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OPINION: Senior Experience Is Great, But Does It Have To Be In Non-League?

Are Reading being ambitious enough with the loan clubs they choose?

Reading v Tottenham Hotspur: Premier League 2 Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

I’ve always taken a massive interest in our academy, which has often produced great players that have gone on to play a big part in our first team. During the recent FA Cup weekend (November 10), I noticed that several of our younger players participated in some of the matches that took place.

Academy graduates Gabriel Osho and Josh Barrett both played in Aldershot Town’s hard-fought 1-1 draw with Bradford City. Osho was even named man of the match against the League One side, an impressive accolade which will boost his confidence.

Whilst I think it is important to build our relationship with affiliate clubs, Aldershot Town play in the fifth tier of English football. The National League is not exactly a ‘Mickey Mouse’ division, as strong teams like Leyton Orient have recently been relegated to it. However, is this level suitable for players who are looking to make an impact on our first team very soon? If we sent some of our other players -those younger than Osho and Barrett - to Aldershot, I could understand that. It could be a good place for them to build confidence and improve.

For example, Tom Holmes is an 18 year-old who may benefit from getting to know the physicality of the National League. He is only a teenager and has not had any experience of going out on loan before. It would therefore make sense for players like him to make that sort of move.

Josh Barrett though has taken a step backwards in terms of the level he’s now playing at, having been on loan at Coventry City last season who were flying high in League Two. Although he did not have the best spell there, the logical next step for Barrett was to make the jump to League One or to stay in League Two on loan, so he could prove himself at a similar standard. Instead, he has taken this step backwards, which for me is disappointing to see.

Gabriel Osho on the other hand is the captain of the Reading under-23 and, at the age of 20, he is getting to the point where he should be starting to think about pushing for a place in the first team squad. He obviously has leadership skills if he has been made captain by under-23s manager Scott Marshall. This is a skill which is currently missing in the first team.

Whilst it’s great that the duo are almost guaranteed maximum game time because of the level they’re playing at, the footballing ability of players in the fifth tier is miles behind League One and League Two clubs. Surely this creates the risk of them falling behind, hindering their chances of making the grade at Reading.

I know this is hardly a new opinion to share, but it is so exciting to include youngsters who have come through the academy in the senior team (if they are ready). This is especially important in defining the club’s identity as being one that invests in youth.

Arsenal U23 v Reading U23 - Premier League International Cup
Josh Barrett in under-23 action last season
Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Similar situations happened before with Jack Stacey and Tariqe Fosu. Both spent time on loan in the lower leagues after gaining so much hype during their time in the Reading academy, but were never given sufficient time to shine in our first team. Both have since, disappointly, left the Royals; Fosu to Charlton Athletic and Stacey to Luton Town. The former was, notably, offered a contract at Reading - only to turn it down in favour of more game time at Charlton.

That - not using the academy enough over the last few seasons - is a major problem. Instead, we have signed a lot of average squad players, increasing our wage bill unnecessarily whilst freezing out our hungry youngsters. A lot of these academy players have instead been shipped out on loan to non league teams. There’s a big chance that we would have got a lot more output out of some of our academy players as opposed to a squad player we have signed in the past couple of years.

This season, Andrija Novakovich and Axel Andresson have been sent abroad to play for good teams, in the Netherlands and Norway respectively, and these are the types of loan I love to see happen. Andresson has just helped Norwegian side Viking to promotion to the first tier, while Novakovich is scoring goal in the Eredivisie. The duo are gaining valuable experience from these loans - at a good level - something which will help them push for a place in the first team.

The introduction of Andy Rinomhota to the first team is encouraging, but it would be great if we could include even more players from the under-23s. Danny Loader is a particularly bright player who is performing well right now. I’m not under any illusion about how ready some of these players may be. We should however look to include bright talents who have made a big impact like Ben House and Danny Loader on the substitutes bench at least for a game. From there, we can see how they cope with Championship football.

Why are we sending promising players to non-league teams? Would it hurt to include more home-grown players in the senior given our lack of ideas in the dire situation we currently find ourselves in? These questions need to be answered.