Last year marked the decade anniversary of Reading FC’s most successful season ever, a whole ten years since that remarkable team amassed the fabled 106 points.
Moving into the 2016/17 season obviously means that it has now been eleven complete seasons since Murty et al lifted the Championship trophy and so it is now possible to construct a Reading FC XI which features one player from each season since the start of 2005/06.
Consequently I did just that, trying to create the best team possible.
Some choices were extremely difficult and I have tinkered around with the team so much since my original XI. Unsurprisingly it was easier to choose players when the team had good seasons, such as in 05-09, and from 10-14, but the few anomalous seasons under Rodgers and McDermott 2.0 proved made it difficult to yield a viable candidate for the starting line-up.
There are indubitably some contentious choices in there that some will not agree with (looking at you, Liam Rosenior) but there are personal and statistical reasons for each selection.
Nonetheless, here is why I chose who I did.
Alex McCarthy (2012-2013, 19th in the Premier League)
Originally the current Southampton ‘keeper did not even spring to mind as a candidate for the number 1 shirt in this team as Federici and Hahnemann dominated my thought process. However with Federici having his best season in 2011-12 and Hahnemann in 05-06 they were unrealistic options given the plethora of exceptional players Reading had in both of those seasons.
Hence, McCarthy came to mind and his selection made sense. That solitary Premier League season was very anticlimactic given the highs of 2011-2012 but Alex McCarthy was undoubtedly the proverbial silver lining of an underwhelming campaign. His unbelievable performance against Suarez-Sturridge era Liverpool will live long in the memory as he kept out the Merseysiders time and time again to keep a clean sheet, finish second in the Player of the Season poll and eventually earn a senior England call up.
Michael Hector (2014-2015, 19th in the Championship)
Reading have not been short of formidable centre backs through the last decade and a bit and Liam Moore could well be the next great defensive Royal. ‘Big Hec’ was arguably the last good centre back Reading had despite featuring in a team that conceded 69 goals in a truly abysmal season which culminated in their worst finish out of this entire period. Obviously selecting a player from this campaign was always going to be challenging, but the Jamaican, like McCarthy in 12-13, was the shining light amidst the gloom.
Chipping in with three goals and two assists as well as one of the best performances I have honestly ever seen from a Reading defender in the FA Cup semi-final with Arsenal means Hector earns his spot in this squad. His career has stalled somewhat since joining Chelsea, but I hope he can realise his potential in Frankfurt because what he showcased two years ago was very special.
Ivar Ingimarsson (2006-2007, 8th in the Premier League)
Reading love an Icelandic cult hero and no-nonsense centre-half Ingimarsson more than deservedly fills in alongside Michael Hector. Realistically, almost anyone from this season would have had a case for being in this team (with the exception of Greg Halford) but with Ingimarsson being an integral part of 05-06 as well as 06-07, in which Reading only conceded 47 goals in the latter, it is hard to leave out anyone from Reading’s best ever defence.
You could reasonably make a case for Ibrahima Sonko to replace Ingimarsson but if I remember correctly the Senagalese was not as reliable in those two Premier League seasons. Also, Ingimarsson is in the team for personal reasons. Having missed the opening game at home to Middelsborough it was Ingimarsson’s incredibly brave header at Manchester City’s back post that meant I saw my first Reading win in the Premier League. One of Reading’s best ever signing’s and winner of Player of the Season award in this season, you imagine he would have been a good mentor for the erratic Hector.
Chris Armstrong (2008-2009, 4th in the Championship)
‘Great left backs’ and Reading FC have been almost synonymous over this period, with Nicky Shorey being one of the club’s best ever players from 2004-2008 and the cultured left peg of Ian Harte inspiring Brian McDermott’s squad to the title in 2011-2012. But in between these two was Chris Armstrong, the left back who was perhaps not quite as spectacular as Shorey and Harte but who was definitely just as good, if not better.
Shorey’s departure was worrying for the Reading fans but Coppell and his board showed a great eye when acquiring Armstrong’s services. With 4 assists and one goal from 40 appearances in one of the most defensively resilient Reading teams in the modern era (only 40 conceded across all competitions) Armstrong re-assured Royals that Shorey was not irreplaceable. His Player of the Season win was remarkable given that Reading still had players like Kevin Doyle, Stephen Hunt and Marek Matejovsky playing at their peaks.
Liam Rosenior (2007-08, 18th in the Premier League)
Yes, Liam Rosenior. 2007-2008 was not exactly stellar for Reading and the juxtaposition between this season and the season prior to it was immense. There were better players than Liam Rosenior in this campaign, namely the electric Stephen Hunt but ultimately, right back was the last position I had to fill and 2007-08 was the last season I had left.
This meant choosing either Rosenior or club Captain Graeme Murty. While for some the latter would triumph every time, for me, Rosenior gets the nod. Ironically Murty actually played nine more times than his teammate across all competitions in this campaign but from what I remember as a disappointed twelve year old was that Rosenior was the more athletic, attacking minded and energetic full back whereas Murty was the injury plagued symbol of the ‘good old times’ who needed to be quickly replaced. Nevertheless Reading were relegated anyway and this season would resemble a huge missed opportunity. Happy thoughts.
