The transfer window has now officially “slammed shut” for the second time this summer. After Reading stopped being able to buy players on August 9, they have now run out of time to bring in anyone on loan.
Paul Clement only used the three-week loan window to bring in two players: Josh Sims coming in from Southampton on August 20 and Saied Ezatolahi joining on deadline day. They were the eighth and ninth arrivals of the summer after another seven were bought outright or snapped up on frees: Andy Yiadom, David Meyler, John O’Shea, Marc McNulty, Darren Sidoel, Sam Walker and Sam Baldock.
Going in the opposite direction, George Evans was sold to Derby County whilst Yann Kermorgant was released. They were joined by a host of players who were loaned out or told to find a new club on the expiry of their contracts at the end of June.
How does all of that transfer activity leave Reading’s individual players and squad in general? We’ve had a look at who and what have come out well (and not so well) from the last few months.
Reading’s squad balance
As Paul Clement has pointed out recently, he now has a squad with a minimum of two players competing for a spot across the entire team. All too often last season, Reading would run out of options in at least one position - no striker at the start of the campaign, Leandro Bacuna being shunted in at full-back and no cover for the wingers in the closing weeks.
That’s now no longer the case, with the incomings and outgoings meaning that there aren’t too many or too few players in any one spot. There’s direct competition for anyone that under-performs this season, with Andy Yiadom and Sam Walker keeping Chris Gunter and Vito Mannone respectively on their toes.
The injury plague that haunted last season should also - hopefully - not cause Reading too many problems going forward. With the exception of the home defeat to Bolton, when seemingly every winger was injured, Clement so far hasn’t had to adjust his formation to adapt to injuries.
Reading’s bank balance
Although the Royals haven’t exactly splashed the cash on any exciting new signings (more on that later), the flip-side is that they’re not risking too much financially. Sone Aluko cost as much as £7million last year (although the exact figure is hard to pin down), while Leandro Bacuna and Vito Mannone each cost at least £2million - none of them have exactly hit the ground running, and the club seem eager to avoid such risky purchases.
Indeed, Sam Baldock (~£2.5million) and Marc McNulty (~£1.5million) are the only two players to come in for transfer fees. The bulk of Reading’s incomings have been snapped up on frees - Yiadom, Meyler, O’Shea, Sidoel and Walker, with Sims and Ezatolahi arriving on loan. Whether those players end up as successes at Reading or not, they won’t have made too much of a dent in the club’s finances.
Going into this summer, I’d expected Reading’s Technical Director to be sidelined to some degree. Tevreden had been close to Clement’s predecessor Jaap Stam, and both Dutchmen had been part of a transfer policy in recent transfer windows that’s ultimately backfired for the club.
However, Tevreden has not only stayed in his post, but it’s also evident that he’s kept the influence to push through his own signings. The 36 year-old exploited his Ajax connections on July 17 to ensure Reading snapped up compatriot Darren Sidoel who had till that point been part of the Amsterdam club’s academy.
Speaking about the transfer, Paul Clement seemed to admit that the move had been driven by Tevreden rather than himself:
“He was identified through Brian Tevreden. He’s a full-back, CB and possibly CM so he’s a versatile player. I look forward to seeing him and hopefully he’ll be pushing towards first team squad involvement along with all our U23 players.”
If you were hoping to see some of the club’s best young talent make a step up into the first team this season, you’re in for disappointment. Paul Clement has opted for experience over long-term prospects this summer, making sure that the squad is bulked out with knowledgeable pros rather than hungry youngsters.
Andrija Novakovich, Tennai Watson, Lewis Ward, Sam Smith and Axel Andresson have all been farmed out on loan despite being having been in contention for the main squad. Ward and Andresson in particular could have had strong chances of being promoted to the first team, but the arrivals of Walker and O’Shea have certainly delayed their progression. Omar Richards, Andy Rinomhota and Danny Loader are still at the club and may be involved to a decent extent this season, but there’s still plenty of first team competition they’d have to fight off.
All in all, it marks a big shift away from what we saw under Jaap Stam. Whereas the Dutchman was happy to give out debuts to academy players (he ended his time at the club with a total of nine), Clement prefers his youngsters to build up experience away from the club. That may prove to be the right call in the long run, but at the moment it’s disappointing that youth isn’t being given much of a chance.
Supporters wanting an exciting transfer window
As mentioned above, this summer was low on the eye-catching, expensive additions that supporters had hoped for at the end of last season. Reading only spent ~£4million on transfer fees, and finished the window without the kind of high-quality signing that really excites the fans. Although that may not have been likely in a financial sense, loosening the purse strings for a big-name striker or creative midfielder could have been the morale boost that we’ve been crying out for.
Marcus Maddison and Nelson Oliveira were two of the most frequently-named players on Twitter, and both would have added a level of quality in the final third that we’ve lacked for quite some time. In the end though, no move for either materialised, despite Reading reportedly being close to bringing in Maddison.
Instead, Reading opted for thriftier deals, dipping into the loan market for Southampton youth prospect Josh Sims and Iran international Ezatolahi, to the lower leagues for Marc McNulty and into Brighton’s reserves for Sam Baldock.
Poor Chris Gunter hasn’t played a minute of league football for Reading yet, but it’s already looking like his future at the club is in serious danger. Andy Yiadom, a free transfer arrival from Barnsley in mid-May, has taken to the right back spot like a duck to water and will be a strong contender to be named August’s player of the month. Although it’s still early days, the Ghanaian already looks like one of the smartest bits of business the club has done in a few years.
That leaves Gunter, who had previously been a shoe-in to start every competitive game for Reading, with the prospect of being frozen out for much of this season. With Tennai Watson being handed the chance to impress at AFC Wimbledon, the Welshman’s status at Reading could prove to be in real trouble by the end of 2018/19.
Liam Kelly and/or John Swift
Besides prompting an eleventh-hour rewrite of this piece (cheers guys), the arrival of Saied Ezatolahi on loan deadline day spelt bad news for John Swift and Liam Kelly. Despite both being trusted by Paul Clement with regular first team football this season, neither have repaid the manager's faith.
Ezatolahi may not be a short-term solution - he'll take time to bed in and get used to the English game - but that extra level of competition will pay off in the longer run. The 21 year-old Iranian brings physical strength, technical talent, World Cup experience and an alternative option to underperforming midfield teammates who don't have long to up their game.
Who do you think has done well or badly out of Reading’s summer transfer business? Leave us a comment below or tweet us @TheTilehurstEnd