Throughout the next eight days, we’ll be going through all 32 World Cup teams group-by-group, trying to find a Royals link to all of them. Logically, we’ve started with Group A...
There probably isn’t a man more fitting to open this series than The Big F***ing Russian himself, Pavel Pogrebnyak. Signed on a free transfer (but on some of the biggest wages the club has ever seen) ahead of Reading’s Premier League return in the summer of 2012, Pog scored 26 goals in 103 games in three year stint in Berkshire. Despite being far from the most effective striker in the world, he achieved cult status at the club, whilst the image of him sliding across to the corner flag, topless, after netting a last minute winner in the dramatic 3-2 victory over West Brom in January 2013 is nothing less than iconic.
Now 34 and plying his trade in his homeland for FC Tosno, Pogrebnyak has not played for the Russian national team since 2012 and he is unlikely to add to his 33 caps and eight goals anytime soon.
Had we been doing this piece a year ago we probably would have struggled for a Saudi Arabia link, but thanks to two transfers in the last 12 months, we have been saved. Speaking of being saved, goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi rescued Reading on plenty of occasions before he departed to the Middle East last summer, joining Saudi Arabia’s most successful club team Al-Hilal. A two-time Player of the Year award winner, the Omani racked up 91 appearances for the Royals and a made a huge impact on and off the pitch – it could perhaps even be suggested that his absence was a reason for the team’s decline last season.
In January, winger Adrian Popa followed Al-Habsi to Saudi Arabia as he joined Al-Taawoun on loan. The Romanian had only been at Reading for a year having signed from Steaua Bucharest but found opportunities hard to come by in Berkshire, featuring just 16 times, scoring once. He made nine appearances in his spell in Saudi Arabia, and now only the summer will tell us if he has a future with the Royals.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest African footballers of all time (well, according to Wikipedia anyway), Mohamed Aboutrika achieved 103 caps for Egypt, scoring 38 goals before retiring in 2013. In addition, he helped his nation to win two African Cup of Nations crowns.
But what has he got to do with Reading? Well, back in November 2006, the Royals were linked with a loan move for Aboutrika, then 28, to bolster their options in midfield. The rumour came about whilst Aboutrika was playing for Egypt’s most successful club Al-Ahly, who he ended up winning seven league titles and five African Champions Leagues with, so it didn’t work out too badly for him either.
He would hit the headlines again in January of this year, when it was announced that he had been added to a terror list in Egypt for his alleged links with the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
If in doubt when trying to find a Uruguay link, just find out something about Luis Suarez. And I have. The striker faced 26 different teams in the Premier League during his prolific time with Liverpool, failing to score against only four: Birmingham, Blackburn, Bolton* and, you’ve guessed it, the mighty Reading.
Suarez featured in the entirety of both of the Reds’ clashes with the Royals in 2012-13 but failed to put the ball past Alex McCarthy in either game. The academy graduate goalkeeper was in particularly inspired form in the fixture at the Madejski Stadium which ended 0-0, making a staggering ten saves in 90 minutes – four of which were to deny Suarez. In addition, the Uruguayan striker also had an effort cleared off the line by Chris Gunter.
*whilst this make look similar to the list of teams Reading battled relegation with last season, it is in fact not.