Will Tariqe Fosu end up the next 'one who got away' or will the now Charlton midfielder become the latest in a string of much hyped Academy prospects who just couldn't deliver at senior level?
If you ask Reading fans across social media, opinion is split, with some lamenting that we've let go 'another Michail Atonio' while others have been left questioning just what went wrong between his impressive debut at Derby in May 2015, to now.
Ultimately, only time will tell whether we've wasted a huge opportunity but based on the evidence in front of us, I'd argue this shouldn't be a move Reading fans should be overly annoyed with.
It's rare for a player to have so much hype and expectation brought on him by one single appearance, yet that's exactly what happened to Fosu on the last day of the 2014/15 season. We might not even be talking about the midfielder now were it not for an unfortunate injury to Jack Stacey half an hour into a meaningless dead rubber for the club at Pride Park. Fosu was summoned from the bench to make his senior debut and put in an excellent performance as Steve Clarke's side ran out surprise 3-0 winners to end Derby's play-off hopes.
To show how much that one game made an impact, a poll on The Tilehurst End that summer saw 74% of you vote that he'd be a Premier League player in 2022.
The 19-year-old was rewarded with a two-year professional contract and initially the winger looked set to deliver on his early promise. First he set up Nick Blackman for a goal on the tour of Thailand, followed by a brace of assists against Bristol Rovers, leading a watching Dave Handbags Harris to comment,
Tarique Fosu looks very good, effective down the left and can go either way which was pleasing. After two excellent assists it will be interesting to see if he can maintain what he is showing currently if he's a regular next season.
Just when Fosu looked a shoe in to be involved with the first team, injury struck. An ankle problem denied him a spot in the squad but already Clarke was sounding words of caution about the impact Fosu would have on his return.
“Everyone keeps saying once we get Tariqe back the squad will be much stronger, but he hasn’t even completed one game in the Championship.
"He’s a young boy with good prospects. I think everyone has to take a little step back and realise that’s exactly what he is.”
“When he’s back he will be a good addition to our squad and he’ll make contributions over the season.
Mixed Fortunes On Loan
By the time he'd returned to fitness, Reading were flying in the Championship and so it was off to League One Fleetwood. That's when the worries around the true ability of Fosu really first started to surface.
At Fleetwood he'd manage just seven appearances, with one goal coming against Swindon on his home debut. After an impressive opening month where he was a regular starter, he suddenly found game time hard to come by and wasn't kept on past January.
Whether that was Fleetwood, Fosu, Reading or a combination of all three remains an open question that was never really answered. By the time he returned, there was a new man in charge at the Madejski in Brian McDermott. Despite Reading now wobbling in the league, Fosu still couldn't get in the squad and by March was back out on loan, this time to League Two Accrington.
Tariqe started in fine fashion, bagging the League's Player of the Month award for April after scoring twice and setting up three more. Yet once more he seemed to fade and failed to feature in their crunch play-off semi-final second leg against AFC Wimbledon.
No Joy Under Jaap
Again the midfielder returned to his parent club to find a new man in charge, this time Jaap Stam. However, just as he'd found under McDermott, Fosu once again couldn't force his way into the mix for the senior team and was soon sent out to League Two Colchester.
Rather than proving Stam wrong with a string of excellent displays, Fosu found life on loan tough. After being given a run of starts early on, he failed to make a starting lineup between October 8th and February 14. You'll notice that such a time period also included a transfer window where Stam decided against bringing Fosu back to Reading despite injury problems for Callum Harriott and Roy Beerens.
He'd eventually find some form again at Colchester, ending the campaign with three goals in two games but overall a record of 14 starts across a season at fourth tier level doesn't scream Championship quality.
Reading's Academy Doesn't Make Many Mistakes
With Fosu out of contract, Reading were forced with two options. Offering him a deal guaranteed a transfer fee regardless of whether Tariqe accepted it, or give him an outright release as they'd done with Aaron Kuhl. The fact they decided the former shows that the club did think he had value, yet the very fact they waited till the summer also shows how much they really wanted to keep him.
As mentioned at the top of this piece, I've heard some people compare this to the situation with Michail Antonio yet this one is very different. For a start, Antonio had already delivered at senior level, both with Reading and especially in loan spells with big clubs in Southampton and Sheffield Wednesday. Michail had clearly demonstrated he was ready for the Championship but Reading's promotion in 2012 left a crowded scene and faced with a player who also wanted to move to Sheffield to be closer to his girlfriend, we allowed him to go for a fee believed to be about £800k.
Here, Fosu really hasn't shown what he can do at this level, yet alone higher. He'll turn 22 in November but to this point he's yet to make a Championship start and has made just four above League Two level. He's certainly got potential and has shown flashes of what he can do over the past few seasons, but he's yet to show he's got the ability to knuckle down and be a week in week out player at Reading's level.
It's not as if Stam's adverse to using younger players either. John Swift, Liam Kelly, Tyler Blackett and Tennai Watson have all been squad regulars despite their young ages.
Personally I'm happy to put my faith in a Manager and set of Academy staff who've let very few players with big potential get away from the club. Charlie Austin is the only megastar we outright got it wrong on, Alfie Mawson, James Henry, Angus MacDonald and Adam Lockwood you could also point at as having solid Championship careers and in most cases those players had to go through several other clubs before they've done so.
Remember Nicholas Bignall? Neville Roach? Uche Ikpeazu? Scott Davies? Shaun Allaway, Thomas Lyskov? All players with plenty of hype and pedigree at younger levels for Reading, some who even impressed at senior level but ultimately for whatever reason never made it in the big time.
Football is sadly a fairly cut-throat business and with money being tighter than ever, you just can't afford to take a chance on every single player who's ever had a good game. There will be mistakes from time to time, yet our track record combined with Fosu's inconsistent loan spells make this move seem like the best for all parties. Yes he could one day be seen as one who got away but the odds here are in the club's favour.