The summer of 2015 has entered the Reading FC record books as being the transfer window where the club made the most signings ever. It's quite a turnaround from the beginning of June when some fans were starting to panic at the lack of new faces, let alone this time last year when the Royals were forced to start the season with Ryan Edwards and Jake Taylor in the team.
Three of the new signings probably don't really count. Michael Hector was already at the club while Lisandro Semedo and Rowan Liburd will likely spend the season with the U21s.
The summer transfer activity has left the club with the first team squad below and led to debate amongst Royals fans on a rare potential problem for the club - is the squad now too big?
GK (2): Jonathan Bond; Ali Al-Habsi
RB (1): Chris Gunter
CB (5): Anton Ferdinand; Paul McShane; Michael Hector; Niall Keown; Jake Cooper
LB (2): Jordan Obita; Andrew Taylor
CM (4): Oliver Norwood; Stephen Quinn; Danny Williams; Aaron Tshibola
AM (8): Hal Robson-Kanu; Garath McCleary; Paolo Hurtado; Lucas Piazon; Álex Fernández; Ola John; Jack Stacey; Tariqe Fosu
FW (5): Matěj Vydra; Orlando Sa; Nick Blackman; Simon Cox; Dominic Samuel
So a total of 27 players in the first team squad, with some positions looking far stronger than others.
To help the debate we have also looked at the number of players used by the promoted clubs in the last three Championship seasons as well as the last two promoted Reading teams.
|TEAM||PLAYERS USED||PLAYERS MADE 5+ APPS||PLAYERS MADE 5+ STARTS|
|AFC Bournemouth 2014/15||24||22||17|
|Norwich City 2014/15||30||25||19|
|Leicester City 2013/14||23||20||18|
|Cardiff City 2012/13||27||21||21|
|Hull City 2012/13||30||26||24|
|Crystal Palace 2012/13||30||23||18|
Yes - the squad is too big
Looking at the amount of players making at least five starts in recent years, it seems to revolve around the 20 mark, with a couple of notable outliers - the bloated QPR squad which gambled so much on promotion in 2014 at one end of the spectrum, and our sensational 106 side which (amazingly) only had 15 such players. We're also yet to reach the January transfer window, where teams typically add more bodies to try and bolster their ranks for one last push - Leicester City's signing of Riyad Mahrez and the Royals' own acquisition of Jason Roberts are two names that instantly spring to mind.
To my mind, the problem Reading now have is too much competition for places. It's true to say that, per the above squad listed by position, we have a notable lack of depth at right-back and in central midfield. But with an Academy that has produced the likes of Michael Hector, Jem Karacan and Gylfi Sigurdsson in recent years, Royals fans certainly wouldn't mind a youngster being thrown in if necessary. However, I've argued on our podcast before that Steve Clarke won't be thinking like that - he will want the best players for the best results, whether raised here or elsewhere.
And that's another issue - so many new players entering the doors of Hogwood for the first time. Thirteen in total, from different backgrounds and nationalities, and even from different countries as our scouting network finds more and more talent from abroad these days. Squad harmony isn't something which is created overnight and in the above table, each team made an average of seven summer signings (including youth or depth players). Thirteen we have added, and not one of them (to my eye) is a "developmental" prospect - especially when you consider six are loan deals.
So whilst I am delighted that these players are here, it will be difficult for Steve Clarke to keep them all happy. All six loanees will want to start every game, and will have pressure exerted by their managers to make sure their assets get time on the pitch. The permanent signings will also be expecting their fair shot as well - after all, why would they sign here otherwise? Then you've got the players already here who have seen the swift overhaul of the squad. Nick Blackman, leading our August Player Of The Month vote at the time of writing, must be fearing the worst and looking over his shoulder at the competition, or replacements, Clarke has recruited.
It's fair to say some of the players in that squad won't be expecting too much, a sub appearance here and there or a shot in the cup - particularly the younger guns such as Fosu, Stacey and Cooper. But when you consider that no promoted side has ever given at least five starts to more than 24 players, we'll have to break new ground to reach the promised land. Still, as that magical side of 2005/06 proved, records are made to be broken...
No - the squad is not too big
History teaches us both sides of the argument, as Jonny mentions Reading, and more recently teams like Bournemouth and Burnley, have risen through the league with a tight squad. On the other hand, Watford finished 2nd in 2014/15 having also signed well around 15 players, and four different managers, using 24 players while we'll still only use around 22. The key point is that quality is the real bearer on success. If you stick to 18 players that simply aren't good enough, you'll go nowhere no matter how familiar and settled they are.
In fact, that can have the reverse effect, as a lack of competition can make players lazy. Royals like Jordan Obita no doubt suffered from the absence of serious competitors for their place in the team during last season, and by the latter stages the squad was stagnant. This summer has provided not just an overhaul, but a serious boost in competitiveness.
Players will be unable to believe their own hype and rest on their laurels when internationals, experienced professionals, and up-and-coming academy products are snapping at their heels for a place on the pitch. Our promising youngsters must now go out on loan, as reduced playing time can harm morale and development, but in a winning environment this can matter little.
Creating that winning environment can best be done with this big squad because squad rotations can cover fatigue over the 50+ games we'll play this season, and quality will not suffer as a result. Furthermore, seasons past have been plagued by injury and we can't rule that out this season - in which case we will be perfectly covered.
I have no doubts that a tight, close-knit squad can have advantages, but the real underlying factor is quality, and that is something you need in abundance. Reading's squad, while unproven at this point in time, has an initial feeling of class and talent, and with a long season ahead every player in that squad needs to play their part if promotion is to be the ultimate goal.
What do YOU think about the squad size? Vote in our poll at the bottom of the page, and leave your thoughts in the comments section.