club’s ethos and the fact that we tried to sign him in January last year suggests that he’s a player that Nicky Hammond believes has the mentality to take the club up a level.
The latter point was and is one that concerns me a little though. If reports are to be believed Bridge was earning £100k/week at Manchester City and in my view even a figure a third of that would be considered very risky. It’s obviously a lot less of a risk if he can perform and help us gain promotion but I’m not entirely sold on the idea of a left back being our highest earner (maybe second highest behind Pogrebnyak) and if you any doubts about his high wages it’ll be worth remembering that QPR thought him too expensive. Having said all that we will only ever be able to speculate on his salary and given that he’s arrived on a free with a one year deal, perhaps that risk is minimised a little.
I don't know if managers (or in this modern game, directors of football) ever actually draw up a list of preferred attributes for a specific player but if Nigel Adkins (or Nicky Hammond) does then Wayne Bridge ticks pretty much all of them. No transfer fee; top level experience; adaptable to the system; attack minded; good technique. Any concerns over cost and attitude will swiftly disappear if he can perform but they will quickly surface if he doesn't.
After several years of turbulence on and off the pitch, let's hope Wayne Bridge has now settled down and in much the same vein as Ian Harte a few years ago, wants to prove a point in the Premier League and will roll back the years to help us get back there.