It is inscribed into the history of Reading Football Club that we only buy unknown players from small leagues or clubs, and they somehow, rather fortunately, turn out to be icons. Kevin Doyle is a perfect example, I’m sure if you looked up bargain in the dictionary his face would be plastered across the page, signed for a fee of around £70k from Irish minnows Cork City. Not much was expected from a twenty-something year old from the Irish league but he soon became a fan favourite, as his keen eye for goal and rampant work-rate quickly won over The Royals fans' hearts and saw him score 19 goals in his debut season (2005/06).
Although in recent times this stereotype that we, as Reading fans, used to hold so dearly has now all but vanished, with the game changing and modernising around us. We couldn’t expect to continue this trend of signing young players and turning them great. Money talks, and soon the world of football reflected this, with big money transfers and player loyalties deteriorating when a bit of a wage boost from rival parties were thrown in front of their faces.
And now the trend has changed for The Royals, as now there seems to be no in-between, either we sign a player who really adds something to the team, or we sign someone with high potential who we all get excited about, and then he flops.
We can all agree that it hasn’t been the season we were expecting, we came into this season fresh faced and ready to challenge for a top half/playoff position, but come April with the season drawing to a close, The Royals find themselves slumped in the lower half of the table, a frustrating 15th place.
The side that lined up for the Royals at Elland Road on Saturday is almost completely unnoticeable from the team that faced Leeds last season. In a 2-0 home loss at the Madjeski, only 3 players (Hector, Norwood and McCleary) survived the forthcoming summer turnover and started against the Whites on Saturday. There has since been several sales and purchases, shaking up the team considerably, so how well have these replacement players done?
I’ve taken the liberty of dividing the players signed in the summer and January into two categories—successes and failures—along with an extra category of TBC as some signings have yet to show exactly what they’re capable of. To avoid wasting your time or repeating myself I only go into detail on some of the biggest successes and failures in Readings transfer history for this season.
In a season where Reading experienced a disastrous fall from grace — from playoffs to lower-mid table mediocrity; who have been the diamonds in the rough?
Well for a start, Reading would be a lot worse off if it weren’t for the heroics of Ali Al-Habsi. The Omani, brought in to fill the void left by Adam Federici, had a shaky start to his Reading career, battling for the number 1 spot with fellow new recruit Jonathon Bond, before establishing himself between the sticks, as well as putting in some outstanding performances to boot.
Ola John also makes this list quite comfortably, even though it is growing increasingly likely that he will not be returning back to the Madjeski Stadium once his loan finishes. Yes, it can be argued that Ola has looked very much off the pace in recent games, but his contribution to grinding out some key results (the 4-3 win at the Valley and the late winner at Bolton spring to mind) simply cannot be ignored.
Joining the former Wigan keeper and Dutch is captain Paul McShane; if we ignore his complete moment of madness against Middlesbrough, he has been a solid capture for the Royals. Brought in to replace academy graduate Alex Pearce at centre half, the Irishman has put in some strong performances this term and proved to all that he is a true leader.
The rest: Yann Kermogant, Stephen Quinn, Jonathan Bond
Previous manager Steve Clarke’s evident desperation to metaphorically 'go shopping in the rental aisle' in the summer saw 6 players signed on loan for the season (I still forget that we only have Hector on loan), so some were bound to not live up to the unpredictability of the Championship.
The first on this list is Matej Vydra, signed for a £2m loan fee to be out-muscled almost 9 times out of 10, beaten to every loose ball, and miss a handful of straightforward every game. If it weren’t for his 6 FA Cup goals then I would argue that this were one of Readings most unprofitable transfers of all time. There was a time at the beginning of the season where I defended the Czech international, ‘give him time, he’ll come through’ I said, oh how naïve I was.
Joining him is a fellow loan player who arrived in the summer with a lot of expectation, Chelsea winger, Lucas Piazon. My contender for worst player of the season, his performances almost scream his obvious desperation to get back to the warmth and common surroundings of the Chelsea dressing room, where he can continue to live the lie of having ‘world class potential’.
The rest: Alex Fernandez, Andrew Taylor (not particularly a failure, just utterly unspectacular)
Some players brought in by Brian in January are yet to really make a name for themselves, whether this is due to the fact they have struggled with injuries or just simply not ready for the big time yet, is yet to be decided.
Deniss Rakels has scored twice in 8 appearances, with most of these coming off the bench, he has the potential to be a player that offers us a real threat off the bench, whether the Latvian is happy with this role, well, only time will tell.
George Evans has started twice for the Royals since signing from Manchester City in January, a signing for the future almost definitely, as Brain will attempt to ease him into the first team over the next few matches and the entirety of next season. Whether he will be a success or a failure is too soon to tell, as two games isn’t a very good basis to start evaluating a player, but as former captain of Manchester City’s U21s, he must hold some potential, right?