After a dismal league season, this summer is the time for a huge revamp at Reading. The squad has gone 'stale' so to speak, and many players that are out of contract are unlikely to be offered new deals. With the bonuses received thanks to the fantastic FA Cup run and the majority of debt paid off, Steve Clarke should have a fair budget to spend to turn our beloved Royals into promotion chasers once again. Here's who I think should be in the starting XI come the start of the 2015-16 season, with new additions and new contracts...
I've gone for a 4-2-3-1 formation in this team, something which Steve Clarke has never tried out and probably never will. But anyway, in my opinion it is the most versatile formation in football. The two defensive midfielders can provide the defense cover, and with Reading having the fifth worst goals against column in the Championship, this is needed. It allows the full-backs to venture forward, which is what both the right and left back in this time like to do. As long as there is a top striker playing as the one, goals shouldn't be too hard to come by, and even if they don't the formation can be changed into an attacking 4-3-3 option if need be. It is a formation that has worked well at Norwich and Derby this season, whilst around Europe, we've seen teams such as Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal have success with the 4-2-3-1 in recent years.
GK - Adam Federici
One of the players out of contract at the Madjeski, and the first to have rumours begin to surround him. It is reported that Southampton want Federici, with Fraser Forster expected to be out for up to a year through injury. This may be worrying, but I think that it is testament to how good the Aussie shot-stopper is that a club expected to be playing in Europe next season want a player that is currently plying his trade near the bottom of the Championship. The club needs to realise this and offer Federici a contract very quickly - without him, I strongly believe we would be in deep relegation trouble right now.
RB - Chris Gunter
The Welshman is a player who the club have thankfully tied down for at least another year, because on his day, Gunter can be one of the best right-backs in the second tier. Apart from a spell on the sidelines through injury, he has been pretty much a regular in Adkins' side and Clarke's side, after he missed just two league games throughout the whole of last season. This shows how vital he is to the club, whilst he is also the most capped player in the current Wales squad (58 appearances), so he's obviously doing something right. Since Gunter hasn't had the pressure of captaining the side, he has been the most confident man in a defence that has otherwise looked shaky the entire campaign.
CB - Michael Hector
We all know that Michael Hector is destined to play in the Premier League at one point in his career, hopefully with Reading. Since returning from a loan at Aberdeen last season, the centre-back has matured incredibly quickly and was given his opportunity at the start of the season, following Sean Morrison's departure to Cardiff City. Hector's taken it with both hands, and proved to Royals fans that he's certainly one to watch in the future. During our previous two promotion campaigns, a solid centre-back has been crucial in a successful team. Ivar Ingimarsson in 05-06, and Alex Pearce (who won the Player of the Season award) in 11-12. Michael Hector has the potential to be just as important next season.
CB - John Mensah
Hector is still only 22 years old, so still needs an experienced centre-back partner next to him. I don't believe that this is Alex Pearce, who I don't think should have his contract renewed at the end of the season. My choice would be Jonathan Mensah, who you may remember played for Sunderland on loan between 2009 and 2011. The 32 year old is currently a free agent, but has experience at the top level, and has 86 caps for Ghana. He captained the Black Stars at the 2010 World Cup, with his physique earning him the nickname the ‘Rock of Gibraltar’. Mensah's wages shouldn't be too high, whilst he can also fill in at right-back if need be. My only worry about him is his lack of pace.
LB - Jordan Obita
We may not have seen the Player of the Season performances that won him the award in 2013-14, but Jordan Obita has once again proved, like Michael Hector, that he is a prospect for the future this season. He has more assists than any other player at the Madjeski Stadium with eight in all competitions, mainly down to the fact that his delivery is probably the best at the club. At the end of last season he was called up to the England Under 21 squad, scoring once in two games at the Toulon Tournament, showing his potential. As he gets older, Obita may gradually transform into a left winger as his number 11 shirt suggests, but for the next few seasons at least I see his best position at left-back. A similar transition happened with a certain Gareth Bale...*
CDM - Danny Williams
I struggle to think of a player to have played for Reading over the last few years with more passion and desire than Danny Williams. I was at Charlton when he celebrated with the fans last season, and there again when he lost his temper to get sent off just a few weeks ago. The midfielder is one of few players who I have hope for whenever he begins a surge forward with his strength and willingness to create a chance for a teammate. It is a huge credit to Williams that he has earned a recall to the USA national team, and he was unlucky with injury to miss out on last year's World Cup. He was put straight back into the team after returning from injury back in November, justifying how valuable he is at this football club. He has been able to work competently with both Oliver Norwood and then Nathaniel Chalobah in the middle of the park, and hopefully the next player too when he returns fully from injury.
