All three of Reading’s summer signings so far all have one thing in common - they have experience of captaining teams. Andy Yiadom has skippered Barnet and Barnsley, David Meyler currently wears the armband for the Republic of Ireland and John O’Shea has also led out the ‘The Boys In Green’ on a number of occasions in the past as well as Sunderland and Manchester United.
This is not a coincidence, Paul Clement has clearly set out this summer to add leaders to his squad. Speaking after the signing of Yiadom, the manager said:
“One of the things that I want to work on with the team is developing a strong leadership group. We want to bring in players that are mature and driven – and it helps if they have experience as captains at other clubs too.”
Last season, official club captain Paul McShane was injured from January onwards and only returned for a 14 minute cameo on the final day. Meanwhile, it has always felt like Chris Gunter was given the armband in his absence purely because he’s a mainstay in the team and has a lot of experience. Whilst they aren’t bad qualities on their own, he has never stood out as leader - he is a very softly spoken man and only captained Wales for the first time in his 85th cap. In a 2017 interview with The Guardian, Gunter even described himself as “quite a boring” person.
Elsewhere in the squad, you struggle to find many stand out leaders in the team. Liam Moore would probably be the most obvious choice, a player who is mature beyond his years and always wears his heart on his sleeve out on the pitch. But whether the defender will still be at the club at the end of the summer is another matter entirely.
Other players with potential to be leaders are the experienced heads in their 30s, but they all have their flaws. Dave Edwards had captained Wolves on several occasions upon his arrival in Berkshire last summer, but has failed to have the desired impact in midfield. Joey van den Berg would surely be too erratic to be captain, and Stephen Quinn spent more time in the injury room than with the squad before it was announced that he is to be released when his contract expires at the end of this month. At 36, Yann Kermorgant is the oldest member of the squad but he’s very much a player who keeps himself to himself.
This lack of leaders, made worse by the departures of Ali Al-Habsi and Danny Williams last summer, was one of the reasons why Reading flopped miserably in 2017/18. Rarely did anyone front up after the continuing atrocious performances, instead shrinking into their shells and shirking responsibility.
It’s why for me the signings of Yiadom, Meyler and O’Shea - all on free transfers too it should be pointed out - plus the potential arrival of former Bournemouth and Brighton captain Tommy Elphick, are so pleasing. Are any of them the best players in the world? No, but they give 100% for the entire 90 minutes and aren’t afraid to make big decisions - qualities many members of the squad would do well to pick up.
Obviously there can only be one player on the pitch wearing the armband (you’d assume Paul McShane will keep it for now), but that doesn’t mean others can’t give rallying cries or take responsibility on the pitch. The more the squad starts to resemble the advert for Captain Morgan (#DrinkAware) where everyone refers to each other as ‘captain’, the better.
No? Just me?
You only need to look at Reading’s transfer business in the Championship-winning season of 2011/12 to see how effective it can be to sign players with strong leadership qualities. Kaspars Gorkss, Hayden Mullins and Matthew Connolly had all been captains in the past when they became Royals. Mullins and Connolly didn’t play much, a scenario one might assume John O’Shea might also find himself in, but their knowledge of the game and presence in the squad would have been incredibly beneficial for the players around them.
Jason Roberts too added hugely valuable experience to the squad (and goals!) having previously spent eight years in the Premier League. All of these players bolstered an already mature squad featuring the likes of Mikele Leigertwood, Andy Griffin, Ian Harte, Brynjar Gunnarsson and Jobi McAnuff.
On a sidenote, Adam le Fondre was another key transfer that campaign, plucked from League Two Rotherham in much the same way that Reading are reportedly trying to capture Marcus Maddison from Peterborough of League One.
Now, not for a minute am I suggesting that by copying 2011/12’s blueprint of signing a combination of experienced heads and lower league gems we’ll win the league in 2018/19, but it is encouraging that a strategy of sorts does seem to be in place.
We’ve been longing to see more passion and determination on the pitch for a while, and these recent signings should now hopefully allow that to happen, in the process fostering a strong team spirit that has done Reading and many other clubs so well in the past.