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View From The Tilehurst End: Should Hec Play Where His Shirt Number Suggests?

We've seen him play in midfield before, but should Michael Hector, now wearing number eight, feature there more often? Olly takes a closer look in the first edition of our weekly View From The Tilehurst End.

Ball playing defender or ball playing midfielder?
Ball playing defender or ball playing midfielder?
Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

When Reading’s long-awaited shirt number list was revealed last week, there was one big surprise in Michael Hector’s change of number. It was thought that after an excellent campaign in which he finished in the top three of the club’s player of the season, the 23 year old would get an upgrade from #15 to maybe either #3 or #5. However, no one expected the reality – which saw Hector take the number eight shirt.

Now, he clearly has his reasons for this switch, as on his Instagram, he posted "Always wore it when I was younger so I always wanted to wear it as a professional", but something bugs me about supposedly a centre-back wearing a number which is traditionally for midfielders.

Unless it means that we could be seeing Hector slightly further up the pitch this season. Could this realistically be the case? It’s definitely a possibility, as the Jamaican international has played in a midfield role before, and indeed made his first Madjeski Stadium start in the centre of the pitch against Huddersfield in March 2014.

Speaking after that game, in which he nearly scored, Hector told GetReading:

"It was a bit of a surprise because I thought there might have been in place for me at centre half. But playing in the central midfield, I felt comfortable there. I've done it before in previous loan spells. I done it this season for Aberdeen at Celtic so it doesn't get any tougher than that."

Throughout the majority of his spell in Scotland, Hector was used in midfield, and you may remember even scored a 25 yarder against Partick Thistle whilst playing further up the pitch. When recalled from the loan spell, Nigel Adkins did also use him in a holding role a few times, including against Wigan on the opening day of last season. Since Steve Clarke has come in though, Hector has heavily featured as a centre-back and earned high praise for his performances there, especially against Arsenal at Wembley. Jamaica also played him at centre-back during the Copa America and Gold Cup this summer.

So, does Hector have the qualities to play in midfield? I hate to sound like Sky Sports, but I’m going to look at Football Manager’s evaluation of him. They say he is natural as a defender, accomplished as a defensive midfielder and awkward as a centre midfielder. On the game, he is described as a ball playing defender, which is very true, as he certainly does look comfortable with the ball at his feet. According to Squawka, in 2014-15, he had a 65% pass success rate, which in comparison to Reading’s other midfielders from last season isn’t great. In fact it’s worse than Nathaniel Chalobah (74%), Oliver Norwood (77%), Hope Akpan (77%), Jem Karacan (87%) and Danny Williams (87%). In terms of possession of the ball (tackles, headed battles, take ons etc.), Hector won 57% of his duels last season. That is where he beats most of the other midfielders, with Williams (42%), Akpan (44%), Norwood (48%) and Chalobah (50%) all with lower percentages. Only Karacan had a better record, but only just - with 59% of his duels won.

Moving on, where is Hector most needed in terms of squad depth? If he was to play in midfield, it would I suppose solve the problem as to who would be the centre-back pairing, because as it stands, one of Hector, Anton Ferdinand and Paul McShane is going to miss out each week. But then behind them, the only cover is youngsters Jake Cooper and Niall Keown. In centre midfield, Steve Clarke’s current options are Steven Quinn, Danny Williams, Oliver Norwood, Aaron Tshibola, and then possibly Aaron Kuhl and Liam Kelly. That’s immediately more players to choose from, even more so if Alex Fernandez joins from Espanyol. Is Hector really needed in midfield with all of those players already?

It would be interesting to see the player’s personal preference as to his position. Hector may be like Jordan Obita and see his career further up the pitch, or perhaps he is happy at centre-back. Personally, I think he should stay in the back four, as that is where there is less cover and where he impressed greatly last season. But don’t rule out an occasional appearance in a holding role if needed, as we know Steve Clarke likes midfielders who are tough tacklers and ball winners. He’s certainly got the ability to start attacks from the back and create chances for team-mates. In that respect, he could turn out as a Franz Beckenbauer type of player, or sweeper, if you will. Either way, Hector definitely has bags of potential.