Reading made their third signing of the January transfer window on Tuesday evening with the addition of Nelson Oliveira. The Portuguese striker joins on loan until the end of the season, with the big task of adding quality in the final third and scoring the goals to keep us in the division.
So what should we know about him? We talked to Norwich City writer Connor Southwell, who asked to be described as "a bloody beautiful man" in this description. He's a great chap, has appeared on TTE's Town End feature a few times before, and you can find his work on both Talk Norwich City and Norwich City MFW.
How would you sum up his time at Norwich?
Indifferent, to be honest.
He arrived from Benfica for a hefty fee by Norwich’s standards after relegation from the Premier League. There was a lot of ability evident in his game, but most supporters instantly recognised how frequently he’d been loaned out.
When he played, he was impressive. Ran the channels, worked well with the technically gifted operators behind him and was capable of linking the play efficiently. Under Alex Neil, he was Norwich’s predominant striker but had strong competition from Cameron Jerome.
That 2016/17 season was undoubtedly his best in yellow and green. He looked like a Championship striker with an appetite to kick on and score plenty. He scored all types of goals as well, inside or outside the box, smart finishes and long-range strikes.
Trouble began to manifest itself at Craven Cottage in Daniel Farke’s curtain-raiser against Fulham - everybody will be aware of his exploits that followed his last minute equaliser. From there, he’s held a publicly fragmented relationship with his German boss, blatantly defying coaching instructions and shooting from obscene positions rather than complying with Farke’s preferred methods.
Oliviera made it clear towards the culmination of last season via his agent that he wished to leave NR1, and though Farke and him are on speaking terms, there is an obvious lack of trust between them. Farke cemented his fate in explaining his omission from the Canaries’ pre-season tour, stating he wished to ‘focus on other striking options’ while saying he was trying to ‘create togetherness’. Ouch.
Beyond a few Premier League 2 appearances, Oliveira hasn’t been seen in a Norwich shirt all campaign.
What style of striker is he?
He’s one you’d place under the definition of a ‘complete forward’. He’s very technical and is great if you’re attempting to implement an intricate passing game but with an attacking emphasis.
His positional discipline is poor, often he’ll be found out wide in deep midfield in search for the ball and you lose your offensive pivot, but supply him with chances and he’ll score them. He’s a talent. People will highlight his attitude, but if you observe Oliveira as merely a footballing talent, his quality is undeniable. He will score you goals at this level.
As aforementioned, he scores a variety of goals.
He isn’t a traditional striker who operates on the shoulder and seeks to get in behind, nor is he a big target man, but he is capable of linking the thirds. Oliveira is great in the final third, his movement in the box is clever and he’s a natural finisher.
Most Norwich supporters will describe him as a luxury - he’s not a hard worker, but will harass defenders if he smells an opportunity. For someone of 27, he plays like a teenager but there is a genuine talent to unharness. Extract that, and you have a constant supply line of offensive productivity, both goals and assists.
What are his main strengths?
His ability on the ball.
Players who develop through the Portuguese academy system are educated with an emphasis on how to nurture the ball while deploying skills and technique which enhance their game individually.
He’s a threat both in front of the defenders but also in behind them too. He needs players to push beyond him because he isn’t someone who holds his position, but he’s not afraid of a shot and can be a positive offensive influence if the philosophical approach suits his game.
Oliveira is a player who invites fouls because of his ability with the ball. He enjoys dribbling and inviting defenders, so that’s a useful weapon to get teams up the pitch if they are struggling. Furthermore, his ability to recognise when to lay the ball to others and when to spin with it is incredible.
Technically, excellent, but only if the style suits him. That’s a statement that cannot be stressed enough.
And his weaknesses?
Oliveira is a talent and that’s something that should be emphasised. You don’t get recognised internationally without possessing ability, particularly alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.
Aerially, he is easily dominated. He simply isn’t an addition that is suited to a direct philosophy, he wants the ball played to feet rather than to his head or into space. Physically, he’s not a lightweight, but he’s not a combative or all-encompassing forward.
I’ll attach a few positional maps from Norwich games in the 2016/17 season, which will underline my point about positional discipline. These are under Alex Neil when he was very much in favour:
These maps graphically illustrate how deep Oliveira drops in search of possession but also to involve himself in the game. If you contrast that to the position of Scott Hogan of Brentford (blue number nine in picture one), it shows how he likes to drop into attacking midfield, which isn’t always a negative.
More than anything, it shows how Norwich were keen to attack and assert themselves onto games offensively, which suited Oliveira and contributed to his eleven goals. His impatience and positional play meant he wasn’t always in the best position to benefit the team.
This screen-grab is telling, as Oliveira’s position is effectively parallel with Jonny Howson and deeper than winger, Jacob Murphy. There is definitely an argument about a lack of clarity over philosophy deployed by Neil here, but for a striker to be deeper than two midfield operators just underlines why he frustrated so many.
He was prone to wandering should the game prevent Norwich supplying him, which in this case, at Oakwell, it did. That said, he did score a strike from distance in this fixture, so there’s that element of his game.
But let’s compare this with his positioning under Daniel Farke in the last campaign.
These two screengrabs illustrate the implications of not playing a philosophy that compliments the Portuguese international's style. From the beginning of his reign, Farke was attempting to extract the talent from Oliveira within his system, but he struggled to accommodate him in a possession-based style.
His isolation is due to Norwich’s emphasis on James Maddison, but also because Farke wanted an offensive pivot to link the play. In the second screengrab, Oliveira is slightly left to centre, his involvement with midfield lessened and he was required to be more of a hold-up player rather than someone who could be expressive.
The contrast is stark, play to Oliviera’s strengths and you have an adept player. If not, then he is nothing more than an expensive component unable to fit in effectively.
What’s his character like, and how do Reading get the best out of him?
Ha. It seems to depend on who you listen to…
Despite a large majority of Norwich supporters bemoaning his apparently selfish and lazy playing style coupled with a poor attitude, those who occupy Norwich’s corridors of power insist that he has remained professional and trained with the group throughout the season.
I think the best way to extract his quality is having a head coach who fully believes in him but also puts their arm around him and reassures him about his quality. He’s a player who thrives on confidence; Alex Neil proved that.
After his exploits in Farke’s debut match, to rebel that publicly and insistently effectively ended his Norwich career.
On the whole, is he a good signing for Reading?
I think so.
Is he a player who wants to fight? That he needs to answer, but he’s got plenty to prove after a prolonged spell on the sidelines. He’s a player who has been on loan numerous times, so it’s nothing new and he’ll be keen to impress his new employers.
Norwich would like him to do well and earn himself a permanent contract and I think Nelson would be keen to do the same.