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Do Reading Need Another Young Centre Back?

Is the signing of Darren Sidoel fair on the club’s current academy options?

Darren Sidoel puts proverbial pen to proverbial paper
Reading FC

In the end, it was probably a good idea that Reading didn’t roll out the Carabao can gif on Twitter for Tuesday’s transfer announcement. With the club (apparently) on the verge of signing a brand spanking new forward, the unveiling of 20 year-old centre half Darren Sidoel would have come as quite the let down. Either way, the news that the Royals had splashed out on another Dutch prodigy from Ajax’s academy came completely out of the blue/orange.

Quick side note: I owe Darren an apology for randomly misspelling his name in Thursday’s Town End feature - he’s Darren Sidoel, not Darren Sodeil. Het spijt me, Darren.

Anyway, I digress, but Reading deciding to buy yet another centre-back was equally random. If there’s anywhere we’re well-stocked (apart from in cans of Carabao and misspellings of Darren Sidoel), it’s central defenders. At current count, that list (of players in this position who have made their debut) includes:

Liam Moore, Tiago Ilori, Paul McShane, John O’Shea, Axel Andresson and Tom Holmes.

You can also throw in George Evans and Joey van den Berg who have both played at centre half for Reading, but considering that a) they’re actually midfielders and b) they’re likely to be off this summer, you probably shouldn’t.

Andresson and Holmes though will be particularly miffed by the arrival of Sidoel. Although neither were picked to go on the recent pre-season trip to Austria, both will have harboured hopes of breaking into the first team in the nearish future, having made their first team debuts last season. Although neither played that much in 2017/18 - Holmes got his surprise 90 minutes against Bolton Wanderers in the Championship whilst Andresson picked up one start and one sub appearance in the Carabao Cup - that could have changed in 2018/19.

Throw in talents like Gabriel Osho and Tom McIntyre too, and it’s clear that we’ve got plenty of young options centre halves that could be making their mark in the next couple of seasons.

Ah, but what about John O’Shea? I hear you cry. Bringing in a 37 year-old has-been isn’t good for our youngsters’ first team prospects! Although you shouldn’t call him a has-been (it’s rude), you raise a good point. Jamming the squad up with almost-retired players is a roadblock in their development.

Then again, you can make the opposite case, that an extra experienced head gives the youngsters someone to learn from, and eases the pressure on them to perform in the first-team. It’s not an argument I’d subscribe to (at least from a youth development point of view), but you can make that case. One case that you can’t really make however is that the signing of Sidoel is a good thing for Andresson or Holmes.

Tom Holmes strides onto the Mad Stad turf for the first team
Reading FC

If John O’Shea is the short-term spanner in the works for their progress in the first team, signing Sidoel is like putting those works in the cupboard and replacing them with a brand new one you bought from Amsterdam. At a time when we’re getting annoyed about a lack of chances for youngsters at the club, replacing them with someone else’s youngsters feels a little off.

I’m not having a go at Sidoel. Judging by what I learned from our Town End contributors, he’s a great prospect for the club. However, his arrival does raise a question: how ruthless do we want to be with our youth development?

In other words, is the whole point that we should be developing young talent so that we don’t have to pay for established players? Or should our academy graduates actually be ‘one of our own’? By that, I don’t mean they have to be local lads. Andresson started his youth career at Ungmennafélagið Afturelding*, that famously English club - but he has been around for four years now.

*Thank God for the ‘copy and paste’ function.

The elephant in the room of course is Technical Director Brian Tevreden. Although he’s said before that he values our youth set-up (I don’t doubt that), he certainly values Ajax’s academy aswell, and has the connections to bring in Pelle Clement last summer and Darren Sidoel now. To be fair, these are signings that could very well pay off for us and, even if they don’t, they’re probably not the most expensive of gambles.

What is does underline is that Reading’s youngsters have to fight extra hard to make it in the first team. Not only do they have to get past established players, but they’ve also got to go up against an ever more competitive peer group of young talent.

Is this, from the perspective of either fans or club, fair? I’ll leave that one for you to decide.

Now you’ve read this, here’s another thing on where Reading’s transfer policy has been going wrong.