I think it’s fair to say that this summer clearly hasn’t gone to plan so far in terms of bringing players in to Reading. Jaap Stam has admitted that it has been a frustrating transfer window, and that patience is required:
"It's not only us, other clubs are looking for players as well," he said.
"Clubs don't want to sell their players due to certain circumstances. Sometimes you need to wait a long time to get players in.
"When the market opens it's difficult because teams don't want to lose their players and they're asking for a lot of money.”
So, what can the Royals do as they wait for better opportunities to arrive? Ensure that they keep the key players that they already have, that’s what. It is often said that tying down star players is just as important as bringing new players in, and the club have certainly taken that attitude this summer. The man leading this approach looks most likely to be Ron Gourlay, the newly appointed CEO following Nigel Howe’s move to the EFL Board. After the announcement of Liam Moore’s new contract yesterday, the 54-year-old said:
“It has been our clear objective as a club to prioritise securing the long-term services of some of our key first team players.”
This is hugely refreshing to hear, and is exactly what the club should be doing as they look to create a team that can be sustained for the foreseeable future. It’s a strategy that is clear to see in the four senior players that the Royals have agreed new deals with this summer - Chris Gunter, Liam Kelly (both of which were announced before Gourlay was, but one might speculate that he may have had an influence), John Swift and the aforementioned Moore.
Kelly and Swift are both very promising young midfielders, Moore was one of last year’s star performers as he made the player of the season top three and Gunter is a solid Championship full-back with nearly 80 international caps. They are players that Jaap Stam can build a squad around, with the assurance (hopefully) that they won’t be going anywhere. There’s no doubting that the Dutchman himself has had impact - after an incredible first campaign in charge, he has convinced that them Reading is where they want to be playing for at least the next few years. They believe in his project.
The length of the new contracts is also very pleasing to see. Three years each for Gunter and Kelly will see the former into his thirties and allow the latter to continue his impressive development in familiar surroundings. Meanwhile, an unprecedented five years for Swift and a fairly rare four years for Moore should see the pair enter their peak years at 27 and 28 years old respectively. Whilst Gunter is unlikely to get any better than the level he is already at, the lengths of the deals for the other three should prove hugely beneficial for Reading as a result of two possible scenarios. They could see out their new deals and perhaps stay even longer, only getting better in the process and helping the Royals challenge for, and perhaps achieve, promotion to the Premier League. Alternatively, they could do really well in the next two years and suddenly it is not unfathomable to think that we could be receiving £15 million for them each in the summer of 2019 the way the transfer market is going currently.
Ron Gourlay’s time at Chelsea is surely a key reason for the introduction of these new long term deals. At Stamford Bridge, and most top European clubs, long term contracts are pretty common. In his time with the Blues, the 54-year-old oversaw five year deals being awarded to Fernando Torres, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas amongst a host of other big names. In contrast, before Swift’s new contract on Monday, Reading had only given a deal longer than three and a half years to Aaron Tshibola and Liam Moore since the summer of 2014.
With Jordan Obita’s contract set to expire next summer, you would hope that the academy graduate is the next name on Gourlay’s list to tie down long term, whilst if other players aged 24 and under of impress in 2017/18 - the likes of Callum Harriott, George Evans, Tiago Ilori and Tyler Blackett - then similar deals may follow. Considering that consistency is key and that this is probably the first Reading team since 2013 that you would want to keep together for as long as possible, the contract system that big Ron has implemented can only be seen as a positive.