With the first team taking a two-week rest from competitive football for the international break, Reading have given the academy some media exposure. The local press were at Hogwood on Tuesday for an under-23 game against Oxford United (we thrashed them 5-0), and to talk to relatively new academy boss Ged Roddy.
Roddy, who was behind the EPPP system, joined the club in February 2018 to replace the outgoing Lee Herron. In a wide-ranging talk with the club’s media and the press, he discussed the future of the Royals’ academy, his respect for the “Reading way” and much more.
The “Reading way” and “doing things differently”
As Roddy mentions, he was already well-acquainted with Reading’s youth set-up long before he took charge of the academy. That knowledge came both from his personal connection to the late Eamonn Dolan and professional experience through the Premier League:
“I knew Eamonn for 20 years before coming here, he was a personal friend. So, he gave me chapter and verse on what Reading was all about!
”Working at the Premier League, I had the pleasure of looking at all of the clubs and seeing what their strengths and weaknesses were. So I had a pretty good idea of some of the strengths of this club.
“So I felt like I knew a little bit about it before I arrived...but it’s only when you get inside the Academy and the club that you begin to realise what a special place it is.
He goes on to talk about the need for Reading to be “creative” if they are to compete with much bigger clubs - indeed, we’re one of just 10 sides from outside the top tier to be represented in the 24-strong under-23 league system (known as Premier League 2, with all participants having a category one academy). Plus, going by overall prestige, we’re probably the ‘smallest’ club to take part in Premier League 2.
“Only since I’ve arrived have I really begun to understand how effectively we work and how as a club we punch way above our weight.
“We’ve got to continue doing that and make sure we’re competing with the best clubs in the country, so that we develop the best talent in the country.
“We have to do things differently at Reading. As an academy, we are not going to spend like the big boys, but if we’re creative and work things effectively, we can certainly develop some of the best players.”
So what - specifically - can Reading do to set themselves apart from the competition? Well, Roddy stresses that there is a clear, long-term pathway for the club’s youngsters all the way from the age of eight up to when they’re ready to step into the first team - something you won’t find elsewhere.
“On any given Sunday out here, you’ll have the under-9s, the under-10s, the under-11s and of all the things we do, probably that’s the most enjoyable bit when you see the real young ones coming in, and wearing a Reading shirt for the first time.
“And this is something that I don’t know people are really aware of, but 70% of the players that come through to our first team from the academy start at the age of eight in our academy so they come on this long journey all the way through to the first team.
“That’s quite unique about our club and it’s great. So when on a Sunday you see them running around, you can actually look at them and go actually one day one of these will play for Reading, and you can’t say that when you go to other clubs who I won’t mention.”
Cough Chelsea cough
His excitement about Bearwood
Work on Reading’s new training ground in Wokingham began almost a year ago, but the site should soon be ready for the club to move in. Roddy’s excitement about Bearwood is obvious - you can see the footage of him talking about it here - and he praised the ambition of the project.
“I took a couple of the lads up there last week. We’re very keen to get across to the new training ground so we had a little drive over to see how progress was moving forward. The pitches are being laid now and I think from January we’ll be playing our games, the academy games will start to be played over there.
“[It’s] very very exciting for the club, and a massive state of intent from our owners who are determined to give us the best training facilities probably in the country, and I’m not saying that lightly, I mean it really is going to be a state of the art environment.”
Loader, Novakovich, Barrett and Rinomhota
Roddy was also asked about the futures of four specific Reading youngsters: Danny Loader, Andrija Novakovich, Josh Barrett and Andy Rinomhota. Although all have made their debuts for the first-team (Novakovich’s came three and a half years ago!), none have played regular football for the Royals’ senior side just yet.
When asked about Loader, Roddy insisted that neither the 18 year-old striker nor any other youngster should be thrown straight into the first team. Instead, Roddy highlighted the multi-part process in the pathway from academy to first team, a process Loader is still going through.
“You need different people in the pipeline which the youngsters are moving through who have different skills. The skills of my team and I are to take them to the front door [of first-team selection].
“When they get to that, they need to go through it and then there is a process of polishing them and that takes skill in its own right. You need a management team at first team level which is able to do that.”
With regards to other talents - Roddy name-checks Tom Holmes, Josh Barrett, Gabriel Osho and Andrija Novakovich - the club are working to transition them from the academy up to the senior level. One way to do that is to send them on loan as we’ve seen with Novakovich and Osho who are getting first team experience at SC Telstar and Aldershot Town respectively. Talking about this group of players generally, Roddy said:
“There is quite a lot of stress in their lives because they’ve not yet established themselves but they are good young professionals.
“They’ve got to keep working hard and for some of them it is about going out on loan - like Gabriel Osho to Aldershot recently. That might be part of the pathway for some of the players to get them some experience.”
However, specifically on Novakovich, Roddy hinted that the American frontman could be recalled if he keeps up his goalscoring form. Novakovich, 22, has found the net four times in eight games this season in the Dutch top tier, and is currently on full international duty with the USA.
“We have people going over to watch him and there’s an option at some point if he continues to do well to bring him back over so that’s always on the table.”
Finally, on Rinomhota, Roddy seemed to suggest that the midfielder won’t be going out on loan as he’s pushing for a spot in the first team. The former AFC Portchester man appears to be highly-rated by Paul Clement who has included him in the matchday squad on a few occasions this season, even handing him a league debut at Preston North End last month.
“Andy is at that point where he’s trying to build himself into a regular member of the team. There are always players from my experience not quite there and our job is to support them and push them to the next level. They don’t all make it.
“We’re working with Andy to ensure whatever decisions get taken [about his future] are the right decisions for him and for the club.”
You can read the club’s interview with Ged Roddy here, and watch it on YouTube in the embedded video below. For his chat with the local press, check out articles in Football.London and The Wokingham Paper.