CDM - Jem Karacan
When he returns fully from injury. It seems we've been saying that for ages about Jem Karacan, and the truth is, we have - ever since he picked up that horrific, 13 month long injury against Leeds in September 2013. Fingers crossed, touch wood, Karacan is now fine, and should be ready to start the new campaign in August. That is if he signs a new contract. Out of all the first team players, I think only him and Federici should be offered a new one, and I've already accounted for the latter. First and foremost, Karacan is our captain, and he loves his club. And everyone at the club loves him. The noise inside the Madjeski when he returned against Middlesborough in January was one of the loudest this season, whilst his superb goal against Watford shows that he's still got, even after a long spell out. Call it a risk, but if Jem doesn't get a new contract, then no one will.
RM - Garath McCleary
He may not be back to his best, but Garath McCleary is slowing getting back to the impressive winger that we saw throughout last season. I think that he will still be at the Madjeski next season, as with still two years left on his contract, it's unlikely that any club will want to pay over the odds for him. With Jamie Mackie returning to Nottingham Forest, the 27 year old will face little threat for his spot on the right wing, and it's unlikely to be a position that Steve Clarke will strengthen in. On his day, McCleary is incredibly quick and a good crosser of the ball and we saw last season that if you need a wonder goal out of nowhere, the Jamaican international is your go-to man. If he can stay fit and have a good pre-season, McCleary could be a star in next season's Royals team.
CM - Adlene Guedioura
Whilst Karacan and Williams are perhaps slightly defensive minded, Adlene Guedioura is more of an attacking option, but can also drop back as well, making him a good option for the team. Currently on loan at Watford from Crystal Palace, the Algerian was brought to England by Wolves in 2010, and impressed for Mick McCarthy's side in the Premier League. Since then he has also played for Nottingham Forest as well as Palace and Watford, meaning he is experienced in the Championship. In 13 games at Vicarage Road, Guedioura has two goals and four assists, proving key in the Hornets' promotion push. It doesn't seem like he's wanted back at Selhurst Park, so at around £900,000, I think the midfielder would be a good signing for the Royals. His quality is clear to see at this level, and would bring something different to the squad.
LM - Tom Ince
The most optimistic and unlikely signing of all. But Steve Clarke should definately attempt to get him on loan or permanently, because you only have to look at his impact at Derby since January to know how good he is. Once tipped for Premier League greatness, Tom Ince may just have found his level in the Championship, and if he were to play in the top division, it should be with a club he has got promoted with - and why can't that be Reading?! The winger has seven goals in 13 games at the iPro following a loan move from Hull, bringing some life to the Rams' promotion push. Ince could well face another temporary move in the summer, and despite interest expected to be very high, Steve Clarke has fought off higher opponents to bring in Chalobah and Ake, so you never know. But as I said, optimistic and unlikely.
ST - Patrick Bamford
We've seen Steve Clarke's links with Chelsea and Jose Mourinho come in handy this season, with the Scot bringing Nathan's Ake and Chalobah on loan from Stamford Bridge. Although I wouldn't mind seeing either back in Berkshire next term, the one Blues youngster I think should be our top target is Patrick Bamford. The 21 year old was rumoured to be joining us last summer, before Middlesbrough snatched him under Nigel Adkins' nose. He's impressed greatly at the Riverside, scoring 15 goals, making me wonder how well we would of done with him in the side this season. It's highly unlikely that he'll be in Jose Mourinho's plans for next season, and if Boro and Aitor Karanka don't conjure up a deal first, Clarke should act quickly in order to secure the young striker, who can also play the attacking midfield role if need be.
The subs bench is more than likely going to be made up of a few new faces and promising youngsters next year. A new back-up goalkeeper is required as I don't think Mikkel Andersen's contract will be renewed, or those of Steven Kelly and Yakubu, who have been bench regulars this term. I would like to see Jamie Mackie back at the MadStad, but that could ultimately be Forest's decision, whilst the likes of Aaron Tshibola and Dominic Samuel have impressed in loan spells this season, so should at least be given a shout.
*I compare Jordan Obita to Gareth Bale in a very loose sense!
So which players would you like to see lining up at the Madjeski Stadium next year? Agree with my signings or have some potential ones of your own? Maybe you disagree with the formation? Let me know in the comments below!