First, the case for not believing the pre-season hype, by Jamie...
Here's a quick Reading FC related trivia question to get you really excited for the new Championship season. What do Jamie Cureton, Martin Butler, Nicky Forster, Shaun Goater, Dave Kitson, Leroy Lita, Shane Long, Kevin Doyle, Grzegorz Rasiak, Adam Le Fondre and Pavel Pogrebnyak all have in common?
They were all signed by Reading for transfer fees less than that of Nick Blackman.
Let that sink in for a minute - in our club's 144 year history, Nick 'nobody' Blackman is the striker we've paid the highest transfer fee for - wow. Brian McDermott did numerous truly great things for our football club in his years as a scout and later as manager. However, paying £1.2m for Nick Blackman in January 2013 wasn't his finest hour.
The fact that the most memorable thing he's done in a Reading shirt is to give it the big one to our travelling fans after scoring an immaterial goal away at Derby speaks volumes. I'm struggling to think of a more selfish Reading player than him since Nicky Forster - the only difference being I'd back Fozzy to finish his dinner, never mind bury the ball in the back of the net. I'm not so sure on Blackman. Neither was McDermott, nor Nigel Adkins - as both struggled to decide whether Blackman was a striker or a winger. For what it's worth, he was equally dull & ineffective in both positions.
So I'm really rather confused as to how on Earth he thinks he can comment and say he's got nothing to prove to anybody. Erm, excuse me? Not even Sir Les came out with such tripe in his disastrous, brief spell with us. So for this to come from someone like Nick Blackman is stunning. Any player saying that after last season should take a serious look in the mirror, let alone Blackman. What exactly has he achieved at Reading? No tears would be shed here should he be leaving us in the short, medium or long term future.
I suspect this is indicative of the selfish streak we've seen in his play and hopefully Clarke takes no prisoners and moves Blackman on; for his nature must be a disruptive force in the dressing room. In order for us to have the best possible chance of success in the forthcoming season, the only point to prove when it comes to Nick Blackman is that money clearly doesn't buy you success. I hope Clarke cashes in at the earliest opportunity.
And now Jonny attempts to defend the striker...
Shane Long might sound a strange point to start this defence of Nick Blackman, but I see many similarities in the pair which lead me to believe the latter can eventually prove himself at Reading – perhaps not to the same extent as the Republic of Ireland striker, but certain at a level that can benefit the team.
When Long came to Reading, not much was expected of the ex-hurler turned footballer. But when thrust into the team, he was raw and unready. He clearly had talent, and showed it in flashes, but was more frustrating than fruitful. In his first two full seasons in the Championship, Long scored just fifteen goals in 68 appearances –admittedly 35 of those came off the bench, but by 2010 he was no longer the super-sub of the Coppell era.
Then, it all came together in style as Long scored 21 goals in 44 Championship starts to seal the first in his line of Premier League moves. What changed? Confidence? The guidance of Brian McDermott? Or just five years’ experience coming together to finally thrust him into the spotlight? Either way, it took time for Long to find his feet and prove himself to be a consistently dangerous striker.
And I see many of the same attributes in Nick Blackman – pace, a good leap, and deadly finishing. 78 appearances and just seven goals for the Royals in his two-and-a-half seasons at the club is a record that no striker would be proud of, especially after costing over £1 million in 2013. But eleven of those came in the Premier League, and of the other 67, just 25 were starts. Blackman has never been given a consistent chance to prove himself – despite many fans bemoaning Long’s extended runs in the side, he would never have launched his career without that opportunity.
Perhaps that’s why he always tries the spectacular when he does make his way onto the pitch. Part of it may be swagger, part may be (over)confidence, but I’m certain Blackman wants to show himself to be a top class striker capable of magic during his limited opportunities. And this off-season he has shown that he can score goals when given a run in the side, and when provided with chances. For me, he just needs to rein in his tendency to fire at will, and instead show patience in front of goal – similar patience he hasn’t been afforded by managers or fans.
Steve Clarke has already massively improved Michael Hector by working on the mental side of his game, rather than the physical and technical. Blackman has raw ability. Hopefully Clarke can show him the patience needed, and be rewarded with the same from the striker.
So going into the season, do you think Blackman deserves another chance or has he exhausted all his opportunities at the club already? Let us know what you think.