For the fourth year in a row, we are running our ‘Rookie of the Year’ poll which recognises the young players in Reading’s squad that have broken through this season and made an impact on the first team. Previous winners of the accolade are Jake Cooper (2015), Aaron Tshibola (2016) and Liam Kelly (2017).
To qualify for the award, contenders must:
- Have been 22 years old or younger on August 1st 2017.
- Have made fewer than five Reading starts before the start of the season.
- Have made five Reading starts this season or a combined 10 sub appearances + starts.
- Not be on loan at the club.
Whilst last year there were six players in the squad that fit that criteria, this year we’ve been left with just three candidates, and here they are in alphabetical order...
Appearances: 28 / Goals: 0 / TTE Average Rating: 5.2
Arriving from Ajax’s oft-heralded youth academy last summer, Pelle Clement made a slow start to life at Reading, leaving many fans questioning whether he had either the ability or the physical presence to play in the Championship. But to his credit, the 21-year-old has improved throughout the campaign, featuring in exactly half of the Royals’ league games.
These opportunities have largely come through Clement’s impressive versatility - he has played everywhere from full-back to central midfielder to winger to false nine in his debut year in Berkshire. A first ever call-up to the Netherlands’ Under-21 squad in March recognised how Clement has become more comfortable in the blue and white hoops.
Appearances: 16 / Goals: 2 / TTE Average Rating: 5.9
It’s funny how things work out. Jordan Obita’s season-ending injury in September has been given as one of the reason’s for Reading’s decline this campaign, but had it not occurred, it is unlikely we would have seen the emergence of Omar Richards. After fighting past Tyler Blackett in the pecking order, the 20-year-old looked comfortable, reasonably solid and very promising in the backline, and would undoubtedly have featured more had he not struggled with injury problems of his own.
February saw Richards score his first two senior goals for the club, as he smashed home against Nottingham Forest before turning the ball in from a tight angle against Sheffield United - two smart, composed finishes the helped him pick up The Tilehurst End Player of the Month award.
Appearances: 11 / Goals: 2 / TTE Average Rating: 5.3
After signing his first professional contract with the club last summer, Sam Smith made his senior debut in the first round of the EFL Cup in August, before netting his first goal in the second round against Millwall.
Opportunities in the Championship would then come at various points throughout the season for the former Manchester United man as Reading continued to lack a clinical presence upfront. Smith earn the TTE Man of the Match award on his first league start against Middlesbrough in October thanks to his hard work and willingness to chase every ball, traits easy to see whenever he stepped onto the field. In Jaap Stam’s final game against Norwich, the 20-year-old scored his first league goal for the Royals with a well-taken volley from close range.
Plenty of academy players have been given first team opportunities this season with debuts being awarded to Axel Andresson, Andy Rinomhota, Danny Loader and Tom Holmes since last summer. However, none of them featured enough to qualify, totalling just six appearances between them, but don’t discount them from being nominated next year.
John Swift and Liam Kelly are both still young enough to make the shortlist for the award, but were featured on last season’s ballot.
Now it’s time for you to rank the contenders. A first place vote earns five points, three points are on offer for a second place vote and just the one point goes to a third place vote. If you can’t see the poll, click here.