Brendan Rodgers signed Ilori for a fee worth up to £7m in the summer of 2013 - what did you make of the deal when it was announced?
When Ilori signed for Liverpool back in July 2013, I thought it was a good signing for the future, considering that the centre-backs at the time were Martin Skrtel, Kolo Toure, Daniel Agger and Mamadou Sakho, meaning that game time was obviously going to be limited.
Having come through the youth ranks at Sporting Lisbon, I suspected that Ilori was going to be a very technical and ball-playing centre-back. The only thing that was surprising was the fee that was paid, but fast-forward three-and-a-half years later and suddenly £7m in the Premier League is considered a cheap transfer.
He's struggled to break into the first team squad since then, what held him back?
I think the competition for places in the first team was a major factor, with the centre-back being fourth or fifth choice at best in his debut season. I think his loans spells abroad was also another factor as to why he didn’t feature.
Ilori had a successful loan spell in La Liga with Granada, even managing to keep a clean sheet in a goalless draw with Barcelona. The Portuguese youngster then had another strong spell in Bordeaux where he again performed well. I think the turning point was at the start of last season when he joined Villa on loan, which looked a good decision at the time, but he only featured for their U23s and it was probably bad for his development.
The final straw came at the start of the season when Jurgen Klopp signed Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan, meaning that game time was again going to be restricted, and for a player of his quality, it’s been unfair on him playing in the U23s. Also, having a change of coach doesn’t help as different coaches have different ideas and it was clear that he was never in Klopp’s plans so his days were numbered from the start.
What would you say are his biggest assets?
Ilori has played 19 times for the U23s since his move from Sporting Lisbon, and he has made it look easy and has been very comfortable this season, so it’s difficult to judge his real strengths because of the standard of opposition that the defender is coming up against.
However, Ilori is good with the ball at his feet and can play out from the back. He is also very composed under pressure, and this has helped playing alongside Sakho for the U23s this season. Many have labelled him a journeyman, but many also forget that Ilori is still only 23, which is considered very young for a central defender, so the good news for Royals fans is that he has plenty of time to develop into a very good defender.
The main weakness with Ilori would be his fitness, understandable given that he hasn’t played many competitive games with the first-team. This was evident in the FA Cup tie at Exeter last season, when after 70 mins, Ilori looked worn out and that was due to the heavy pitch as well as his match fitness being very low.
As mentioned earlier, he has played against youth players for most of his Liverpool career, and with him looking so comfortable on the ball, it’s hard to judge his weaknesses as he hasn’t truly been tested yet. This may have a knock-on effect with his mentality, and it may be a case that Ilori will experience a culture shock when playing in the Championship as he will have to test himself as opposed to just getting used to operating at 70 or 80% most of the time.
Another concern is why didn’t he leave in search of first-team football sooner, which makes you question how driven he is to become successful. However, with a Premier League great such as Jaap Stam at the helm at Reading, I’m confident the Dutchman will iron out any alarming weaknesses.
Do you think £3.75m is a fair price?
In this current market it is a fair price, and depending on how he performs at Reading it could be a bargain! The move would be refreshing for Ilori, he needs a change of scenery and a different environment to experience because no matter how long he stays at Liverpool, it doesn’t look any more likely that he’ll make the step up to the first-team.
Ilori is still young, but is experienced and learned his trade both in the UK and Europe and has international experience with Portgual’s youth sides so all in all, it’s a good deal for both parties involved.
Would you back him to succeed at Reading?
Yes, definitely. The only concern is how he adapts as there may have been a chance he was tempted by complacency whilst at Liverpool and the defender could have easily got in the mindset of ‘this is too easy’. The start is crucial at Reading, play to the best of his ability, or at least give 100% effort all of the time, and he will succeed.
Reading fans should be patient at first, as he needs time to adapt to the league and also more importantly build up his match fitness in competitive games. It would be a good move for Ilori and the club. Ilori will be playing in an experienced back line that will only help him and will be playing in a side who are competing for something this season.
The club will also get a fresh pair of young legs at the back as they head for promotion, and can form a strong partnership with Jake Cooper or Liam Moore in the future once the likes of Paul McShane and Chris Gunter move on.
However, I would say that given that Reading are a club very close to my heart having trained with the youth teams on several occasions as a youngster and Liverpool are the team I support. He could be the 2016 version of Ibrahima Sonko from the 2005/06 campaign. Come on you Royals!