Oliver Norwood (2015-2016, 17th in the Championship)
I never really shared the general sentiment of fear and scepticism originating from the Reading FC fanbase regarding the Dutch-Thai transition that occurred over the summer just passed but I did get a genuine sense of poignancy when Oliver Norwood left for Brighton late in pre-season. He divided opinion for many as he was seen as the luxury player in a season where Reading were clearly lacking defensive and offensive pragmatism and ruthlessness.
In my opinion though, Norwood was the first player I actually liked in a long time for Reading. The previous three seasons before 15-16 were so stale, even during the 7th place finish of 2013-14, but the deep lying playmaker was someone who represented a potential change in fortunes. While his teammates faded after that 4-2 loss to Fulham last year, Norwood maintained a level of consistency that saw him finishing the campaign with three goals and 12 assists in all competitions. You imagine Stam would love to have him in the George Evans role this season.
Gylfi Sigurdsson (2009-2010, 9th in the Championship)
Despite only playing one full season in blue and white, Gylfi Sigurdsson remains my, and I’m sure many other millennial Reading fans’, favourite ever Reading player. 2009-10 was a season of mass transition (read: temporarily absolutely woeful) yet like Hector in 14-15 and McCarthy in 12-13, Sigurdsson was the sole hope for the Royals in a dire season, winning the player of the season award without any real competition.
20 goals and ten assists meant many highlights from the young Icelander, including that incredible dipping shot against West Brom in the FA cup, that cool, cool penalty at Anfield and his deft flick which beat Burnley. Admittedly, a fair amount of his goals came from set pieces but nevertheless Sigurdsson was the heartbeat in a team which desperately needed a leader. If it had not been for him Reading might have been relegated to League 1.…
Jobi McAnuff (2011-2012, 1st in the Championship)
One of only two players to ever captain Reading FC to the top flight, McAnuff would take the armband in this team. Twitter would often criticize McAnuff because he was not exactly the conventional captain, but what he lacked in vocal ability he made up for in footballing leadership.
His highlights in a Reading shirt arguably came the two seasons prior to 2011-12 and there is a case to have the impeccable Alex Pearce in the team and then switch 2006-07 Stephen Hunt into left midfield, but McAnuff’s contribution in 2011-2012 was invaluable. He would often switch to centre midfield during that mini injury crisis at the tail end of the season and provided 5 goals and 11 assists throughout the campaign. Reading fans best McAnuff memory though has to be the pure elation on his face at the final whistle when Reading gained promotion against Forest in April 2012. McAnuff embodied the nervousness and apprehension and eventual release of joy which had built up in every Reading fan that season and will therefore remain a favourite for years to come.
Garath McCleary (2013-2014, 7th in the Championship)
2013-14 was a weird season for Reading. There was a palpable sense of expectation for promotion straight after relegation the season before, especially with Adkins’ supposed revolutionary style of play, but there was always the feeling that the team was never quite good enough.
McCleary was one of very few players who bucked the trend that season though and I would argue that 2013-2014 remains his best season in a Reading shirt, unless he keeps up the form he has shown this season. His wonder goals at QPR and at home to Burnley were a couple of the best Reading strikes I have ever seen live and his eleven assists that term contributed heavily to an impressive 70 Reading goals scored. If Jordan Obita had not been such a breath of fresh air in 13-14 then perhaps McCleary would have claimed the Player of the Season award that year.
Shane Long (2010-2011, 5th in the Championship)
Was the Shane Long the last great Reading FC striker? Adam le Fondre may have won a Player of the Season award in 12-13 and no one can fault Jason Roberts or Pavel Pogrebnyak for their efforts in previous years, but no one has scored goals on the level of the Irishman since his stellar campaign of 2010-2011.
It’s hard to resist putting 2010 Jimmy Kebe into this team but with 25 goals and an utterly incredible 20 assists to his name in 2010-11, it was impossible to leave him out. My first Reading away game was the play off semi-final away to Cardiff, the game in which Long scored twice. His second goal was followed by a strange celebration which symbolised his Reading career – a long delay of nothing ensued by a fantastic eruption. Despite the insipid start to his stay in Berkshire, Long will go down as one of Reading’s best ever strikers.
Kevin Doyle (2005-2006, 1st in the Championship)
Like with 2006-07 and 2011-12, any number of players could have made this team from the 2005-06 roster, including Doyle’s striking counterparts Dave Kitson (what a bargain) and Leroy Lita. However, Doyle gets the nod from me because of his versatility, because he scored the promotion goal at Leicester and because Doyle at his peak partnered with Long at his peak would have been unstoppable.
Scoring 18 goals and winning the Player of the Season award for this year also helped my choice, but Doyle gets in ahead of Sidwell, Sonko, Little, Hahnemann, Murty, Harper etc., because of how his fortunes mirrored the clubs; a sudden rise from obscurity to the absolute pinnacle. My memories of Doyle may be blurred by a romantic nostalgia but at times it was like he was a blend of our best recent strikers; the endeavour of Noel Hunt, the pace of Leroy Lita, the potency of Shane Long, the strength of Jason Roberts and the ambidexterity of Dave Kitson. Reading FC’s perfect striker.
So there you have it; my perfect XI from the last eleven seasons, using only one player from each season. Granted, it’s a very top heavy team, but I still would have loved to have seen it in action. If I were to include a player from 16-17 it would be John Swift or Chris Gunter at the moment, but that could all change.
Send The Tilehurst End your teams and see if you can help me get rid of Liam Rosenior...