Reading FC are one of nine teams in the Championship to have Category One academy status (the highest level available to professional clubs in England), and can lay claim to bringing a generous number of young players through the ranks over the years, with recent examples including Premier League stars Gylfi Sigurdsson, Shane Long and Michael Antonio.
Last season, Reading fans were treated to the latest youth player to break out into the first team, with twenty-year-old Liam Kelly first appearing for The Royals in the league during November and then remaining a fairly constant fixture in the first team for the remainder of the campaign, playing the entire ninety minutes of the FA Cup game against Manchester United at Old Trafford, as well as participating in the playoff final against Huddersfield Town at Wembley Stadium in May, scoring his penalty in the shootout.
But, with Kelly now a fully-fledged first team midfielder, attention will turn to the youth ranks and who will be next to make a name for themselves in the blue-and-white hoops.
Take a look at the fiveplayers below we have selected as having the chance to shine in 2017/2018.
Please note: The “chance of success” rating attached to each player is not indicative of their skill level, but more their chances of achieving first team football in the upcoming campaign.
Being third-choice goalkeeper in any team is never a position which offers much chance of giving match time, and there is no reason to think that George Legg will be any exception to this rule. But, nevertheless, he has been given a squad number this season and will be expected to be counted on should his time come.
While it is likely that Vito Mannone will take charge of most first team matches (providing he is competent) and Anssi Jaakkola will, like last season, get his chance in cup games and the occasional league outing, Legg might still get his chance if there are injuries to those above him, or bad form forces Jaap Stam to make the unorthodox move to giving his third-choice ‘keeper a game. Legg will probably not see a single minute of action in the first team this season, but he must be ready to step up if called upon.
Chance of success in 2017/2018: 2/10
If there is one player you don’t want to be behind in the pecking order in the first team, it is Chris Gunter, perhaps the fittest player for Reading and vice-captain for the team. While Tennai Watson has been waiting in the wings for a couple of seasons now, it is not been easy for him to find minutes on the pitch for the first team, and this may continue during 2017/2018.
But, then again, it may not. The club have either failed, or not seen it necessary, to bring in another full back during the summer, meaning that Jaap Stam must have faith that Watson is capable of stepping up should the moment arise. And it may not just come down to injury to Gunter for that to happen. Fans seemed divided last season over the performances of the Welsh international, with his marking and concentration at the back found somewhat lacking as opposition attacks exploited his weaknesses for an easy entrance into the penalty area. While it was not enough to see him dropped, the very fact that Stam has kept Watson around indicates that he sees a role the youngster could play this campaign.
Chance of success in 2017/2018: 6/10
When a player goes out on loan, one of two things usually happens: either the player performs well enough to find a permanent deal elsewhere, or he improves himself enough to return to his parent club and play for them. In Jake Cooper’s case, the latter appears to be true, with two reported deals turned down from Millwall this summer and his inclusion in the pre-season tour to Holland.
Jake Cooper’s Reading career under Stam never really got going, after getting a brief look at the high life under previous gaffer Brian McDermott. He was loaned out for the second half of last season to League One’s Millwall, but appeared 18 times for The Lions and helped them to promotion to the Championship via the playoffs. He was expected to leave the club this summer (given that he is the 4th/5th central defender in the team and is in the final year of his contract) but he has been awarded the squad number 3 and has had some time on the pitch during the pre-season, indicating that he is someone Stam might use this season.
Chance of success in 2017/2018: 5/10
Like Cooper, Josh Barrett came to the attention of Reading fans when he was used sparingly toward the end of the 2015/2016 campaign under Brian McDermott. But his progress was perhaps unfairly stymied due to the arrival of a new manager, new players and a new philosophy on the pitch, which has meant he was effectively sidelined during 2016/2017.
However, also like Cooper, he has been retained by the club rather than a loan or transfer, and given a fairly-low squad number of 29. He went out on the pre-season tour and played the entire ninety minutes of the 0-0 draw against Sparta Rotterdam. While it would be misleading at the very least to suggest he could replace the outgoing Danny Williams, there are a number of central midfielders in the squad currently who will be battling for the two or three slots available. Perhaps this season Barrett could challenge for a place in the matchday squad.
Chance of success in 2017/2018: 6/10
Haven’t heard of him? Well, most Reading fans probably hadn’t before this summer. The sixteen-year-old has been rising through the academy ranks steadily, and signed his first professional contract this summer, just a day before he scored a hat trick against a Queens Park Rangers XI in pre-season.
Loader’s chances this season might come down more to circumstance than anything else. Yann Kermorgant is in the final year of his playing career before retirement, and both he and Joseph Mendes start the season injured. Putting aside the recent signing of Jon Daoi Boovarsson, Loader has moved up the pecking order and looks to be hitting form as we approach August. While he may not be the most recognisable name on this list, he could certainly change that this season, and perhaps sooner rather than later.
Chance of success in 2017/2018: 7/10
Which Reading youngster do you think is the most likely to break into the first team this season?
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