It's been a question asked repeatedly on social media, by pundits and fans alike over the past few months, just why isn't Dom Samuel being given a chance to impress by Jaap Stam?
His Reading Career So Far... Or Lack Of It.
It's been nearly four years since Samuel first appeared in a Reading shirt, with a then 18-year-old Samuel making an 18-minute cameo in a 3-0 Premier League defeat at Sunderland. Yet that would be his first and last league appearance for the club for the next three seasons, until the forward played the final four minutes of the 2-1 defeat to Birmingham on the opening day of the 2015/16 campaign. 13 months would pass until Samuel would make his third and so far last league appearance for the club, as he featured for five minutes in a 4-1 thumping at Brentford.
Four years, three appearances and just 27-minutes of league football. Not the stuff young dreams are made of.
Of course in between those games Samuel has played plenty of league football, it's just been away from Reading. Colchester, Dagenham & Redbridge, Coventry & Gillingham have all included the striker in their lineups since 2012, with 41 games and 13 league goals coming from those spells but in every season, Samuel has had injuries to deal with.
At Dagenham he was stretchered off with a serious knee injury in his second game, while a productive spell at Coventry was ended by another knee injury a year later. Finally, just when it looked as if he'd be given a good look by Steve Clarke, he suffered another knee problem in a game at Colchester and wouldn't play again until being sent to Gillingham on loan.
But He's Impressed On Loan Right?
Yes and no.
His loan spell at Colchester was short-lived, with the then League One side opting against extending a one-month spell. As mentioned, his time at Dagenham was cut short by injury but at Coventry he enjoyed a decent level of success, with six goals in 13 games before picking up his season-ending injury.
The goal above is typical of the striker Reading have been missing in recent seasons. A quick nimble striker who's able to make good runs and be a force through the middle. If that goal didn't impress you, just look at what he did for the U21's against Manchester City back in 2013.
At Gillingham, Samuel also started brightly, with five goals coming in his first ten appearances as the club looked well placed to win promotion to the Championship. Yet after Christmas the form of both the Reading loanee and the club stuttered badly, with Gillingham managing just five league wins in 2016 and Samuel scoring just twice in his final 15 games. An overall tally of 13 goals in 38 League One games isn't too shabby but it's also not the kind of tally that screams he's ready for the Championship.
So What's Holding Him Back?
His relatively young age and unfortunate injury history have unquestionably had an impact but questions have to be raised as to why the forward has been overlooked in five different managerial spells. Brian McDermott (twice), Nigel Adkins, Steve Clarke and now Jaap Stam have all failed to give him a sustained run in the side but why?
One accusation that seems to have followed the Academy Graduate around for years is that he's not got a great attitude off the pitch. Nigel Adkins was the manager most open on Samuel's temperament, commenting just before his sacking in late 2014.
"Dominic has got a lot of ability.
"But it's like everybody with a lot of ability, you've got to keep pushing yourself to the maximum.
"I don't think there's any better place as a young player to feel as if you've got a chance of getting into the first team than at Reading.
"But everybody knows that you have to work very hard here because that's the standard that we set and demand of each other.
"You can have all the ability in the world, but if you're going to waste it and not work hard then it's a shame."
In fairness we don't see Dom on the training ground, I don't know the bloke and we've got no direct evidence to suggest he's got a poor attitude but there's clearly something missing for him not to be in the first team mix when the striking options available have been mediocre at best over the past three seasons.
His age shouldn't be an issue, after all, players including Aaron Kuhl, Ryan Edwards, Jake Cooper, Tennai Watson, Liam Kelly & others have all been given plenty of opportunities to impress, while as mentioned, Samuel hasn't had his path blocked by vastly superior options. Even Andrija Novakovich has appeared in the same number of league games as Samuel since 2014 despite being two-years younger.
Stam's Ruthless Streak
Once again Samuel's chance to impress a new boss were hampered by injury, when the 22-year-old picked up a knock against Swindon in pre-season. Yet Dom was given a big boost by the new boss when Stam opted against sending him out on loan, saying back on Deadline Day.
"He's going to be staying with the club," said Royals' boss . "We don't want to put him on loan.
"We know his qualities. We've seen that during pre-season. He's got pace and he's got an ability to score goals."
To his credit, Samuel himself is saying all the right things, telling Get Reading's Charles Watts.
"I realise that a lot of people are talking about me," he said. "They include me in their messages on Twitter saying why isn't Dom playing, things like that.
"So I take that as a positive. I wouldn't say it puts pressure on me, it just gives me more confidence going into games.
"I want to score, not just for the club but for the fans who have been supporting me all over the social network."
"Whatever happens I'll always respect the gaffer's decision.
Yet Stam seems reluctant to use the forward, with five minutes at Brentford his only appearance outside of the EFL Cup & Trophy this season. Samuel's failure to score in any of his five appearances certainly don't help his case but then again Yann Kermorgant & Roy Beerens have hardly been full of goals either. Yet Stam's conservatism with his substitutes is also playing a part, with the Dutchman seemingly reluctant to gamble and go for a win, and opting to stay solid for all 90 minutes even when chasing games.
The harsh, honest truth is that all the evidence so far points to a bleak future at Reading for Dom Samuel. If four different managers across four seasons are all looking elsewhere then it points to an issue with the player, rather than a particular manager not rating him. Couple that stat with the weak competition facing the striker and none of it paints a particularly good picture for the 22-year-old.
With January rapidly approaching Samuel HAS to try and stake a claim sooner rather than later as the prospect of reinforcements plus the returns of Deniss Rakels and Yakou Meite will only make his job that much harder. Yet if Stam won't play him even when 2-0 up in a home game against a poor Forest side, you have to suspect it'll take a significant injury or suspension for Samuel to get his chance.