To use a lazy football writer’s cliche, a player coming back from a loan spell is like a new signing. Sure, you don’t actually get a new face in the squad, but the manager has another option to pick, and the player himself has another opportunity to impress. After two bumpy seasons at Reading, Yakou Meite will want exactly that.
Arriving from Paris Saint Germain’s youth set-up in the summer of 2016, the Frenchman was always going to be one for the future. Up till then he’d not played regular football at senior level, and that became apparent in an inconsistent debut campaign where he struggled to get game time for the first team. It was perhaps inevitable that he’d be sent out on loan the following year to build up some experience.
Prior to joining Reading, Meite had only played 1 game for PSG’s men’s team (in Ligue 1). Although he added another 14 appearances for Reading in the Championship, that only added up to 254 minutes on the pitch.
However, it was a different story at last season’s loan club, French second tier side FC Sochaux, where he racked up 35 appearances in the league and cup - that’s a total of 1690 minutes in real terms. Meite may have only scored five times in 2017/18, but actually being able to play regular football will have been a huge boost to a talent who was previously only a raw diamond.
My question now is this: what role can he play at Reading next season?
The more obvious answer is that he’ll be a winger - the position where he’s spent most of his career thus far. However, I’d say there’s an equal chance that he’ll end up as a striker.
At the moment, there’s a big imbalance in Reading’s squad (when is there not?) that means we’ve got an abundance of wingers: Modou Barrow, Sone Aluko, Callum Harriott, Garath McCleary, Adrian Popa and Yakou Meite. However, even with the addition of Marc McNulty, we’re relatively low on strikers. Jon Dadi Bodvarsson will take time to get into 2018/19 after his World Cup exertions with Iceland, McNulty will take time to settle in, Yann Kermorgant is frequently injured and getting closer to retirement, Andrija Novakovich is out on loan and could be joined by Sam Smith, whilst Danny Loader is still only 17.
Another forward will probably come in but, whether that happens or not, there’s an opportunity here for Meite to switch positions. Doing that would be a risk - apart from his lack of experience through the middle, Meite also strikes me as a player who lacks the maturity to do the nitty gritty of holding the ball up, bringing others into the game and so on.
Then again, that’s a skill that could be developed with practice. What he doesn’t need to develop are his raw physical attributes which are very well-suited to playing as a striker. Meite has a mix of pace, acceleration and strength that (sorry for the lazy comparison) reminds me of Romelu Lukaku.
Plus, he’s a strong header of the ball:
Those abilities don’t automatically mean he’ll make it as a striker, but they do give him a bit of a head start. Although Reading have a good all-round striker like Bodvarsson, a target man in Kermorgant and a poacher in McNulty, Meite’s qualities set him apart and make him an intriguing alternative option for Paul Clement.
What do you think? Could Meite be better deployed as a striker, or would you prefer him to stay as a winger? Let us know in the comments or get in touch on social media.